Mayor Ed Sullivan of West Springfield took the reigns on bringing a carbon sequestration program to the Bear Hole Watershed area. The program allows for municipalities to maintain select forest areas, and a developer steps in to create a bank to ensure a balance nationwide. If 500 acres of trees, for example, will be cut down in one part of the country, the same amount of acreage must be preserved somewhere else.
“You actually get paid for your carbon footprint,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the only cost to the cities would be upfront, but the state budget has put $100,000 towards the project. Initially, Gov. Charlie Baker had cut this money, but it was overridden.
The initial costs include a third party forester to assess the wooded areas. Because the cities all use the same forester and the trees in all three are similar, Sullivan said this process makes all the more sense.
“It’s not like we’ve got redwoods here and birch trees there,” Sullivan said. “We’ve basically got the same forest, so it’s easier. They can analyze some different swatches and it should be easier.”
Mayor Daniel Knapik of Westfield said Sullivan brought the idea to him in the spring and the deal just made sense.
“We were going to manage these forests in a way that would continue to make them productive as the watershed goes for protection and periodic logging of resources, so it is renewing what we were already doing,” Knapik said. “It’s like you’re getting paid to be doing what you’re already doing. In the end, every little bit helps. If it helps somebody else in the carbon sequestration business, then that’s good news.”
Though the program will help protect a total of about 15,000 acres of forest, Sullivan said West Springfield, Westfield and Holyoke would still be able to harvest from the area.
“You can also do you’re harvesting even if you’re in this program, which is really important I know to all three municipalities,” Sullivan said. “You can still cut timber, and you can decide how much you want to cut. This program does not adversely affect what you want to do with your timber harvesting.”
The collaborative effort between the cities also makes this program and process unique, Knapik said.
“This helps further make those bonds for making your government be more efficient by striking out on your own without any incentive to regionalize things. It’s a great way to make an impact by combing the forest lands of all three [cities],” Knapik said. “It takes someone to start it … In this particular case, Mayor Sullivan thought it was a great idea, but he wanted to supersize it a bit. This is how things get done regionally.”
While the program is something of a benefit to the West Springfield, Westfield and Holyoke, it could go beyond that, Sullivan said. This program is the first of its kind for the Commonwealth. If other communities wanted to look into bringing their own carbon sequestration programs to their cities and towns, Sullivan said they would look at Bear Hole and the work being done here.
“It can be used as a template for other communities and, quite frankly, it could also be used by the state because they have thousands and thousands of acres of state forests. They could actually use our program as a pilot program and then they could also generate some revenue for the state by mirroring what we do here,” Sullivan said. “So this is great program not just for us, but for other communities who want to do something similar and also for the state if they ever want to get involved in it. We’re pretty excited about taking the lead on this.”
Right now, the towns are drafting up contractual agreements, but the next step would to be to send out a request for proposal, Sullivan said. His hope is it will be done some time this month.