This Earth Day, offset your CO2 emissions

Herster Barres and other volunteers stand in a forest in Costa Rica/Contributed

MYSTIC -– Herster Barres has been in the green business his whole life.

And, although he’s retired from his position as a United Nations forester, Barres, 76, is focused on helping churches, schools and businesses offset their carbon dioxide emissions to mitigate climate change through beginning to reforest farm pastures in the tropics.

His non-profit organization, Reforest the Tropics, Inc., manages an award-winning applied research program that allows organizations and individuals to balance their greenhouse gas emissions by sponsoring a forest in Costa Rica. RTT was founded in 1996.

The program teaches farmers how to establish and manage forests commercially so that they can earn a steady income, an essential element if the forest is to be sustainable for long-term carbon capture and storage.

RTT designs the forests for productivity and for biological stability in the face of climate change.   He travels to Costa Rica to visit the forests every three months.

Barres, whose father was a congregational minister, has a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences and a doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He was a UN forestry expert for 11 years in Costa Rica developing the basis for this program.

Over the years he’s studied 100 different tree species and has discovered which trees grow best in Costa Rica.  Among these are the prehistoric klinkii tree, the mahogany tree and other native species.

“We have a holistic approach to forestry, a model that benefits emitters, farmers, wildlife and the world.  Each forest is a mixture of tree species, somewhat similar to those in nature. For instance, mahogany in the forest gives the forest value through the production of its valuable wood, while the klinkii tree is the best species for long-term carbon capture and storage.  Bananas and papayas are planted in the forests to feed wildlife,” Barres said.

Each organization that sponsors a forest gets a large sign with their name on it installed in the forest. 

“Each forest is specific to the US sponsor, complete with a map and latitude and longitude”, Barres said. 

Reports with photos and growth data are frequently sent to the US sponsors.

More than 70 individuals and organizations have gotten involved with the program, including Dave and Tiffany Foley of Colorado, who were given a forest as a wedding gift. Their forest is designed to offset the couple’s CO2 emissions for 25 years.  A total of 325 acres in 40 projects will have been planted by mid-summer, 2010.

Other participants include St. Mark’s Church of New Canaan, the Unitarian Church of Rutland, VT, the Superior Nut Co., the New London Public School system, Wesleyan University, The Home Depot and the Mohegan Tribal Casino.

A simple CO2-emissions inventory in the US, a free service from his organization, helps sponsors track their net emissions and progress towards becoming green or carbon neutral.  The forests that actually capture carbon through photosynthesis are measured periodically by the RTT forester in Costa Rica to determine how much CO2 has been captured and stored in the forest for the account of the emitter.

“The project is continuing to show good results in developing improved plantation models for creating diverse, sustainable forests capable of long-term carbon storage. Many of the existing plantation models are clearly meeting the twin goals of carbon storage for the donors and valuable trees for the farmers to harvest for income,” wrote Mike Ferrucci, president of Interforest LLC, who audits RTT’s forests.

RTT is a part of the UNFCCC Climate Change Program and has been approved by U.S. and Costa Rican governments.  All plantings are registered with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and a certificate is issued to the sponsors.

Funding a 25-year, 2 1/2-acre forest requires a one-time $10,000 donation to RTT.

Of this $5,000 is used for establishing the forest, for a grant to the farmer, for technical assistance and for a trust fund for long-term management.

The other half of the money is set aside for audits, inspections, measurements, reporting, administration and development for 25 years.

On Sunday Barres will be speaking at 10 a.m. about Reforest the Tropics at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, 2 Ferry Road.

For more information on the program or to schedule a presentation, call Dr. Barres at (860) 912-7706 or visit http://www.reforestthetropics.org.

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