Ranchers skeptical of carbon storage
GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP)--Some Wyoming ranchers are expressing skepticism about using their land to help fight global warming.
Most of the ranchers attending a workshop, recently, thought that capturing carbon dioxide through grass on their pastures was a way to benefit someone else, not them. The workshop in Gillette was hosted by the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension office.
The idea of capturing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and storing carbon in the soil is relatively new.
The technique seeks to provide a solution for global warming and financially reward ranchers who would keep their grazing pastures in good shape in order to capture that carbon. In exchange, ranchers would get credits depending on the size of their land.
But only those who have a grazing plan would qualify for the program. The plan would require the ranchers to watch out for overgrazing so that the grass is long enough to store carbon.
Some ranchers are wary of the scientific grounds of the program and the requirements to join it. They don't think that the program can be a stimulus for sustainable land management.
"It wouldn't change how we operate the ranch because protecting the resource has always been important to me," said Priscilla Welles, who has a cattle ranch between Buffalo and Gillette. "At this point, it appears that the pay off is a bit unknown."
Companies that committed to emission reductions then would buy those credits. So far, there's only one legal market for trading carbon credits, Chicago Climate Exchange. It was created in 2001 to help with the carbon dioxide problem and its vice president already has visited Wyoming, trying to promote the idea.
That's when some local ranchers and landowners acquainted themselves with the concept. Then the trend was publicized in agriculture magazines. But the complexity of the program puzzled ranchers.
The carbon market now is in bad shape, just like any other market, and offers only $2.10 per ton of carbon, said Ted Dodge, executive director of the National Carbon Offset Coalition in Montana. The organization has been involved with the Chicago market since it started trading credits in 2003.
But Dodge, who believes that federal carbon dioxide policy is coming, expects the price for carbon to go up to $7 depending on a future federal carbon law.
Coal-fired power plants are now under pressure of the possibility of the cap-and-trade system. The system would require utilities to pay for each ton of emissions. Companies would be issued permission credits and would be allowed to emit according to the credits. If the system is implemented, landowners selling carbon credits might profit because some companies will emit more than they are allowed and would need the credits.
Dodge said such carbon credit markets are a temporary solution and will exist only for the next 15 to 20 years, to buy the energy industry time to develop economical capture and storage solutions.
Other ranchers, like John Francis from Cheyenne, could see the monetary benefit, although he thought the program was onerous and involved too much paperwork. But he and others were doubtful of the ecological benefits of the program.
"The temperature of climate on earth has been cycling since the birth of time," he said. "There are factors like solar flares, volcanoes, and a myriad of things, and us trying to save a couple of tons (of carbon) in the soil isn't going to change anything."
But the idea also found its supporters. John Flocchini, owner and manager of the Durham ranch near Wright, thought that the program had potential to boost and reward ranching stewardship. But he said he wouldn't rush to implement the concept on his ranch without some research.
"I think it's something that's coming," he said. "There are certain people, like us, who have been practicing grazing techniques that have been proven beneficial for the environment, but anything extra there as a reward is wonderful for great stewardship."
He also added that people don't realize the potential of the grasslands in the global warming battle.