Last spring, Montana's Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were happy to improve wildlife habitat and water quality on their Flathead Indian Reservation by replanting 250 acres of burned land with ponderosa pines. But for the London-based company that is funding the restoration, satisfaction comes from how much carbon dioxide the growing trees will suck out of the atmosphere. The company, Sustainable Forestry Management, is receiving 50,000 tons worth of carbon dioxide emissions credits from the project * credits the company plans to resell to CO2-emitting industries.
The project is a gamble: There are currently no existing limits on CO2 emissions. Sustainable Forestry Management is one of many international companies betting that governments will implement controversial mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions, says Robert Bonnie, economist for Environmental Defense. Bonnie explains that government caps would create a boom for the now strictly voluntary carbon market.
"Eventually, there will be organized trading of carbon credits throughout the world," says Tom Corse, supervisory forester for the tribes. But Dan Lashof, director of science for Natural Resources Defense Council, is wary of focusing too much attention on emissions credits. Lashof says that keeping carbon underground is safer than sequestering it in trees that are vulnerable to fire and changing land-use management. "The real concern is that storing carbon in a forest is not the same as not emitting it in the first place," says Lashof.