Montana Grasslands Carbon Initiative
A growing number of scientists believe healthy grasslands hold even greater potential than rainforests in their ability to draw carbon dioxide (CO2)—a dangerous greenhouse gas and major culprit in climate change—from the atmosphere and sequester the carbon deep underground. Motivated by consumers interested in addressing climate change and reducing CO2, major companies are purchasing carbon offset credits as a way to address this problem.
Grasslands are the largest terrestrial ecosystems in the world—covering over 40 percent of the earth surface—yet are some of the most imperiled with over 80 percent in poor to marginal condition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. If grasslands can be brought back to health, scientists—including internationally renowned scientist, Alan Savory—believe we could begin to reverse climate change.
The Montana Grasslands Carbon Program is designed to do just that.
WSE is collaborating with NativeEnergy (an international carbon project developer and carbon offset credit provider), Soils for the Future (a soil science organization based at Syracuse University), Xanterra Parks and Resorts (the country’s largest park concession management company and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks’ primary concessionaire), and Montana ranchers to implement a grasslands carbon program that incentivizes ranchers to improve their grazing and thereby sequester large amounts of additional carbon. For doing so, ranchers will be compensated with carbon offset payments based on the amount of carbon they sequester each year. The sequestered carbon becomes the basis for verified carbon offset credits which NativeEnergy will sell to companies committed to reducing their carbon footprint.
In 2017, WSE worked with SftF to conduct first-phase monitoring on 50 sites to establish current soil carbon levels. This data was used to refine the model that predicts additional carbon levels. The model is then used to determine if a candidate ranch and the associated grazing plan could produce sufficient levels of additional carbon.
WSE recruits the ranchers and manages the program on the ground. We implement a comprehensive outreach campaign targeted to the ranching community about the benefits of the program and how they can get involved. While we use conventional means of communicating such as media releases and social media posts, we rely on the critical person-to-person discussions and small gatherings to reach the ranching community. We use this outreach to identify ranchers interested in enrolling in the program.
WSE works closely with ranchers to understand the enrollment process and put together a plan that outlines specific changes to their grazing in pasture-by-pasture detail. We then help them determine any infrastructure needs (such as electric fencing, range riding, upland water developments to keep cattle out of the stream bottoms, education on regenerative practices, etc.) they may need to jump-start improvements to the soil—the key first step in increasing carbon levels. We next help them put together cost projections for the infrastructure.
To stimulate interest, WSE organizes workshops and field days on regenerative practices that result in increased soil carbon levels. We are bringing in world experts to increase ranchers’ understanding of and proficiency in the application of these methods. We also organize a Range Rider Training Program, which—in addition to teaching current and aspiring range riders, landowners, agency personnel, and conservationists ways to prevent or minimize predator/livestock conflicts—includes sessions on ways riders can improve grazing through cattle management.
We also plan to organize a Chef/Rancher summit to discuss ways chefs can build consumer support for carbon-friendly food.
Program Contact: Chris Mehus 406.222.0730, ext. 4
Banner Photo Credit: "Sunny Day!" courtesy of MGotta Photography.