The Nature Conservancy recently helped broker a deal in which the Walt Disney Co. will obtain carbon credits from the Bethlehem Authority, which owns sensitive woodlands surrounding the city's water supply in the Poconos. The deal provides the authority money for infrastructure improvements while allowing Disney to offset its large carbon footprint left from its theme parks and cruise ships. Josh Parrish, director of land conservation at The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania, is the subject of this week's Q&A.
Q: How did The Nature Conservancy identify Disney as a potential buyer for the carbon credits on the Bethlehem Authority property?
A: For many years, Disney has been providing financial support to the Conservancy to help us advance a number of important conservation initiatives around the world. And since 2009, Disney has specifically been funding our forest conservation and restoration projects, in order to support the Conservancy's strategies for protecting biodiversity and addressing the threats of climate change, while simultaneously helping Disney meet its objectives related to reducing carbon pollution, and increasing the availability of FSC-certified sustainable wood and paper products. So, Disney's support for the Bethlehem project was a natural extension of this longstanding collaboration between our organizations, aimed at addressing threats to forests and the Earth's climate.
Q: What sort of projects has the Conservancy done with Disney in the past?
A: One of the huge success stories for conservation is the work The Nature Conservancy completed at Disney's Wilderness Preserve within the Greater Everglades watershed. In collaboration with Disney, The Nature Conservancy restored the wetland and upland habitat within the preserve, resulting in a great improvement to water quality and quantity. Disney has also provided financial support to numerous TNC forest conservation and restoration projects around the world. In China and Louisiana, their support has helped us achieve the restoration of degraded or converted forests, and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, their support has helped TNC protect standing forests, through the application of more sustainable timber management practices. These multifaceted projects are designed to achieve multiple goals, which include conserving biodiversity, reducing carbon pollution and supporting local people and economies.
Q: How does Bethlehem's project fit in with those prior projects with Disney?
A: The Bethlehem project is one of three TNC projects that Disney has funded, in order to achieve a significant reduction in carbon pollution through more sustainable management of timber production in forests. By using specific timber harvest management techniques, it is actually possible to reduce carbon pollution, while sustaining the production of high quality FSC-certified timber, which in turn, provides employment opportunities for local people, and a revenue source for the city of Bethlehem.
Q: Why is the Bethlehem Authority property important and what challenges or threats does that property face in the future?
A: The Bethlehem Authority project contains two large forested areas, high quality cold water streams that contribute to a healthy Delaware River and Bay, and the Long Pond area includes a large portion of the globally rare mesic till barrens that contain at least 35 rare species and communities. The main threat facing the property in the future is damage from native and exotic pests and pathogens. A good example is the gypsy moth. Introduced to North America in the 19th century to start a silk work industry, the gypsy moth is now a permanent threat to our Eastern oak dominated forests. Gypsy Moth caterpillars feed on oak leaves and cause stress that can eventually result in large scale oak tree mortality.
Q: The carbon credit project is just a small piece of the Working Woodlands program that covers a portion of the woods surrounding Bethlehem's water supply. What are the other benefits of the program?
A: The overarching goal of The Nature Conservancy's Working Woodlands Program is healthy forests. The program helps Bethlehem proactively and adaptively sustainably manage their forest under the Forest Stewardship Council Certification. This process aims to improve their forest by making it more resilient and able to adapt to future stresses and threats. The other large benefit is protecting and enhancing water quality by sustainably managing the forest and infrastructure. It has been shown that healthy forests have ripple effects in terms of improved water quality. Bethlehem Authority provides drinking water to over 115,000 residents in northeastern PA who benefit from this commitment.