Last summer, North Carolina State University enrolled in the Natural Capital Exchange Summer 2021 cycle. Over the decades, the forestland owned by NC State has touched the lives of thousands, providing a wide range of ecosystem benefits to the public, wildlife, and the university’s diverse student body. The university forests also act as an important recreation space and an outdoor classroom for several academic programs including forestry, botany, mycology, wildlife biology, ecology, and more.
For NC State, participating in a carbon offset program starts a whole new chapter in its forest management activities. The additional revenue generated from participation will go straight to sustainably managing the forest, retaining wildlife habitat, and supporting research, scholarships, and educational opportunities for the 2,200 students of the College of Natural Resources.
NC State’s Journey to Selling Carbon Offsets
The journey to sell forest carbon offsets began last summer when Sam Cook, Executive Director for Forest Assets for the College of Natural Resources and Vice President of the NC State Natural Resources Foundation, enrolled eligible forestland into the Natural Capital Exchange. To meet the needs of a uniquely diverse set of forest benefactors, the Forest Asset team at the College of Natural Resources is charged with protecting the health of the forest and covering the associated costs of maintaining the land.
“We… are self-sustaining. So we use the income provided from timber sales and hunting leases to pay our salaries, to pay for our forest management, and then after that, we can pay for student scholarships and employment… so having the extra income paying us for ecosystem services is a great benefit to our program,” explains Elizabeth Snider, Forest Manager.
Balancing various land management objectives across multiple forest holdings with stands of varying ages, year after year, is complex and requires the Forest Asset team to remain flexible when implementing its forest management plan. Thus, selling forest carbon in the Natural Capital Exchange is seen as a welcome alternative revenue stream for the university. Because of the innovative NCX annual terms, the program offers easy integration into the college’s existing forest management plan in comparison to programs with 20 to 40 year term lengths.
Mr. Cook views selling forest carbon as a benefit not only for universities but also private landowners, explaining that forest carbon, “can bring financial resources to landowners to help them better manage their land. These resources can contribute to reforestation of their land to ensure they’re doing good, sustainable management, pay for taxes when their funds are limited, and ensure they will have money they can pass down to the next generation who inherits the land.”
Carbon Offset Programs Provide New Opportunities for the World’s Future Foresters
Beyond providing additional yearly income for the College of Natural Resources, participation in a carbon offset program allows for NC State’s forestry students to gain exposure to new forestry disciplines that are only expected to grow in the future. Mr. Cook explains:
“Our students will one day go out into the real world and take on jobs and start a career. They will get engaged in what they can do with landowners, whether it be private or industry or government… to bring value [through carbon offset programs] and help them in the management of their land. Most importantly, it will help them go back to their communities to teach other landowners.”
The primary role of the forester is to use their deep knowledge of forests and natural ecosystems to help meet a range of different landowners’ goals and objectives. This extends beyond harvesting timber by focusing on forest aesthetics, influencing the habitation of different types of wildlife, combating invasive species, and carbon sequestration.
Tom Sturdivant, a third-year forestry student at NC State, sees a bright future for the forestry industry concerning carbon offset programs, noting people have become much more environmentally conscious over the past few decades. He explains where he believes his own opportunity lies:
“Your average person, they understand the problem [of climate change], maybe not to its fullest extent… But they’re not exactly sure of the solutions… they don’t really think of the landscape itself as a filtration device or a way to store carbon. I think as a forester, being able to educate landowners that the land is able to do this on its own is important to foster. That’s where I’ll do most of my work.”
The Role Universities Play in Shaping Our Future
At a time when younger generations are more concerned than ever about climate change, NC State is playing a pivotal role in delivering a more sustainable future.
According to Dean Myron Floyd of the College of Natural Resources, “As a public land grant university, [NC State] has a tremendous opportunity to advance natural solutions. If we want to empower our students to better the planet, to better communities, and to better the world, it’s important they get direct exposure to innovate natural solutions to climate change, like carbon offset programs.”
North Carolina State University is putting these beliefs into action by educating landowners through extension programs and inspiring future generations of foresters. By participating in the Natural Capital Exchange, NC State is leading by example and demonstrating innovative techniques to manage lands in both sustainable and resourceful ways.