The urban forests of Washington and the United States are long overdue to earn certified carbon credits.

Carbon buyers purchased $700 million in carbon credits in the U.S. over the last decade ($4.5 billion worldwide). Yet, not a single dollar of that money can go to the trees in the cities and towns of America.

Research has documented tremendous benefits and values of ecosystem services provided by trees in cities; however, urban forests receive relatively little funding as municipalities struggle to meet basic utility and human service needs.

Our organization, the Seattle-based Urban Forest Carbon Registry (the Registry), is a 501(c) 3 non-profit that is working to open a new funding source for urban forests.

Currently, we are developing a practical carbon protocol for urban forestry projects, which will be the “rulebook” that projects must follow to earn certified credits. We are also establishing a registry to certify and track urban forest carbon projects and credits.

We assembled a national group of stakeholders from many areas of urban forestry—municipal foresters, non-profit organizations, utility providers, tree care industry professionals, scientists, etc.—to draft two urban forest protocols, one for tree planting and a second for tree preservation.

Here is how the credits will work:

An applicant wishing to obtain credits will design an urban forestry project according to our protocol. The applicant will then submit an application to the Registry requesting credits for their project.

The Registry will review the application, verify compliance with the protocol, and certify the project. As the project is implemented, the Registry issues credits in intervals over a 25-year period as specified project benchmarks are met. The Registry verifies that credited trees are still alive and healthy at each project benchmark before the next round of credits can be issued to the applicant.

Carbon buyers will purchase credits from project applicants directly and not from the Registry. This puts revenue from certified carbon credit sales directly in the hands of those who need those monies to recoup initial project costs, maintain the credited trees, or fund other urban forestry projects that in turn may be eligible for additional credits.

Carbon offset credits in established markets account for one metric tonne of carbon per credit, however Urban Forest Carbon Registry is creating “bundled” credits with our own brand, called Community Carbon Credits. These credits will include the added value of other ecosystem benefits, such as storm water retention and cooling, in addition to the value of carbon.

This system will establish a new funding source for urban and community forestry in the United States, however there is more work to be done. Would you like your urban forest projects to generate carbon revenue? You can help our effort by reviewing the protocol drafts and submitting comments on them.

With your help, we can finalize workable urban forest protocols that could enable cities and towns, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and other stakeholders to supplement their urban forestry program dollars with carbon revenues.

Please go to www.ufregistry.org to download copies of the protocols or learn more about Urban Forestry Carbon Registry. Questions about the Registry can be directed to info@ufregistry.org.

By Mark McPherson, Executive Director, Urban Forest Carbon Registry. Mark is a Seattle-based lawyer and business person and has been active in urban forestry for many years before founding the non-profit Urban Forest Carbon Registry in 2015.