Tech in the Trees

- Blog

Nisqually Land Trust and Microsoft are teaming up again to explore new innovations that could marry conservation and tech.

Joe Kane overlooks Nisqually Community Forest
Nisqually Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane overlooks the Nisqually Community Forest with Microsoft’s Liz Willmott and Rob Bernard. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Lei, Microsoft.

When it comes to innovation, it takes getting many creative minds into the same room – or even better, into the same forest. On a bright blue day this past October, Nisqually Land Trust staff were joined by members of the Microsoft Sustainability Team to talk shop beneath the boughs of Douglas Fir and Cedar in the foothills of Mount Rainier.

This was not the first time that this tech giant and the land trust have teamed up in the woods. Over the past two years, Microsoft and the Land Trust have made national news and local history by completing the state’s first-ever “carbon credit” transaction.

As part of its voluntary $20 million-a-year initiative to offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions worldwide, Microsoft paid the Land Trust for carbon stored on a 520-acre property within the Land Trust’s Mount Rainier Gateway Forest Reserve, near Ashford. Microsoft purchased 38,000 carbon credits, the equivalent of taking 6,600 cars off the road. The transaction is verified under California’s rigorous cap-and-trade program, the country’s only regulated carbon-credit program.

“This was a game changer,” said land trust Executive Director Joe Kane. “The carbon credit model holds so much potential for the climate, for our forests, and for land trusts.”

The carbon credit model benefits are manifold. Microsoft’s purchase of the credits helped the land trust acquire the property and keep the trees standing by eliminating commercial timber harvest, which would have released the sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. And as the trees continue to grow and sequester more carbon, they will generate new credits, which the Land Trust can sell to help support stewardship of the property. Meanwhile, the forest continues to protect our rivers and streams and provide a home to wildlife.

Nisqually Community Forest
Nisqually Community Forest

Although the carbon credit verification process is rigorous and expensive, the potential for good was too much to pass up. “Somebody had to step up,” explained Joe. “We consider it our job to be a conservation innovator, so we gave ourselves the assignment.”

Now the land trust and Microsoft are looking to tap into other ways tech can impact and improve conservation in the Nisqually Valley. During their October visit to the Mount Rainier Gateway Forest Reserve, the partners paid a visit to the carbon project forest site as well as the Nisqually Community Forest project – a site for potential future carbon projects and a target area for salmon recovery.

Together, these conservation leaders brainstormed new ways to merge technological tools with conservation goals. Ideas from dynamic land cover mapping to automated fish population monitoring to artificial intelligence.

One thing is for sure: the potential is enormous. The Nisqually Watershed is a conservation incubator – small watershed, big ideas. These Puget Sound-based partners are in the midst of developing innovative conservation tools that work here at home, and can be applicable elsewhere in the world in the future.


Read more: Nisqually Land Trust Newsletter, Fall 2017
Nisqually Watershed is a Conservation Incubator – small watershed, big ideas, Nisqually Land Trust Blog, 2017
Microsoft buys carbon credits in forest near Rainier to offset pollution, The Seattle Times, 2015