An intuitive path to a bigger green

To offset its carbon footprint in the energy transition, Dartmouth should consider expanding the Second College grant through the acquisition of landscape-scale woodlots.

by Isaiah Menning | 07/15/22 04:05


Dartmouth owns 27,000 acres of forest land in northern New Hampshire. A gift from the state legislature in 1807, the Second College Grant has since become a beloved part of Dartmouth’s heritage. The area is beautiful; Bear Brook and the Diamond River meander through open wetlands beneath forested mountains, home to habitat for moose, white-tailed deer, grouse, black bear, otter, and beaver. The College currently manages the area for sustainable lumber production and recreation, and the Dartmouth Outing Club maintains three cabins on the property that students can use from enrollment through life after graduation. While the grant clearly plays on the ‘crispy’ aura so essential to life at Dartmouth, it can also provide a high-paying model for realizing one of the College’s most pressing priorities: a low-carbon future.

As Kyle Spencer ’23 recently pointed out in his column “The big green is not so green” Dartmouth has a pollution problem. With nearly 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent gas emitted in fiscal year 2020, Dartmouth needs to make significant reductions before it meets its emissions reduction targets to less than 39,000 metric tons by 2025 and to less than 16,000 by 2050. Currently, the College is focused on reducing its impact on the climate by making energy systems more efficient and switching to renewable sources, but Spencer and the experts he a respondents doubt that the College’s current strategy is sufficient. To both offset their emissions and enhance their access to rich natural benefits, Dartmouth should invest in forest land.

By photosynthesizing carbon dioxide into biomass, forests are a key deterrent against human-induced climate change. Over the past few decades, a combination of carbon emissions regulations and private commitments to sustainability have created a market for carbon credits in which, at best, buyers of credits pay landowners to manage their properties. in order to store more carbon dioxide than they otherwise would, thereby offsetting emissions. of the buyer. Changing land management to increase carbon storage is essential to this process –– otherwise, no compensation occurs. However, by buying land directly and changing management to increase carbon storage, Dartmouth could avoid this scenario and credibly offset its carbon footprint while acquiring an asset.

To determine whether a land acquisition plan would be feasible, Dartmouth should study the fiscal and ecosystem perspectives of potential holdings. Fortunately, the College’s research and alumni resources are extremely well placed to answer these specific questions. Jim Hourdequin ’98 is the CEO of Hannover-based Lyme Timber Co., a forestry investment firm that has earned $53 million in carbon offset transactions over the past two years. Hourdequin is also interested in reforming the carbon credit market to more effectively combat climate change, an effort covered in a recent Bloomberg Green Finance article published in March. Hiring industry-savvy alumni like Hourdequin to consult on project prospects would be an invaluable first step toward evaluation. The College may also use its own research resources. Faculty and students associated with Dartmouth’s Ecology, Evolution, Environment and Society program have discovered that even forests used for timber production can be managed to sequester large amounts of carbon. If the conditions are right, Dartmouth could meet its energy goals on time by buying land, changing management and storing carbon, while benefiting from the sale of forest products.

Of course, despite the seemingly endless endowment of $8.5 billion, the College’s resources are limited. It is possible that instead of investing in nature-based solutions, the money is better spent simply on high-quality carbon credits or to initiate the energy transition more quickly. However, before rejecting an expansion of the grant, it is essential to realize the potential investment benefits that outright land ownership can take the College beyond the transition to sustainability.

First, the land could be a lucrative financial investment even after Dartmouth fully transitions to renewable energy. After using its woodlands for its own carbon storage, Dartmouth’s forest managers could enter the carbon market by selling carbon credits by increasing carbon storage. Beyond the production of traditional forest products, Dartmouth’s landholdings could generate significant returns by serving large companies that have already made net-zero commitments.

Second, the College could explore conservation leases that would support large-scale conservation goals like the The Biden administration’s 30 by 30 initiative. The ideal would be to establish conservation leases adjacent to the grant – island biogeography theory suggests that larger protected areas support greater niche and genetic diversity, increasing the resilience of the natural system to threats such as climate change. climatic.

A large-scale forest acquisition project could also strengthen the College’s research. Second College Grant lands have long been used for research on forest management and climate change. New land acquisitions could make it easier for researchers to conduct experiments like these and provide greater opportunities to use landscape-scale replicas, a notoriously hard-to-obtain element in ecological science. Strengthening Dartmouth’s research contributions through the expansion of the grant would not only allow it to gain recognition, but also provide essential knowledge to other forest managers.

Extensive land acquisitions would also bring everyday recreational benefits to the Dartmouth community. The network of cabins, roads and trails on the grant has been well adapted, and this system could serve as a ready model if more land were acquired. Acquiring forests would enhance opportunities for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the public to responsibly interact with the land, from hiking to fishing to viewing wildlife, hunting and boating. Developing the culture of practical environmental stewardship among Dartmouth students would more holistically prepare them for global leadership while building the natural capital of the College.

Dartmouth depends on the wilderness. New Hampshire’s forests already protected by the Second College Grant provide financial returns, a buffer against climate change, habitat for diverse species, and recreational access that defines the Dartmouth experience. Large-scale land acquisition for carbon storage could offset Dartmouth’s excess emissions while providing a financial asset, conservation gains, strong research benefits, and rich natural experiences for the Dartmouth community. The College knows how to manage large tracts of forest. It has professors and alumni who know forest carbon storage intimately. And it has gaps to fill in its sustainability goals. What could be more appropriate than Big Green peer institutions when it comes to reducing carbon emissions through responsible land management of vast forests? Dartmouth should consider how the intuitive path of buying forest land for carbon storage can bolster its ambitions for greater green.

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