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Oregon's largest wildfire so far this season, the Bootleg Fire, has burned nearly 400,000 acres spreading approximately four square miles a day across the southern parts of the state. At the time of this report, the flames spread through one fifth of forests set aside for carbon offsets in the immediate area. [...]
A carbon offset can take many forms, but the large majority in the United States are created under the designation: Improved Forest Management. To be considered as this type of offset, the landowner must show that their forest performs above average as a carbon reducer when compared with other forests. Once approved, they earn a credit for every ton of CO2 their forests absorb. Those credits can be sold to a company looking to compensate for their own emissions, allowing them to claim carbon neutrality. The company can then hold or trade the credits until they are submitted to the government for compliance purposes. Credits aren't like traditional currency; once it's submitted, it is considered "retired" and cannot be used again. [...]
When wildfires burn up carbon offsets, it's not the responsibility of the landowner, the buyer of the credit, or the seller of the credit to evaluate whether that carbon credit still represents a metric ton of CO2 absorbed by trees. In reality, those trees represented by the credit may have burned up in the Bootleg Fire or the Chuweah Creek and Summit Trail fires burning on the Eastern Washington offset.
And if in only one or two seasons of wildfires, these wildfires strip away at the offset buffer pool, climate change will likely collect more of these carbon credits than CARB is prepared for.
Bootleg Fire is burning up carbon offsets