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USDA, Chevrolet and Ducks Unlimited Help Ranchers Sell Carbon Credits

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

WASHINGTON- USDA, General Motors and Ducks Unlimited are part of a project unveiled today that creates a market for carbon credits generated on working grasslands.

As part of the project, landowners voluntarily place lands under a perpetual easement but retain rights to work the land, such as raising livestock or growing hay. The carbon storage benefits are quantified, verified, and formally registered, resulting in carbon credits. The carbon credits are made available to entities interested in purchasing carbon offsets. 

In turn, the landowners receive compensation for the carbon credits generated on their lands. "Ranchers benefit from new revenue streams, while thriving grasslands provide nesting habitat for wildlife, are more resilient to extreme weather, and help mitigate the impact of climate change," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

In the "first-of-its kind" transaction detailed at a Washington press conference, Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, purchased almost 40,000 carbon dioxide reduction tons generated on working ranch grasslands in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota. Robert Bonnie, USDA's under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, explained USDA's involvement in the project. He was joined by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and representatives for General Motors, The Climate Trust, and Ducks Unlimited.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $161,000 through a Conservation Innovation Grant to Ducks Unlimited in 2011 to develop the necessary methodology to quantify the carbon stored in the soil by avoiding grassland conversions, resulting in the generation of carbon credits.   

"This program will work to benefit at-risk grasslands that are disappearing at alarming rate," said Paul Schmidt, Ducks Unlimited's chief conservation officer. "Our relationship with producers is fundamentally important. We are a private landowner country and we're not going to sustain wildlife without partnerships and working with private landowners."

Landowners' easements in the program will be monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Dakota, he noted.

"The prairie pothole one of most endangered ecosystems in North America," said Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust, who helped Duck Unlimited connect with Chevrolet in the partnership. "The ability of carbon sequestration and the development of the carbon market is what's going to allow agriculture and forestry to continue in a sustainable way."

Stabenow said the project would provide "real-world, measurable results," noting that two-thirds of the nation's land is privately owned. "We can continue to see good things happening on farmland, except now they have an additional cash crop in the form of carbon credits."

Chevrolet's first purchase of third-party verified carbon credits generated on working ranch grasslands is part of its commitment to reduce 8 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, according to GM.

The amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by Chevrolet's purchase of carbon credits equals the amount that would be reduced by taking more than 5,000 cars off the road, according to USDA.    

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