The Swinomish Tribe is exploring ways to manage its forestland sustainably by placing a value on trees beyond the price of lumber.

The tribe is in the process of updating its 2003 forest management plan by implementing recommendations from the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative.

“Forest biomass can go a long way toward accumulating carbon volume over time,” said Ed Knight, Swinomish planning director. “That has some value in terms of mitigating climate impacts, instead of the sole value of a forest being in harvesting trees.”

In recent years, the tribe has purchased forestland on the reservation and increased its ownership from a couple of hundred acres to 1,200 acres, making the tribe the largest forestland owner on the reservation. Of the 7,500 upland acres within the reservation, approximately 4,500 acres are forested.

Most of the 15-square-mile reservation is checker-boarded by different ownership and forest types. Tribal allotments have been subdivided across generations of owners, often with multiple family members owning small tracts of forest. Two-thirds of the reservation is undeveloped.

The Swinomish Tribe is partnering with the conservation and economic development organization Ecotrust to develop a new forest conservation plan using a $528,000 three-year Natural Resources Conservation Service grant.

“The idea is to try to come up with a plan that looks at how the tribal community would like to see the forest for the next generation,” said Brent Davies, Ecotrust’s vice president of forests and ecosystem services. “Ecotrust has an online tool that allows people to visualize changes to forestland.”

One possibility is a “forest bank” that could certify market values of unrealized forest resources, and attract investment in Swinomish carbon sequestration. Each ton of carbon “sequestered” by long-term storage in plants and trees is called a carbon credit. Companies can buy credits to offset their own carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere through forestation helps moderate global warming by reducing or slowing the buildup of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

An ecologically managed forest can store more carbon, provide higher-quality habitat for fish and wildlife, and offer more economic development opportunities, while also supporting a robust forest products industry, Davies said.

“There are not too many models for a forest bank,” she said. “That’s what we received this grant funding for, to explore the concept and develop a framework for one. We plan to essentially generate a pot of funding that could be paid out to landowners in addition to or in lieu of harvest. Then we can set it up as a model, because there are other reservations that have similar issues and challenges with a mix of landowner types.”

A forest bank could fund forest management and generate revenue for tribal members and forest owners while providing cultural and natural resources to the community. Individual allotment or non-Indian private lands could also participate in the forest bank in exchange for an annual payment, Davies said.

“We expect to come out with a better, healthier forest base, and promote and manage that into perpetuity, while returning some value to the owners,” Knight said.

For more information, contact: Ed Knight, planning director, Swinomish Tribe, 360-466-7280 or eknight@swinomish.nsn.us; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-528-4406 or kneumeyer@nwifc.org.