Carbon and forests

John Shuey jshuey at TNC.ORG
Thu Jul 10 16:17:08 EDT 2003

Mike's questions relative to the cost grassland restoration versus
reforestation is a reflection of several factors.

First - site preparation is very different between the two restoration
types.  For forest projects, we may have some field drains to break, but
usually there is little in the way of earth moving involved.  Obvious
surface drains are disrupted to restore infiltration patterns.

And tree seedlings can compete with most weeds, so a simple strip herbicide
treatment is all that you need for initial weed control.  Two years of
follow-up control are usually needed - either mowing or strip herbicide
treatments - mostly to keep allelopathic weeds down in the planted rows.

In contrast - Indiana prairie is all about hydrology - so very careful work
is the rule.  The idea is that surface fluctuations and that seasonal timing
of hydrological cycles controls community structure - so inches count (at
KSands - 11 sq miles are mapped at 6-inch contours with 2" accuracy).

Prairie establishment is very sensitive to initial "weed" control.  If reed
canary grass gets into a prairie planting - that's all you will have - the
same with smooth brome, cheat grass, etc...  So we usually treat prairie
restorations with herbicide up to three times in the season before the
seeding takes place.  Follow-up usually involved mowing the annual weeds for
at least  year following initial planting.

Second, - when we plant trees, we are not trying to "restore" forest in a
single step.  We are planting heavy masted trees (oak and hickory mostly)
and controlling weeds for 2-3 years.  Step 2 comes after the heavy masted
saplings are established - and light seeded species "blow" in - cottonwood,
poplar, ash...  - this is without cost.  Step three is at some point in the
future (after canopy closure, ~15 years), when we try and figure out what
actions are required to establish a native herbaceous community.  We have
not done this part yet - and it may involve using very expensive seeds.  Or
it may just involve natural recolonization from adjacent forests.  We don't
know if this phase has a price or not.

In contrast, restoring prairie is more of a "one-shot" deal.  At KSands,
about 330 species of native plants are planted each year.  Our mixes are
designed so that about 20 seeds hit the ground per square foot.

Third, society values trees more than grass.  Our DNR grows and distributes
at cost, local genotype tree seedlings.  So, no-one makes a penny on the
seedlings, and the state tree nurseries are vast, growing trees on an
industrial scale.

In contrast, we had to establish our own seed nursery at KSands (and are
adding a greenhouse this summer as well). Buying prairie seed on the open
market s not an option (Carex stricta - a great butterfly hostplant, runs
about $1K/lb - we plant about 30 lbs per year).   120 species are grown
under nursery conditions (~130 acres), and over 200 species are collected in
the wild (in usually inadequate amounts).  So again, while we are generating
the seed at cost, our nursery is not industrial sized, and the cost per unit
is pretty high.  All told, we employ 3 full-time staff in support of this,
and between 7-10 seasonal interns.

The cumulative impact of these differences really add up when it comes to
the final cost per acre.

John Shuey
Director of Conservation Science
Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-leps-l at [mailto:owner-leps-l at]On
Behalf Of Michael Gochfeld
Sent: Thursday, July 10, 2003 11:24 AM
To: Leps List
Subject: Re: Carbon and forests

This is a fascinating story.  I know that prairie can be complex, and
not cheap, but I didn't guess it would cost MORE than a forest.

Is the cost in preparation, planting labor, maintenance, or in purchase
of the plants (seeds) themselves?

I'll share this with Steve Handel our local restoration center leader.

Separately we are grappling with a university restoration project in
which a former sand pit, turned wetland, was planted with Red Maple
seedlings and Sweet Gum, as part of a mitigation agreement, ignoring the
Silver-bordered Fritillary population hanging on by a silken thread.

John Shuey wrote:
> Responding to Mike's comments, which are very valid -
> Indiana is the heart of the corn belt - so most of the reforestation is
> bean or corn conversion.  The pastures that we have (or had) are mostly
> fescue or reed canary grass, which have incredibly low value for wildlife.
> But that doesn't mean that we ignore grasslands either.  You can access
> first phase of a carbon sequestration report we have developed for
> Sands at the web site below.
> s.action
> Phase two of this work is to evaluate the "economic value" of the carbon
> sequestration to determine if there is a market for the product (already
> have a potentially interested utility taking a look at the report).
> The problem with grassland restoration is that it costs us about twice as
> much per acre (~$1k/acre) to restore high-quality prairie as it does to
> plant trees - and prairie sequesters less carbon over the long-run than
> a forest restoration.  So, I doubt that that we will ever find a utility
> that is wiling to pay for the entire costs of grassland restoration under
> today's economic assumptions (i.e. speculative market for credits) - but
> even if they paid for the costs of the monocots (about 50 core species at
> Ksands), the cumulative value at a project the size of Ksands would be
> substantial.  FYI - once completed, Ksands is estimated to be a $20M
> conservation project - we have expended about 60% of that as of this year.
> If you want to know more about Ksands go to:
> html
> Of relevance to this list, one of the primary targets (or indicators of
> success for the restoration) is the prairie and savanna butterfly
> The birds are targets too, but they're so easy...  if you build it, they
> will come..... and we now have two species nesting on the site that had
> nested in Indiana in over 40 years.  Butterflies are much more picky.
> Best,
> john
> _________________
> John Shuey
> Director of Conservation Science
> Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Michael Gochfeld [mailto:gochfeld at]
> Sent: Thursday, July 10, 2003 6:17 AM
> To: jshuey at
> Cc: Leps List
> Subject: Carbon and forests
> Interesting and disturbing story that John provides about carbon credits.
> It is
> complex and worthy of an intricate mystery writer.
> But it raised a separate concern in my mind.
> In New Jersey today we have more forest cover than a century ago.
> Conservationists have cherished forests (after all in the east it is our
> climax
> vegetation).
> But what we desperately lack are grasslands and their associated fauna.
> Most
> grassland bird species are in steep decline (at least in NJ).
> Last week in central NY I heard a Meadowlark song----and realized how long
> it
> had been since I heard that once familiar voice.
> Fortunately butterflies seem more tolerant of fragmented meadows, but we
> need to
> develop a conservation ethic for early successional stages.
> A forest planted is a grassland lost.
> John Shuey wrote:
> > Perhaps the best evidence of the acceptance of the reality of global
> warming
> > among industry types is how badly they want to acquire "carbon credits"
> > the assumption that t some future date, these credits will become a
> > commodity.  In the Midwest, where forest fragmentation, patch size and
> edge
> > effect are huge conservation issues, we have been swamped with power
> company
> > funding for reforestation.  Over the last 6-7 years, we have literally
> > planted every old field at TNC and partner conservation sites available.
> > think we passed the 2M trees planted mark on TNC land last year.  And we
> > scaled back an offer of more funding over the next three years by 75% -
> > simply don't have any land that needs to be planted anymore. (although
> every
> > time you buy a forest in Indiana, it likely comes with a field of some
> > sort).
> >
> > So while we get buffers to our preserves reforested for free and some
> staff
> > time covered as part of the deal - what may you ask are the power
> companies
> > getting?  They get a speculatively low price on carbon sequestration
> credits
> > for the next 40 years on the site (they cover all of our costs - about
> > $550/acre).  If carbon credit trading becomes a reality (as outlined in
> the
> > Kyoto protocol), they will "own X-number of credits for tons of carbon
> > the way - the utilities are responsible for the monitoring of carbon
> > sequestration during the 40 years - all we do is document baseline
> > conditions at the time of initial planting).  Once carbon trading
> a
> > reality (and the credits actually have "value") - the utilities expect
> > pay a premium to acquire the credits (and as a non-profit, we would have
> to
> > charge full market value for the credits by law - what ever the going
> > for a carbon credit might be at that time).
> >
> > So, utilities are paying fro the cost of reforestation now, speculating
> that
> > at some point in the future, their investment will be worth quite a bit
> > more.  Given the amount of money that they are paying (at our little
> program
> > we planted about $700K worth of trees over the last few years), my guess
> is
> > that they are betting that the recommendations of the Kyoto summit will
> > become accepted in the US.
> >
> > As an aside, one of the utilities has upped the ante, and is willing to
> pay
> > a few hundred dollars per acre to help TNC acquire a conservation
> > on lands within our preserve designs (in addition to the costs of
> > reforestation).  They hope that this would help us to convince private
> > landowners adjacent to our holdings to participate in the program.
  You -
> > the landowner get your land reforested for free, plus $2-3 hundred bucks
> and
> > acre in your pocket - and the credits of course go to ....
> >
> > If Ohio River Valley power companies (coal burning by the way) think
> > Kyoto will be adapted in the good 'ole USA, then there must be something
> to
> > all this global warming stuff.
> > _________________
> > John Shuey
> > Director of Conservation Science
> > Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: owner-leps-l at [mailto:owner-leps-l at]On
> > Behalf Of Stanley A. Gorodenski
> > Sent: Wednesday, July 9, 2003 1:30 PM
> > To: Leps List
> > Subject: Re: leps-list not dead, but sleeping
> >
> > Mark Walker wrote:
> >
> > > That's very interesting - because "global warming" has indeed been
> > > propagated by the media AND various lobbyists as a "global trend" -
> > is,
> >
> > I disagree. I have read Science (published by the American Association
> > the
> > Advancement of Science) for over 10 years. _Numerous_ research results
> have
> > been
> > presented related to global warming and climate change during this time.
> > These
> > were by researchers, not media and lobbyists. The common lay person does
> not
> > read Science and other scientific journals to get information on global
> > warming.
> > The media fills this gap, but because it is fulfilling a function for
> which
> > it
> > was designed, it would be inappropriate to therefore say that the media
> > responsible for 'crying wolf' or spreading hysteria, so to speak. With
> > respect
> > to lobbyists, what sort of lobbyists are you referring to? I am sure the
> > Exxons
> > are not lobbying to reduce the consumption of oil because of global
> warming
> > considerations.
> > Stan
> >
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