Your Reading List

No Credits Yet For Prairie Trees

One of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gasses is to plant trees. Through photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. It is for this reason forests are often referred to as the lungs of the world. As well, trees sequester carbon both in the wood and in the soil. As a result, the planting of trees is one of the most valued sources of carbon offset credits.

A number of companies around the world are engaged in reforestation (replanting of trees in logged or burnt out areas) and afforestation (planting of trees on marginal agricultural land and waste land.) These companies receive significant returns from selling of the carbon credits available from these activities.

Over the years, Prairie farmers have planted miles of shelterbelts and now some of these growers are wonder if the thousands of trees they planted over the years could yield saleable carbon credits.

Alan Johnson of Welwyn, Sask., went one step further. In 2000-01, Johnson diversified his farm operation by starting a woodlot. He planted 25,000 fast growing popular hybrids, which he hopes to harvest about 15 years from now. Until that time, Johnson is interested in selling the carbon credits his woodlot should be creating.

Unfortunately, there is currently no offset protocol for growing trees on the Canadian Prairies. An offset protocol is a scientific determination of the net creation of carbon credits by following a specific management practice. Without a protocol in place, buyers will not buy credits created by a specific management practice because they have no way of knowing if those credits will be considered real and verifiable. Therefore, until such a protocol has been created for afforestation, it is unlikely any aggregator will be willing to purchase credits from Canadian Prairie farmers for woodlots or shelterbelts.

When the regulated carbon market was introduced in Alberta in 2007, Alberta did introduce an afforestation protocol. However, Amanda Stuparyk, offset coordinator with Climate Change Central says, “There was no uptake by Albertans of afforestation credits. This past spring that afforestation protocol was withdrawn due to technical questions with respect to the quantification procedure and for public consultation by some for trading afforestation credits concerns that it did not match time in February 2010. If this by mid year 2010.” U. S. afforestation protocols. We protocol passes through the consultation Since the new Alberta protocol are in the process of reassessing process without requiring promises to be similar to protocols the protocol and hopefully a major revision, we should now available in the U. S., new protocol will be available have the new protocol in place growers can get a very rough

ERA Ecosystem Reforestation has been planting trees on marginal farmland, logged areas, and city green areas throughout the lower Fraser Valley area of British Columbia since 2005. On December 4, 2009, ERA announced its third $750,000 sale of emission reduction credits.

estimate of how many credits may be available from growing of trees by looking at what is being offered under U. S. protocols. For example, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) Afforestation Protocol offers 0.669 to 1.916 tons of carbon credits per acre per year of northern Prairie woodland depending on the species and age of trees being grown. This compares to a CCX credit of 0.40 tonnes per acre per year of C02 credits for zero tillage in the same region.


We can also look to British Columbia for working examples of afforestation credits. At least two companies in British Columbia have already planted trees and sold credits to large final emitters in the over the counter market. Given the size of these plantings, these companies did not require the services of an aggregator. They followed established U. S. protocols, and sold the credits directly to companies seeking offsets.

Twenty km northwest of Prince George, Borealis Carbon Offset planted 120,000 trees on about

160 acres of marginal agricultural land and rough pasture in 2008 and 2009. This company intends to sell credits generated from these trees for the next 80 years. The first credits were offered for sale in January 2009.

ERA Ecosystem Reforestation has been planting trees on marginal farmland, logged areas, and city green areas throughout the lower Fraser Valley area of British

Columbia since 2005.

On December 4, 2009, ERA announced its third $750,000 sale of emission reduction credits. This sale was for credits generated from trees which were planted under their Community Ecosystem Restoration Program. According to Alex Langer, investor relations with ERA Carbon Offsets Ltd, ERA has acquired 100-year leases on land in the District of Maple Ridge, the District of Mission, the City and Township of Langley, and in Metro Vancouver for large-scale urban reforestation. The trees which ERA has planted are now generating 100,000 tonnes of verified emission reduction each year. ERA sold these credits for $8 a tonne to an integrated oil and gas company wanting to offset emissions from its energy operations in northern Alberta.

ERA is also in the process of reforesting areas in Rwanda, Ecuador, Peru, and the United States, and they will be selling emission offset credits from these areas as trees are planted.


While farmers on the Canadian Prairies cannot expect the carbon credit returns from planting trees that these companies are getting in the high rainfall areas of B. C., the income from small on-farm afforestation projects may be enough to justify retaining existing tree stands and even planting of trees in areas unsuited for crops.

However, the import thing to remember is there are no aggregators acquiring credits from Prairie woodlands at this time and there won’t a market for these credits until a protocol is in place to determine the quality, value, and risk of afforestation on the Prairies.

That protocol will also outline the management practices you will have to follow before credits can be sold. For example, the protocol will identify the species of trees that have value, the spacing between the trees, and the time frame for which the trees must be allowed to grow before they can be harvested.

Until these rules are in place, Alan Johnson and other Prairie farmers interested in getting carbon credits for their trees will just have to be patient and hope that carbon prices rise.

Gerald Pilger farms near Ohaton, Alta.

About the author

Gerald Pilger's recent articles



Stories from our other publications