One of the largest environmental groups in the United States recently purchased a part of the Appalachian forest.
The Nature Conservancy bought more than 40,000 hectares – an area covering parts of three states: Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
In their efforts to combat climate change, environmentalists see forests as one of Earth's best defenses. Forests capture carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Yet the Nature Conservancy does not plan to close the land to logging.
Increasingly, conservation groups are supporting the idea of human activity and wildlife protection existing together. They are beginning to reject the idea that conservation and economic growth are opposites.
And larger conservation projects are now possible thanks to the western state of California. The state’s rules on carbon are providing money for such projects.
My land, your land
The Nature Conservancy’s recent purchase is a big one. It is of a size never before attempted in the central Appalachians, says Terry Cook. He is Tennessee state director for the environmental group.
These days in conservation, big projects are the goal. Scientists now know that protecting small, separate parts of nature are not as effective as working across large areas.
What happens in the mountains affects nearby valleys. Highland forests capture, clean and store water for ecosystems and communities below. Animals also need connecting areas of land to pass through, especially as climate change damages their old habitats.
In addition, more trees have the ability to absorb, or take in, more carbon dioxide.
But nearly everywhere on Earth, people are part of the countryside. Their needs cannot be ignored, notes Stuart Hale. He is the Nature Conservancy's Central Appalachian Forest Manager.
The logging industry supports more than 100,000 jobs in Tennessee and 60,000 others in Kentucky. Hale told VOA that includes the loggers and truck drivers carrying the logs, workers at timber factories, and even those working at small stores.
"It's a major part of the economy."
That is why, when the Conservancy bought the land, the group did not turn it into a nature preserve, Cook added.
Spencer Meyer is the lead conservationist at the Highstead Foundation, an environmental group in the New England area. He said the Nature Conservancy’s decision not to create a nature preserve was a good idea.
Meyer said such projects need strong support from local communities or they have a good chance of failing.
"Hungry people make lousy conservationists.”
Money for carbon
Only part of the land will be logged. The Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit group, will make sure the logging operations meet environmental and safety measures.
And cutting down trees is only one way the forest can make money. Thanks to California's climate change rules, forest owners can profit from their trees' carbon-absorbing powers.
California industries must pay for each ton of carbon dioxide they produce, or buy credits to decrease carbon in other areas.
A piece of forest this large is worth millions of tons in carbon credits.
Cook said that around $15 per ton on California’s carbon market means tens of millions of dollars to buy land and keep it healthy for 100 years.
Part of the money for the purchase comes from investors who will earn money from selling timber and future carbon credits. Hale noted that both the timber and the credits earn higher profits when the forest is healthy.
The carbon credits, attention to community needs and size of the land purchase are not very unusual. But "this is probably the first time we've seen all of those pieces come together" at this size, said Meyer.
He expects the project to show proof of what he found in his research: that protecting nature does not have to mean losing jobs.
"At least in New England, we're seeing a small but important signal that conservation leads to job growth."
That's good news for those hoping that preserving forests can help fight climate change without harming the economy.
I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Bryan Lynn.
Words in This Story
greenhouse gas – n. gases in the earth’s atmosphere that trap heat
logging – n. an industry that cuts down trees for wood and paper
conservation – n. the protection of animals, plants, and natural resources
ecosystem – n. a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment
habitat – n. the place or type of place where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives or grows
manager – n. someone who is in charge of a business or department
timber – n. trees that are grown in order to produce wood
preserve – n. an area where plants, animals, minerals, and other things, are protected
lousy – adj. of poor quality