Committee Chair

Richards, Sean M.

Committee Member

Wilson, Thomas P.; Carroll, Andrew


Dept. of Biological and Environmental Sciences


College of Arts and Sciences


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


In 2008, 279 million hectares of forest land contained 45,337 teragrams (Tg) of carbon. Changes in land use and forestry practices in 2008 resulted in a net carbon sequestration of 940.3 Tg of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 13.5% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, making forests a net sink for carbon. With increasing development pressures, organizations such as land trusts, that protect forest land and prevent deforestation, are positioned to become key players in climate change mitigation. There are 21 land trusts in Tennessee protecting over 165,000 acres of land. One such land trust, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT), is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since its inception in 1981, the TRGT has protected approximately 17,000 acres of the approximate 27,000 acres that comprise the Tennessee River Gorge, a 26 mile canyon carved through the Cumberland Plateau by the Tennessee River. The TRGT owns 6,140 acres of mostly forested land and was selected as the model organization for this study. The aim of the present project was to determine the financial potentiality of a land owner, specifically a land trust, registering a carbon offset project under the Climate Action Reserve’s (CAR) Avoided Conversion Protocol. It was found that determining a carbon baseline did not require significant financial resources but did require specialized knowledge of tree species identification. It was also found that due to the inherent variability in identifying and measuring trees from year to year, it would be prudent, particularly for the inexperienced landowner, to map the layout of the trees in each plot. This process would allow for not only the accurate and precise accounting of year to year growth, but would also facilitate tracking and accounting of ingrowth and mortality within the plot. The study revealed that two significant challenges exist for those wanting to register a carbon offset project: 1) the acquisition and application of forest growth modeling data and 2) the ability to meet the legal and performance standards established in the protocol. It would be prudent for a landowner to investigate the various registries and the details of their protocols, including associated project registration fees, before investing in a project. Further, organizations exist now that will do all of the field work and paperwork and will cover all upfront costs associated with establishing a carbon offset project, with the exception of third party verification, for a percentage of the revenue. These organizations were not examined in this study, but they could be a mechanism whereby more landowners become involved in carbon offsetting. Finally, the study found that carbon offsets could be a significant source of revenue for landowners, particularly land trusts, but would depend on the demand for and value of carbon offset credits in emerging markets influenced by the possibility of regulation.


M. S.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science.




Carbon offsetting


Tennessee River Valley


Carbon offsets; Tennessee River Gorge


Environmental Sciences

Document Type

Masters theses




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