Learn About Forest Carbon Markets Through New Online Curriculum

By Chris Schnepf

Wood buried in the forest soil profile
Like other ecosystems, forests store carbon both above and below ground. Photo: Chris Schnepf.

Ten years ago, when I visited with forest owners about climate change, there was a fair amount discussion about what was happening or not, and all the politics surrounding it. But one of the topics landowners were intrigued about—regardless of the extent to which they believed climate was changing—was carbon markets. Forest owners were excited about the prospect of a revenue stream for things they were doing well on their forest, that would result in more carbon being sequestered.

Excitement about that died down considerably when efforts to establish a cap-and-trade program to establish a carbon marketplace in the United States failed in the U.S. Congress. Since then, carbon markets have not received a lot of discussion by forest owners here. In fact, many believe such markets are dead. But rumors of the death of carbon markets are perhaps highly exaggerated. International carbon markets have continued to develop. Some states, such as California developed their own carbon markets. Recently, Oregon made a run at it, though it was not passed by their Legislature.

Landowners do not necessarily have to live in the states or countries that have these markets to participate in them, so such markets are still a possibility. Landowners’ participation in carbon markets is not simple, and not inexpensive. Indeed, landowners who are interested in these markets would do well to learn about them before investing too much time in them.

To that end, Michigan State University recently received federal extension funding to develop an online course on these markets titled: “Understanding Forest Carbon Management”. The course includes content on science, policy, projects, and management of forest carbon. It also provides a variety of additional tools and training opportunities to learn about managing forest carbon. While these programs are primarily targeted to consulting foresters and other natural resource professionals, landowners can get a lot out of them too. Two of our Idaho Master Forest Stewards tested the curriculum this year. Both found it to be very informative:

“I so appreciate the work that Professor Emily S. Huff and the team at Michigan State University did for their fascinating ‘Understanding Forest Carbon Management’ online course. The course is so well designed and informative. As a beta-tester, I found the course an incredible opportunity to learn about the forest carbon cycle and how sequestration works for climate change. I think the course will be an invaluable contribution to the field, particularly as it increases communication between forestry professionals and landowners.

— Renée E. D’Aoust

“The MSU Forest Carbon Management e-course is a comprehensive program. It highlights the California carbon market, clearly describing participant procedures, and program infrastructure and incentives. Efficacy for small forest landowners to participate in carbon markets is uncertain because of cost, but such markets can provide another revenue opportunity and promote active forest management while sequestering atmospheric carbon!”

— Frank Morado

Carbon markets are certain to evolve with time, but the knowledge you gain about forest carbon biology and how to assess it from this program will last you many years regardless. For more information on the  online course, go to Understanding Forest Carbon Management website.