State, tribe reach multimillion-dollar deal on carbon offset credits

A nearly 5,600-acre swath of tribal forest land 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.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson?

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