Forestry Carbon Trading Opportunities Explored with GIS

By Barbara Shields, GIS Journalist

Forests in the United States sequester about 200 million metric tons of carbon each year. In its most recent U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that the country’s forests sequester 10.5 percent of the carbon dioxide released in the United States by the combustion of fossil fuels. Geographic information systems (GIS) can reliably measure, monitor, and verify carbon storage occurring within forests.

FORECON, Inc., a multidisciplinary forestry and natural resources management consulting firm, is using ESRI’s ArcGIS software for developing forest management applications. GIS accesses data and processes forestry information, such as current forest inventories and forecasts of inventory growth, and delivers it to the company’s clientele, who can view the data geographically. A geographic approach to forest analysis provides foresters with a site-specific understanding about how carbon stocks associated with certain forests are changing. This approach supplies the information needed to develop sound and sustainable forest management plans.

The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) is a prominent organization that has developed a successful market mechanism to allow the reduction of greenhouse gases through several options. As an example, manufacturing companies can join CCX, wherein they agree to reduce their carbon emissions footprint by a certain percentage within a specified time period. One means of doing this is through carbon offset credit trading. To meet emission reduction goals, CCX member businesses purchase forest carbon sequestration credits to help offset their emission production levels. The revenue paid to the carbon offset credit provider goes toward compensating for the costs of sustainable forest management. Exchange allowances are issued to members in accordance with their emission baseline and other regulations.

GIS supports a scientific method of calculating carbon sequestration and the basis for credible forest credit certification. Impartial validation is essential for accreditation of forest carbon sequestration, and the calculation of these credits must be held to scientific standards. GIS houses and manages immense forestry databases, and it runs forestry models and displays stand volume and carbon sequestration data via tables and maps. This information can also be delivered over the Internet along with tools that help clients easily interact with spatial and tabular data. Subscribers can get the exact information they need to prove their carbon sequestration projects are credible and transparent in the way they are being developed and reported.

The project begins with foresters gathering timber inventory data in the file, using GPS technology to reference stand attribute data with geographic location coordinates. Inventory data includes tree species, diameter, and ecological information. The georeferenced field data is downloaded into a geodatabase, and tree data is joined to other timber stand data tables located in a SQL Server geodatabase. A geoprocessing model program that has been designed for timber inventory produces Forestry Carbon Trading Opportunities Explored with GIS timber volumes and stem counts by species and diameter class for a particular area, then shows these on a map.

One customized GIS, known as the Timber, Inventory, Growth, Evaluation, and Reporting (TIGER©) system is integrated with the U.S. Forest Service’s growth and yield model variants. The GIS processes the collected timber data and makes growth estimates for a variety of time intervals. It also provides a direct translation of the timber data into carbon units, essential in producing the information required for forest carbon market participation. This data is then made available to whomever the forest owner chooses including the forest manager and the CCX verifier, who must audit the process by which project owners are reporting their carbon credits.

Using a GIS-enabled Web site, foresters and investors can geographically view the report. The site provides clients with a forestcentric map interaction experience. The Web site includes applications for a wide range of forestry work processes and data management tasks. Built on ArcGIS Server technology, the Web site allows users to run customized and standardized growth models on stands, tracts, and management units as well as generate reports in various file formats.

The Web site gives the contractor’s clientele and certain CCX verifiers easy access to data and interactive tools. Site visitors can quickly and easily view growth rates and carbon sequestration conversion data needed to make sound investment decisions for both business and the environment. A mapping function graphically displays the specific forest’s ownership, and users can drill down to the tract and forest stand level. GIS allows users to link to various reports, including stand and stock tables by species and diameter class as well as the associated carbon stock equivalents for that particular part of the forest’s ownership.

Read more about FORECON’s services at Specific questions can be sent to Mike Darr, director of FORECON’s GIS and Technical Support Group, at

From: ESRI Forestry GIS Journal
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