U.S. Fish and Wildlife and partners' 2,600-acre forest carbon project in Louisiana wildlife refuge receives gold status under Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standards

MOREHOUSE PARISH, Louisiana , September 21, 2011 (press release) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), TerraCarbon, LLC, and The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero® program announced today that a 2,600-acre forest carbon project at Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was awarded gold level validation under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standards. The carbon project at Upper Ouachita NWR is Go Zero’s fifth and largest project to receive gold level status under the CCB Standards—no other group in the nation has as many.

Go Zero works with thousands of individuals and companies to help reduce and then offset the carbon footprint of everyday activities, such as the CO2 emissions resulting from a in-town or cross country move with U-Haul, a flight with World Class Charters or a vacation booked with Travelocity, a package shipped from Gaiam or the electricity it takes to power a Dell notebook for three years. Companies from C&S Wholesale Grocers to The North Face use Go Zero to offset portions of their energy use and staff travel. New Jersey Natural Gas matches all customer donations to help address home energy use. Already the Fund and the USFWS have planted more than one million trees thanks to Go Zero donors.

“Our Go Zero donors want to invest in high-quality forest carbon projects that deliver lasting results and multiple benefits to wildlife and people,” said The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero director Jena Thompson Meredith, “but validation is just the beginning. Now we can turn our attention to raising donations that will help pay for the long-term protection, restoration and monitoring of these forests. We need our Heroes of Go Zero now more than ever.”

"Restoring this 2,600-acre piece of land is an important part of the work we are doing in the Lower Mississippi Valley with The Conservation Fund and other partners," said the Service's Southeast regional director, Cindy Dohner. "Together, we are helping to prevent downstream flooding, providing outdoor recreational opportunities and assisting in the recovery of forest breeding birds, the Louisiana black bear, and other native species."

The gold level validation was certified by Scientific Certification Systems. Planting and carbon monitoring services were provided by TerraCarbon, LLC.

“We are very pleased to see yet another Go Zero project achieve validation against the CCB Standards at Gold Level,” said Dr. Joanna Durbin, director of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance, the NGO partnership that developed and manages the CCB Standards. “The CCB Standards identify and promote high quality forest carbon projects that deliver significant benefits for people and biodiversity, like this project that is restoring native forests and recreating habitats to help save endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker.”

Forests Are Nature’s Sponges

Conservation efforts at Upper Ouachita NWR are focused around a 16,000-acre field along the Ouachita River known as Mollicy Farms. Decades ago, the farm fields were densely covered with hardwood forests. In the 1960s the forests were bulldozed, dried and planted with soy beans. A 17-mileu-shaped levee was constructed around the farm to shield its crops from the natural ebb and flow of the Ouachita River. Over the past decade, USFWS together with its conservation partners has been slowly assembling the patchwork of parcels necessary to protect and then restore Mollicy Farms to its original natural landscape.

“Without The Conservation Fund and Go Zero, the Refuge would not be able to reforest all 2,600 acres as quickly as we need to for wildlife,” said Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge manager Joe McGowan. “Go Zero donors are creating a forest which will provide food and shelter for threatened Louisiana black bear as well as tens of thousands of migratory birds and waterfowl. This private, philanthropic support is making a tremendous difference on the ground.”

Much like the forests at Upper Ouachita NWR, more than 20 million acres of native forest along the Lower Mississippi River Valley were cut over the last century. Globally, deforestation causes as much as 12-17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Forest loss is tough on migrating wildlife, and it can also be damaging to communities and businesses downstream. Restoring native forestland is one way to reverse those trends.

“We don’t have to float down the Amazon River to witness the impacts of deforestation,” said Meredith. “It has happened in our backyard. Go Zero donors are making a difference now by helping to plant millions of trees—nature’s little sponges—that trap CO2 and slow floodwaters before they reach homes and businesses downstream.”

Restoring the natural hydrology of the Mississippi River and its tributaries—and the plants and animals that come with it—requires breaking down many of the man made barriers that were constructed decades ago after the forests were cut, including the levees. The breaching of the levees along Mollicy Farms, and the subsequent protection and restoration of the lands, has resulted in one of the largest floodplain restoration efforts in the nation. The recent 3,900-acre acquisition by The Conservation Fund, together with the 2,600-acre Go Zero restoration efforts, represents the final pieces of the Mollicy Farms conservation puzzle.

“While those who live upstream may not notice that the water is a little clearer, or that the River doesn’t rise as high next year, those of us downstream will take note, and we are grateful for all of the partners and donors who have helped make this project a reality,” said Harris Brown, president of the Tensas Basin Levee District in Monroe.

Customer donations from Dell’s Plant-A-Tree program, a combined effort between The Conservation Fund and Carbonfund.org, will make a direct impact on Upper Ouachita NWR.

"Providing customers a vehicle to offset CO2 emissions from their computer use through Dell's Plant-A-Tree program is just one way we can help them give back to their communities," said David Lear, executive director Dell's sustainability programs. "Through Plant-A-Tree, our customers have helped The Conservation Fund plant more than 175,000 trees so far. Together we are providing a meaningful way to rebuild forests and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. We expect that more than 300,000 tons of CO2 will be tapped as all of our Plant-A-Tree forests mature."

Customers of World Class Charters are helping with donation to Go Zero too.

"World Class Charters conducted a lot of due diligence research before choosing to support the Go Zero program and offering it to customers as a way to off-set the carbon emissions from private jet flights,” said Catherine Smith, CEO of World Class Charters, Inc. “The fact that The Conservation Fund has received Gold Level status on a fifth major carbon project confirms they are the leader in this effort to maintain and restore our environment. We feel confident in their work and we are proud to be a part of this monumental effort."

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