MPR podcast: Top environmental news in Minnesota from 2019
Dec. 9, 2019
ST. PAUL – This was a big year for environmental news in Minnesota. MPR News reporters Dan Kraker and Elizabeth Dunbar joined the MPR News podcast to talk about the top stories in environmental news in 2019 and take a look ahead to 2020. Among those included in the conversation was Bryan Van Stippen of the National Indian Carbon Coalition. Click the link to listen to the podcast.
In Minnesota, a new push to fight climate change – and make money – from forests
Bryan Van Stippen of the National Indian Carbon Coalition was among those included in an Oct. 10, 2019 Minnesota Public Radio story about carbon credits. This is a transcript of the broadcast with a link to the audio version at the conclusion of the text.
Reported by Dan Kraker
DULUTH – Money may not grow on trees — but the carbon that trees store could be worth millions, as consumers, companies and governments ramp up efforts to fight climate change.
Earlier this week, a group of land managers and scientists from around Minnesota came together in Duluth to start a conversation about how the state can join in the growing marketplace that pays to keep carbon sequestered in forests.
Minnesota’s climate change-fighting efforts so far have focused largely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving away from coal power and towards cleaner energy like wind and solar.
But there’s been a lot less focus on the other side of the carbon equation: What to do with those greenhouse gases that continue to be emitted into the atmosphere, the heat-trapping culprits that cause global warming?
California is one of the few states that has taken the lead on incentivizing practices that lead to carbon sequestration, and established an official statewide cap and trade system in 2013. Dozens of forestry projects around the country are part of the program, including many on tribal lands.
But none of the carbon sequestration projects that are involved in California’s marketplace are based in Minnesota — at least, not yet. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is exploring the possibility of creating a forest carbon offset program on 14,000 acres of its reservation in northern Minnesota, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is exploring a 9,000-acre program on its land near Cloquet.
The idea is that polluters in California or elsewhere could then purchase offsets from those programs, as a way to counterbalance their own greenhouse gas emissions.
In Minnesota, land managers and forestry experts are looking for ways to encourage landowners to manage their forests in such a way that sucks more carbon out of the atmosphere.
“We have a tremendous opportunity right now, to unleash the power of nature, and help us get into a problem solving mode with climate change,” said Meredith Cornett, director of conservation science with the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, which has led some peer-reviewed research on the role of plants in the fight against climate change.
The full carbon equation
It comes down to Biology 101: Through photosynthesis, plants breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.
That’s important, because carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, leading to climate change.
Trees, especially, are capable of storing massive amounts of carbon. The Nature Conservancy’s research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that nature could deliver more than a third of all the greenhouse gas reductions that scientists say are necessary to prevent the most severe effects of climate change — targets laid out in the recent Paris climate agreement.
Click here to access the audio version of this story.
Selling Carbon Credits is Earning Tribes Millions While Conserving Forests
From Native Business – Nov. 27, 2018
By Suzette Brewer
It’s an idea so simple that it sounds almost too good to be true: Tribes across the country are using their forest lands to generate income by selling carbon credits in the California emissions trading industry while preserving their lands for future generations.
“These type of projects focus on preservation of tribal natural resources while still being able to derive revenue,” says Bryan Van Stippen, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and program director for the National Indian Carbon Coalition, “even if a tribal entity has a commercial logging operation.”
California, which has the fifth largest economy in the world, launched its “cap and trade” program in 2013 with the goal of reducing greenhouse emissions to pre-1990 levels by 80 percent by 2050. Currently, 11 tribes from Alaska to Maine have received approval to participate in the program.
Based on the European Union Emissions Trading System that was enacted in 2005 to fight global warming, the carbon trading industry in North America is a market-based system designed to reduce pollution in the atmosphere by “capping” (or limiting) the harmful emissions of fuel companies and other big polluters that emit 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year or more. These companies can then buy carbon off-set credits from tribes and other entities to help meet their required goals.
According to the California Air Resource Board, carbon offset credits are sold at the state’s quarterly cap-and-trade auctions. Each offset is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide and sells for approximately $11 to $14 per credit, depending on market rates. The Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine, for example, used nearly 100,000 acres of their forest lands to generate 3.2 million credits―which have been valued at between $35 and $45 million that they used to invest in other business projects.
Currently, there are two markets in the carbon credit industry: The compliant markets in California and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, which have joined together to allow businesses to buy credits issued within those jurisdictions; and a voluntary market which is used by companies, individuals and governments purchasing carbon offsets.
The compliant markets have certain restrictions and requirements for tribes—including a 100-year commitment and a limited waiver of sovereign immunity―that have dissuaded many tribes from participating in the program due to concerns over how their needs may change over time and what that may mean in regards to control over their lands.
Troy Eid, who is the co-chairman of the American Indian law practice group at Greenberg Traurig LLC in Denver, Colorado, worked with a tribe to secure a carbon credit agreement with a major corporation through the California carbon trading market. He says that there were many concerns that came up as the tribe considered its options.
“There were many passionate arguments regarding the ‘hundred year’ clause,” says Eid. “Granting a limited waiver of the tribe’s sovereign immunity for a century—binding several future generations—was a consideration.”
Moreover, says Eid, there were those who believed that there was no way to anticipate how the tribe’s needs would evolve in the foreseeable future in regards to how they would use their lands.
“They might grow and need to develop it for housing, for example, or they might want to do other things with it,” he says. “Ultimately, however, they decided to use a portion of their lands for conservation and income from the carbon credit markets.”
With many tribes leery of committing to restrictive agreements that they feel may impede their sovereignty, however, groups like the National Indian Carbon Coalition are working to find alternative solutions.
“We are trying to develop projects working within the voluntary market because it does not require as many restrictions as compared to the compliant market,” says Van Stippen. “Timeframes on the voluntary market usually run no longer than 40 years but can be even shorter and would not require a limited waiver of sovereign immunity.”
Considering the deleterious effects of the extractive industries on tribal communities and their people in the last 150 years, however, the notion of selling carbon credits to preserve their lands instead of drilling, deforestation, pipelines and mining has had a growing appeal for tribes whose values and priorities align with environmental conservation.
“Carbon sequestration projects on tribal lands focus on sustainable land management practices that avoid the exploitation or extraction of natural resources,” says Van Stippen. “We at the NICC are committed to working with tribal nations to provide resources and support to ensure the preservation of their lands while reducing the effects of climate change and generating a sustainable income for generations to come.”
How to Make Millions While Saving a Forest
From Outside Magazine – May 7, 2018
By Jake Bullinger
The Sealaska Corporation is a for-profit company collectively owned by some 23,000 Native Alaskans from the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian tribes. Since its creation in the 1970s, the company has made much of its money by logging in Alaska’s southeast islands. But beginning this year, that equation will flip: Sealaska stands to earn millions by leaving trees alone. In March, Sealaska received approval to participate in California’s cap-and-trade marketplace. That means the corporation will preserve 165,000 acres—45 percent of the forestland it controls—for 110 years to serve as a carbon sequestration bank. In return, Sealaska can sell carbon-offset credits to California companies that must curb their emissions under state law.
For now, investing in the carbon-offset market has been restricted to privately held land, which is why tribes and Native corporations like Sealaska have become such big players: They control a lot of forestland. In all, at least nine Native groups, from the Nez Perce in Idaho to the White Mountain Apache in Arizona, have invested in forest-based carbon-offset projects. Conservationists are keeping an eye on their success, because, if done right, it could also revolutionize the way companies profit on public land leases.
“We believe that it fits perfectly with our balanced land-management approach,” says Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott. “We keep every acre with the foremost thought of best use in a community, cultural, and financial framework. Carbon was the perfect opportunity.”
California’s cap-and-trade program, which kicked off in 2013, promises to cut emissions in the state 40 percent by 2030. It will achieve this, in part, by setting pollution limits for certain industries and by requiring those that exceed the limits to invest in programs that offset their pollution, like carbon-trapping forests. Sealaska’s carbon-offsetting investment is expected to offset 11 million metric tons of carbon—the amount that 2.36 million cars emit in a year. With current offset prices at about $12 per ton, the credits could generate more than $100 million in revenue. No commercial logging will take place there, but that’s not to say the forest will remain untouched. Mallott says Sealaska can still develop its subsurface rights and tourism projects—think trails or lodges—and tribal members will be allowed to cut trees for totems, canoe construction, and other cultural uses.
“It’s another revenue stream that tribes are able to develop within their current conservation practices,” says Bryan Van Stippen, whose Minnesota-based National Indian Carbon Coalition advises tribes seeking to join carbon markets. “To me, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
It’s fitting that tribes and Native corporations are readily considering offsets. It wasn’t until the 1970s when most tribes were granted control of their forestland, and ever since they have been heralded for their resilient forestry practices. Some tribes sign on to these carbon-offset programs to preserve cultural resources, while others might do so purely to monetize land that’s less ideal for timber harvest—in fact, most tribes in the carbon market have maintained their logging operations, and instead of clear-cutting forests, they selectively harvest trees. For example, tribes could wait 60 years instead of 45 to cut second-growth trees, allowing more carbon to be stored before a tree is cut.
“Commercial logging operations are still able to operate with sustainable management practices,” says Van Stippen, adding that Sealaska and the other tribes around the country that are investing in carbon offsets are “maybe changing a few of their practices but are not putting a hindrance on their commercial operation.”
This system, so far, has been kept to privately owned forests. But the idea of leasing publicly owned land for carbon banks is gaining attention from researchers. Under the current system, forestland leaseholders turn a profit by cutting and selling trees. But what if companies could bid on leases with the idea of conserving the land as a carbon bank? It might actually be more profitable than doing so on private land, because federal leases present a relatively low-cost option on a massive scale. There is plenty of potential for national forests to act as a carbon sink, and according to the U.S. Forest Service, America’s public forests already offset 16 percent of our annual carbon emissions.
It’s not illegal to lease land for carbon sequestration. There just hasn’t been an executive order or any legislation that says you can do it. Because of that, most offset developers won’t consider projects on public land—yet. And all it might take is pressure from the private sector after they notice Sealaska and tribes turning big profits.
Carbon Credits Help Tribes Preserve Culture, Climate, Bottom Line
From Indian Country Today – Feb. 16, 2016
The National Indian Carbon Coalition (NICC), a tribal non-profit, has received a three-year, $300,000 grant to improve access to carbon markets in Indian country, enabling tribes to help mitigate climate change’s effects while improving their bottom line. These markets have the potential to turn the tables on the history of exploitation of tribal natural resources by non-tribal entities.
The National Indian Carbon Coalition (NICC), a tribal non-profit, has received a three-year, $300,000 grant to improve access to carbon markets in Indian country, enabling tribes to help mitigate climate change’s effects while improving their bottom line.
“This is exciting for Indian country,” said NICC Program Director Erick Giles, Muscogee (Creek) and member of the Big Cat clan. “Generating and selling carbon credits is a mostly untapped way for tribes to promote economic development on their reservations through resource management.”
Only in recent decades have reservation natural resources been managed directly by tribes for their own benefit. Historically these resources—minerals, timber, forage and croplands, and water—have benefited off-reservation interests at the expense of the environment and reservation communities. This created a dilemma as growing tribal populations had to be increasingly resourceful in maximizing the limited resources available to them on their own lands.
Ironically, the ascension of climate change, though placing even greater pressure on the limited tribal land base, may result in unique economic opportunities through what are termed carbon markets. According to Giles, these markets have the potential to turn the tables on the perverse history of exploitation of tribal natural resources by non-tribal entities.
Carbon Markets and Climate Change
Carbon markets facilitate the buying and selling of carbon credits that are generated by resource management activities known to reduce or sequester the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Examples include improved forest management, re-establishment of forest lands on non-forested areas, and improved rangeland management and agricultural practices such as sustainable grazing management and no-till cultivation.
“The market relies partly on what are called cap and trade compliance regulations, which make allowances for companies that emit greenhouse gases to purchase carbon credits to help meet emission limit goals,” Giles told Indian Country Today Media Network. “There are compliance markets created by the mandates of environmental laws, and there are voluntary markets involving companies that may not be subject to emission limits, but simply want to minimize their carbon footprint for social responsibility reasons.”
According to Giles, the value of these credits can vary between $8 and $15 per credit, which is the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon dioxide.
NICC was formed in partnership between the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC), both national tribal organizations committed to Native Nation Building through resource-based initiatives.
“We formed the organization because we realized tribes were not engaging in these markets,” said Tenure Foundation President Cris Stainbrook, Oglala Lakota. “Along with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, we saw a lot of potential benefits in this arena that we wanted tribes to realize. However, neither of our organizations had time to undertake this individually, so we formed NICC.”
Entering into the carbon market is a complex and technical endeavor.
“Though existing tribal natural resource management generally aligns with the goals of the carbon market, entry into the market can be complicated, especially for tribes,” said Giles. “The history of land loss and resulting fragmentation of current day tribal ownership makes things complex not just for market regulators, but also for carbon credit purchasers. Non-tribal market participants need help understanding the importance of tribal sovereignty, and the perverse history that has led to the patchwork of land ownership on reservations. At the same time, tribes and tribal members need assistance prioritizing and pooling enough of their eligible lands to make entry into the market feasible.”
These challenges have historically blocked tribes and Indian landowners from participating in these markets, with a few exceptions.
“To date, the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe, registered carbon projects on the now defunct Climate Exchange, and three—Yurok, Round Valley and White Mountain Apache—have registered projects for the California compliance market,” Giles said.
The benefits to the tribes that have entered the market are not trivial. The Yurok Tribe, for example, has sold millions of dollars’ worth of carbon credits, giving the tribe a new way to make money while it improves wildlife habitat, expands its natural resource program, and acquires land in its ancestral territory, according to a 2014 report in the Los Angeles Times.
Carbon market regulations pose barriers unique to tribes—barriers that NICC intends to address.
“Transactions, whether they occur in the compliance or voluntary marketplaces, are bound by general rules, called standards,” said Giles. “These standards define the basic elements of a transaction such as eligibility and the commitment period for maintaining reduced emissions through certain types of resource management.”
The compliance market is generally more stringent, and it limits tribal involvement in unique ways. On the one hand, for example, the current compliance market mandates a waiver of sovereign immunity, making it a non-starter for many tribes. On the other hand, though the voluntary marketplace is more flexible, purchasers in this market may pay several dollars less per carbon credit purchased, requiring tribes to be more creative in prioritizing and aggregating lands they wish to commit to qualifying land-management activities.
“The return is not as great in the voluntary market; however, this is currently where the broader opportunity for tribal entry in the marketplace lies,” said Giles. “These more socially conscious entities that are driving the voluntary market are attracted to the social justice value of their investments. In essence, they are enabling historically dispossessed peoples to rebuild economic and environmental integrity all at once, doubling their return on investment.”
The Conservation Innovation Grant
NICC will use the three-year Conservation Innovation Grant, which comes through a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program of the same name, to fund on-the-ground conservation management activities in four geographically distinct areas. The projects, focused on the improvement of soil quality on farmlands, rangelands and native prairie, are also designed to inform the development of a policy guidance that will educate tribes, carbon credit buyers and regulators on the nuances of the generation of carbon credits in Indian country.
Sustainable agriculture and rangeland management projects will be implemented on the Comanche Nation Reservation in Southwestern Oklahoma, the Pueblo of Santa Ana in New Mexico, and on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. While on the recently restored Pe’ Sla sacred site in the Black Hills, a blend of wildlife restoration and cultural restoration involving an intertribal partnership of the Rosebud, Shakopee Mdwewakaton, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River, and Standing Rock Sioux Communities will occur.
“We want to build a pilot program for both our Nation’s members and nearby tribes to demonstrate how good land management can lead to both the abatement of climate change and a financial return through the generation of carbon credits,” said Milton Sovo, Comanche Nation member and the tribe’s secretary of agriculture. “Specifically, our work under this grant will include no-till cultivation, taking highly erodible areas out of crop production to restore areas around streams, and implementing rotational grazing management practices. All of this can be replicated by the dozen or so tribes in this part of Oklahoma because we share the same weather and soil types.”
However it’s about much more than the bottom line, Sovo emphasized.
“Of course it is important to continue to explore sustainable ways to generate new revenue streams for Native nations. However, this is more than just that,” added Sovo. “This is a spiritual thing because tribes are part of the land and one of our collective goals should be to be good stewards of natural resources to ensure their availability for future generations.”
In addition to working on the ground at these four sites, NICC will be working with the American Carbon Registry, a carbon credit registry in both the voluntary and compliance markets, to develop specific guidelines for facilitating market access for offset projects on Indian lands.
“American Indian tribes share a direct relationship with the land and are excellent stewards of natural resources,” said Mary Grady, director of business development for the American Carbon Registry. “We envision that the development of guidelines addressing the barriers to carbon project implementation on Indian lands will create a pathway that will reward tribes by monetizing this stewardship. This guidance will not just be available to tribes wishing to enter the market, but also to buyers of credits in the carbon market who desire to understand and work with tribes.”
There’s also an educational component, Giles said. As part of the grant, NICC will conduct outreach and training workshops that will reach approximately 90 tribes as well as field staff of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the USDA.
“We need to leverage work conducted under this grant as widely as we can in Indian country,” said Giles. “Our focus in this initiative is on agriculture and rangeland management. However, we want this work to be transferable to other natural resource management activities throughout Indian country, such as forest management.”
Though there appears to be great potential for financial returns to tribes via carbon markets, the cultural values are a central component.
“Millions of acres of reservation forestland, farmland and rangeland are under some form of sustainable tribal management,” said the Tenure Foundation’s Stainbrook. “The real idea behind this project is to connect existing tribal cultural value systems that naturally promote conservation to a tangible economic return that has not yet been fully realized in Indian Country.”
USDA Awards ILTF, Partners With Regional Conservation Partnership Grant
NICC media release – Feb. 16, 2016
On Friday, February 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) and eight of its partners, as recipients of one of its 2016 Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant. The $1.8 million grant awarded to the Intertribal Agricultural Council (project lead) addresses conservation management and training on tribal lands for increased carbon storage on forest and rangeland. Projects are spread across the U.S. with partners in New Mexico (Santa Ana Pueblo), Oklahoma (Comanche Tribe), South Dakota (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe/Pe’sla Council), Nebraska (Ponca Tribe of Nebraska), and Alaska (Akiachuk Village, Choggiung Corporation). ILTF will use its National Indian Carbon Coalition program to help develop these projects.
The program consists of conservation planning and practice, tribal staff and student training, and development of accessible tools for making land management decisions. An estimated 1,004,699 acres of forest and rangeland are to be entered into the project from the five pilot projects listed above. For each of these land bases, Conservation Activity Plans and Conservation Stewardship Plans will be developed which together serve as an inventory of baseline levels of carbon sequestration on the land and lay out activities for increasing sequestration or lowering greenhouse gas release that are practical and costeffective. Once plans are implemented, these lands can be entered into various carbon markets around the country for added economic development.
Training for tribal staff and students will provide education on the conservation planning process and relevant conservation practices for ecosystem health. The trainings will provide the opportunity for participants to obtain formal Technical Service Provider certification for work with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Finally, project partners will develop web-mapping portal technology that allows access to detailed information on tribal lands that managers can use to make key decisions on land use without having prior training or specialization. The mapping tool can be used for decision making, analysis of lands, and as a platform for presenting data.
State, Tribe Reach Multimillion-Dollar Deal On Carbon Offset Credits
From Santa Rose Press Democrat – March 1, 2015
A nearly 5,600-acre swath of tribal forestland in remote, northeastern Mendocino County will be contributing to California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases while generating revenue for the Round Valley Indian Tribes under a new agreement with state officials.
The state Air Resources Board this month approved the issuance of some 540,000 carbon offset credits worth millions of dollars to the tribe in exchange for it managing the forest in a way that increases its carbon-absorbing potential, typically by allowing trees to live longer.
Carbon offsets are sold at the state’s quarterly cap-and-trade auctions to fossil fuel-burning companies that want to increase their greenhouse gas limits. Polluting companies can purchase up to 8 percent of their limits under the program, said Dave Clegern, spokesman for the state Air Resources Board’s climate change program. Each offset is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide.
The program, created by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, aims to return California emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Tribal members lauded the program.
“This is an excellent opportunity for our tribe to move ahead with economic development ventures and continue to improve our forest management systems,” James Russ, president of the tribe stated in a release.
Tribal officials and the company sponsoring its carbon credit program — Australia-based New Forests Inc. — declined to divulge how much the tribe expects to earn from the credits. They said only that the amount was “substantial.”
Carbon credits were selling for about $12 each during the February cap-and-trade auction held jointly by California and Quebec. At that rate, the Round Valley tribes’ credits would be worth almost $6.5 million.
Round Valley tribal council member Joe Dukepoo said much of the money earned from the carbon credit sales will go toward managing and improving the 5,600 acres of mixed hardwood and conifer forest that is in the program. The tribe also owns about another 25,000 acres of forest, he said.
“This way, future generations benefit,” Dukepoo said.
The program does not preclude the tribe from logging the property, said Brian Shillinglaw of New Forests Inc. But they do need to manage it in a way that results in increased growth.
“Those trees need to stay on the stump 100 years,” said Clegern.
The money from the carbon credits is estimated to account for about half the tribe’s income from its various money-generating projects, including a small casino, gas station and store. The money also will help fund other economic development projects on the sprawling reservation, which is the second-largest in the state at about 58,000 acres, Dukepoo said.
The tribe has about 4,700 tribal members but only about 1,000 live on the reservation, he said. Many members moved and never returned following a 1950s government-sponsored relocation effort, he said. The Round Valley Indian Tribes include seven tribes that were forced onto the reservation in the 1800s.
Round Valley’s move into the carbon market follows that of Humboldt County’s Yurok Tribe last year. That tribe has more than 8,000 acres of forest land in the program said Shillinglaw, whose company also manages that property. The Round Valley Tribe’s land, however, is the first land held in federal trust to be in the program, he said.
New Forests Inc. manages more than $2 billion in funds and assets and over 1 million acres of land in Australia, the United States and Asia, officials said.