Offset projects keep grasslands green in more ways than one

August 30, 2016

Through USDA NRCS grant, Climate Action Reserve and partners revolutionize grasslands’ role in land conservation and carbon markets

LOS ANGELES, CA – Marking a key milestone for bringing grassland offset projects into the carbon market and strengthening their role in land conservation, the first two grassland offset projects have been listed with the Climate Action Reserve, North America’s leading offset project registry.  The projects, both from the Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT), are pilot projects made possible through a USDA NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). The Reserve was awarded this two-year grant in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), K·Coe Isom, C-AGG, The Climate Trust and SCS Global Services.

“Through the Conservation Innovation Grants program, NRCS leverages environmental markets to achieve our mission of getting more conservation on the ground,” said NRCS Chief Jason Weller.  “This grassland CIG partnership demonstrates how carbon market payments can help ensure that grasslands remain intact, providing working lands grazing opportunities and valuable wildlife habitat while generating marketable carbon credits to an expanding domestic carbon market.”

Grasslands naturally absorb CO2 through photosynthesis and, with sustainable management and protection, can function as carbon sinks and reservoirs.  When grasslands are disturbed, a significant portion of the carbon stored in the soil and biomass oxidizes and decays, releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere.  Over half of the grasslands in the U.S. have been disturbed and converted to other uses, mainly cropland.  From 2008-2012, 5.7 million acres of grassland – an area roughly the size of New Hampshire – were converted to cropland.  When grasslands are converted to cropland, not only is the carbon stored in the soil released but emissions also increase due to cultivation activities, such as fertilizer application and fossil fuel combustion.

Through grassland offset projects, landowners have the opportunity to create a win-win-win situation.  Landowners earn offset credits for avoided conversion of their grassland.  By doing this, they protect and enrich their land through sustainable land management and they also make a meaningful contribution to addressing climate change.  The SPLT projects, Raven’s Nest and Heartland Ranch, are being developed with the assistance of EDF and The Climate Trust.  The two conservation easements combined will protect more than 15,000 acres of grassland in southeastern Colorado. More than 2,100 of these acres are under threat of being converted to cropland, generating GHG emissions far into the future.  These specific acres will generate offset credits, which can be sold for revenue in the carbon market, and SPLT can also continue earning revenue from ranching on the land.

“The grasslands protocol recognizes what many landowners in the southern Great Plains have understood since the Dust Bowl: it’s better to keep native grasslands ‘the right side up’ and not plow them under for short-sighted profits.  Making grassland preservation more financially attractive is better for both the region and the global climate,” said Nicole Rosmarino, Executive Director, Southern Plains Land Trust.

“This project not only helps the environment, it gives ranchers another income source,” said Robert Parkhurst, Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Markets Director, EDF. “Ranchers are able to maintain the land as a working grassland, while at the same time earning credits which can be sold into existing carbon markets. It is also one of the most straightforward and easy to use protocols I have ever seen.”

SPLT works to preserve the shortgrass prairie ecosystems of the Great Plains.  It plans to develop another offset project covering over 7,600 acres in 2017.  Because SPLT is a pioneer in participating in the NRCS CIG, a large portion of the costs for developing and verifying the projects are being covered by the grant, helping to increase the revenue for SPLT.

“Protecting grasslands presents a tremendous opportunity to make ranchers and land owners powerful forces in addressing climate change, and by using the carbon market as a tool to fund the protection, there is a win-win-win situation.  We are honored to work with SPLT and EDF on this pioneering initiative and commend SPLT for being a pioneer.  We encourage other ranchers and land owners to explore this opportunity, especially now when a significant part of their projects can be covered by the generous Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS,” said Craig Ebert, President, Climate Action Reserve.

To learn more about grassland offset projects, please visit http://www.climateactionreserve.org/how/protocols/grassland/.