The largest wildfire so far in Oregon this season, Bootleg Fire, has burned nearly 400,000 acres of land every day in the southern part of the state, covering an area of approximately 4 square miles. At the time of writing this report, the fire is spreading to one-fifth of the carbon offset forests in nearby areas. The trees in these forests are destined to survive for a hundred years. Given that persistent drought and wildfire conditions threaten carbon offsets, the question is whether these offsets are important if stored carbon smokes in a hot climate.
Like lightning since July 6, Bootleg Fire has now grown to roughly twice the size of New York City, with 2,250 people extinguishing fires, and these fires stretch for more than 40 miles from east to west. Now, fire is generating its own climate, and only 32% of fires are controlled. Klamath County is a mountainous and forested area north of the border between Oregon and California and is home to the United States National Forest.
Some of the lands are privately owned, including a carbon offset called Klamath East, which is owned and operated by the forest products company Green Diamond Resource Company. Since the Bootleg fire started, it has spread to nearly 90,000 acres of preserved trees to offset carbon emissions on behalf of businesses and individuals. According to CNN’s analysis, this accounts for about one-fifth of the total land in Klamath East.
Carbon offsets can take many forms, but in the United States, most forms are created in the name of Improved Forest Management. To be considered as such compensation, the owner must prove that his forest performs above average as a carbon abatement agent compared to other forests. Once approved, every ton of carbon dioxide absorbed by their forests will receive a credit. These credits can be sold to companies that want to offset their own emissions, enabling them to claim carbon neutrality. The company can then hold or negotiate these credits until they are submitted to the government for compliance purposes. Credit is not like traditional currency; once submitted, it is considered “retired” and cannot be used again.
As of December 20, Klamath East compensation has issued more than 790,000 credits, of which 140,000 have been withdrawn. According to California Limits and Trade, if your business wants to offset its emissions, you can still buy carbon credits from the Klamath East offset, even if they are losing trees due to wildfires due to the way these trees are insured.
Patty Case, a representative of Green Diamond Resources, which is leading the carbon project, said that the company will not be able to assess the impact on the forest until the fire is extinguished for several weeks. It was purchased in 2014, and its planted area has been harvested in large quantities before ownership. Now, as the forest improves, the company has obtained carbon credits.
What is also good for Green Diamond is that they will not be attracted by trees lost due to wildfires, because all offsets share the risk. Beverly Law, Professor Emeritus of Global Change Biology at the School of Forestry at Oregon State University, said that carbon offset programs usually take into account that some forests may burn. She said that according to history, efforts can be made to select areas that are unlikely to burn, and the production of carbon offsets is still high. If its value is not related to stress-adjusted risks (such as wildfires or droughts) during the offset 100-year life cycle, what does it represent?
When a wildfire burns carbon offsets, the owner, the buyer of the credit, or the seller of the credit is not responsible for assessing whether the carbon credit still represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide absorbed by the tree. In fact, the trees represented by the credit may have been burned in the Bootleg fire on the Eastern Washington bypass or the Chuweah Creek and Summit Trail fires.