Chris Will always knew he was going to end up working in the forest. He enjoys camping and fishing, and he decided early in life that he wanted to work outdoors. Chris is a forester and founder of Central Kentucky Forest Management, which provides forestry consulting services such as timber appraisals, forest management planning, timber sale administration and forest inventories. These services are provided to forest landowners in central and eastern Kentucky. Says Chris, “I’m fortunate because I’m able to spend many of my days in scenic and remote forests. There are days when you come across unsuspecting wildlife such as a male turkey strutting and displaying his feathers for a potential mate or a fox digging up a meal in an old log. It’s a great job!”
Chris also knew he wanted to be a consulting forester, working directly with small private landowners, from the day he graduated. “Consulting foresters have the opportunity to really improve forest health and productivity through their work with private landowners,” he explains. “Historically private landowners didn’t know what they owned or how much it was worth. Timber was cut from their property without much thought. I’m able to work with them, educating them about forest health and the value of their trees, and how to manage their property in a way that provides multiple values for many generations.”
Consulting foresters are an important part of MACED’s Forest Opportunities Initiative (FOI). The FOI helps private forest landowners practice sustainable forest management by providing education, financial assistance and new income options. One promising new income option is carbon offsets, also called carbon credits. Participating landowners can receive payments for the carbon their trees store over time to build the wood that makes up their trunk, branches and roots. These payments result from the efforts made by companies and individuals to reduce and offset their carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. MACED acts as aggregator, grouping together many parcels of land owned by private forest landowners, and then sells the forest carbon offsets to parties interested in reducing their carbon footprint.
To become enrolled in the FOI, landowners must provide proof of ownership, forest management, and certification through the American Tree Farm or Forest Stewardship Council. Participating landowners hire consulting foresters, such as Chris, to conduct a baseline inventory of the amount of carbon stored by trees on their land and to help with developing management plans. If needed, MACED will extend loans to landowners to help cover the consulting foresters’ fees. The loans are paid back from proceeds from the sale of the carbon.
“The FOI program is great because it provides landowners with a financial incentive to manage their property,” says Chris. “Because Kentucky’s hardwood trees don’t become financially mature for timber until they are 80 years old, income generated from the forest occurred infrequently. As a result, little forest management activity took place. Now with the sale of carbon credits, that are paid out annually, landowners have the necessary cash to actively manage their forests. These activities not only produce more valuable timber, but also provide important forest values such as clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.”
In addition to supporting landowners and their land, the FOI is also helping consulting foresters. Says Chris, “The FOI has been beneficial to me and my company, especially in the midst of the tough economic situation the country is in. There are not as many timber sale activities now. But more landowners are actively seeking out advice and purchasing the services of consulting foresters through the FOI, because it gives landowners a short-term incentive to get an inventory done. I’ve added several motivated clients as a result of the FOI.”
Chris is enthusiastic about the long-term positive impact of the FOI. He says, “I anticipate that these landowners will be clients for life, not just for the short-term, because they are interested in other management activities. The end product is improved forest management on the ground, in large part because of the relationships that develop between consulting foresters and landowners. And managed forests are healthy forests, which store even more carbon. I think that’s what really makes the FOI valuable.”
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