June 23, 2018
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For $6 you can take 300 pounds of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BRUNSWICK, Maine — How much carbon did you send into the atmosphere today?

Turning up the heat, driving your car or flicking on a light switch are all ways to release carbon and by extension contribute to global warming, but sucking carbon back out is a little more complicated.

Until now.

The Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences has launched a new program out of its Brunswick office that gives the public a proof-positive way to reduce carbon, which is backed and verified by the American Carbon Registry. Unlike other similar projects, Manomet’s Clean Water Carbon Fund gives Mainers a chance to make a difference right here in Maine by purchasing trees to be planted on the shores of overexposed rivers and streams.

Sound expensive? It’s not. The cost is just $6 per tree, said Ethel Wilkerson, the project’s manager.

“You can take responsibility for your carbon footprint while protecting clean water and wildlife habitat in your community,” said Wilkerson. “There are a lot of local and global benefits wrapped up in one responsible action. The benefits are clear, local and easily verified.”

Wilkerson and her organization, in conjunction with the Western Foothills Land Trust, have secured agreements with landowners on the Crooked River, a known salmon and brook trout habitat that winds through western Maine and into Sebago Lake. According to Wilkerson, there are approximately 375 acres of land along the Crooked River that don’t have trees growing on them. About 80 percent of that could be covered with about 10,000 trees.

In addition to trees’ natural function of absorbing carbon, they protect the river from erosion and shade the water, keeping it cool for finicky trout and salmon. Even in death, according to Wilkerson, trees fall in or near the water, creating fish habitats. Manomet also is targeting the White River watershed in Vermont and hopes to expand the Clean Water Carbon Fund to other rivers in the future.

“This is a model that’s very portable,” said Wilkerson, who is a scientist specializing in streams and rivers. She said even though the project has just been launched, 175 trees already have been sold. While Manomet scientists originally envisioned people buying trees to, in essence, take back their own carbon production, many of the trees bought so far have been used as gifts for events such as birthdays and weddings. With Christmas approaching, Manomet will conduct a marketing push in the coming weeks, said Wilkerson.

Each tree planted by the Clean Water Carbon Fund will remove at least 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to data provided by Manomet. For perspective, a round-trip flight from Portland to Chicago emits about 880 pounds of carbon per passenger, which three trees can absorb in their lifetime. A yearlong daily commute from Brunswick to Portland in a compact car creates enough carbon for 24 trees. A typical wedding with 150 guests, including travel and accommodations, emits enough carbon for 107 trees. With such math, it may seem like buying a tree will have little effect on global warming, but that’s why Manomet wants to plant forests of trees, not just a few.

“Our goal is literally to plant as many trees as possible,” said Wilkerson. “Planting trees is just one way we can all get serious about our carbon emissions. The thing that’s nice about this project is its local benefits.”

The $6-per-tree fee covers the cost of a tree — in most cases a red maple — which has been raised in a greenhouse for three years and hardened outdoors for two. It pays for Manomet scientists to plant the trees and the American Carbon Registry to monitor them to ensure the carbon-reduction claims are accurate. Lastly, a small portion of the $6 will pay a stipend to landowners such as farmers who might lose some yield by allowing strips of their farmland to be forested.

To learn more about the Clean Water Carbon Fund or to purchase trees, visit Manomet’s website at www.clearwatercarbonfund.org. For more information, Wilkerson can be contacted by calling 721-9040, or by emailing info@clearwatercarbonfund.org.

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