In an effort to combat climate change, the Vermont Nature Conservancy and the American Forest Foundation started a program that will pay smaller landowners for adhering to practices aimed at storing carbon on their property.

The Forest Family Carbon Program will compensate eligible landowners in Vermont and parts of eastern New York who own at least 30 acres looking to prioritize carbon sequestration. Three of every five acres of forest in the state are owned by Vermonters, but few programs have existed that encourage individual landowners to take a climate focused approach.

“The carbon markets have really favored larger landowners because it’s fairly expensive and extensive to enroll,” said Jim Shallow, director of Strategic Conservation Initiatives at the Nature Conservancy. So we set out a different way of doing this and paying people for the practices upfront as opposed to inventorying their trees.”

As part of a 20-year contract, landowners can earn $300 per acre if they enroll in a segment of the plan called “Grow Older Forests”, in which trees are left largely untouched. A separate category of the project called “Enhance Your Woodland” exists for landowners who decide to harvest some trees, but do so in a way that promotes carbon sequestration. That plan provides $200 per acre over the course of 20 years.

Shallow says there has been no shortage of interest in the program so far.

“Our goal this year was to enroll 6,000 acres within our pilot area and I’m excited about the initial response here,” he said. “We already have 10,000 acres of land owners that have expressed interest.”

Tim Stout, a landowner in Shrewsbury who enrolled his land in the program during its pilot phase has been conducting similar carbon-focused practices on his land with his own money. He says this funding will help him maintain what he’s done already, while also adding more trees that absorb carbon.

“We’re allowing the best trees to grow larger canopies,” said Stout. “And with those larger canopies, sequester more carbon and then store more carbon.”  

The Nature Conservancy will have a monitoring plot on the land of participants in the program in order to monitor how the trees are growing in response to the forest practices.