Reforesting the Mississippi Alluvial Valley with GreenTrees

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:05/01/2013 Updated:12/10/2015

Founded in 2003 by C2I, LLC, GreenTrees is a privately managed forest restoration and carbon sequestration company for private landowners, and one of the largest and most successful reforestation projects in the country. GreenTrees focuses their efforts in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV), where there was once 50 million acres of bottomland hardwoods, of which only 4 million remain today.

According to Chandler Van Voorhis, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of GreenTrees, “what we are doing now is reforesting the bottomland hardwoods and putting back lands that should never have been cleared, either because of marginal soil conditions or frequent flooding.”

They now “have under management over 26,000 acres…spread out between mainly Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, with some in Texas and some in Illinois,” says Van Voorhis.

Many people know of the size of the Mississippi River – “it is the largest river in the United States, and the third longest in the world. It drains the water of 33 states and two Canadian provinces – approximately 41% of the United Sates,” and its economic importance – “each year over 505 million tons of product valued between $80-$114 billion travels down the river,” yet a relative few recognize the Mississippi’s ecological importance, not just for the MAV but for all of North America (Van Voorhis, 2012).

For those in the know, the MAV is commonly referred to as “America’s Amazon” and “an ark of biodiversity”. The reason is obvious: “It’s the flyway for 60% of all birds in North America… and is the flyway for about 40% of all ducks in the country, so it’s a very important area,” explains Van Voorhis. The MAV is also home to hundreds of species of fish, amphibians, insects and mammals, including several that are threatened or endangered, such as the Louisiana Black Bear and Whooping Crane.

Unfortunately, this ark is not as adept at surviving deforestation and the resulting floods as Noah’s, as it is being swept down stream without the timber necessary to hold it together.

Healthy forests in the MAV are also imperative to the health the Gulf of Mexico, where there is “a hypoxia zone the size of the state of New Jersey, which simply means it’s devoid of marine life because there’s not enough oxygen in the water,” explains Van Voorhis. The cause of this hypoxia is “nitrogen and phosphorus that’s run off of farm lands in the upper part of the watershed and come down to deplete the oxygen in the Gulf.”

Through its reforestation efforts, GreenTrees is helping to reduce these problems through planting trees that provide much needed habitat for wildlife and absorb about 15 to 16 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus per acre, preventing the harmful nutrients from running off of farmland into the Mississippi River and flowing down to the Gulf of Mexico.

To create these healthy forests, GreenTrees has developed a planting strategy that calls for 302 cottonwoods interplanted with 302 hardwoods per acre. According to Van Voorhis, this strategy is advantageous because the cottonwoods “grow very fast, they jump up quite quickly and provide shade for the slower growing hardwoods. The hardwoods prefer dappled light versus baking in a field, and it also shades out some of the competing grasses.” The approach allows trees to grow more quickly, and creates natural control mechanisms for mitigating disease, insect infestations, and weeds, resulting in healthier trees with accelerated succession and maturation cycles.

As with their innovative planting techniques, GreenTrees is pioneering a new way to fund conservation efforts. Casually referred to as conservation capitalism, their approach represents a philosophical shift in the way conservation efforts are financed. Traditionally, conservation has been paid for with philanthropic or government money, but GreenTrees is bringing private capital into conservation in a way that generates economic and environmental returns through a program they call ACRE, or Advanced Carbon Restored Ecosystem.

Private corporations invest in the reforestation projects up front, and then they collect carbon credits as the forests grow. GreenTrees currently has over 2 million tons of carbon credits for its corporate partners Duke Energy and Norfolk Southern.

Of course, the reforestation wouldn’t be possible without the private landowners on whose land the trees are grown. For many of these landowners, working with GreenTrees means converting farmland, and the income it provides, to forests. So what incentive does the private landowner have to give up their source of income?

Well, there are many attractive forms of revenue available to landowners participating in the program. The most direct form of revenue is a new income from carbon credits delivered by GreenTrees. Revenues can also be gained directly from the forests through sustainable timber harvesting: “The cottonwoods are available for thinning in approximately year 10, then again in approximately year 17 and a final harvest cut may occur in approximately year 25…Sustainable harvest of the hardwood forest will begin at approximately year 35 and at 10 year intervals into the future” (Van Voorhis, 2012).

Landowners can also receive supplemental income from government programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which provides annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to producers to place their marginal cropland in conservation and out of production, and the Wetlands Reserve Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to landowners to restore, enhance and protect wetlands.

The forms of revenue landowners receive through the GreenTrees program are particularly attractive to farmers for two reasons. First, unlike farm incomes, which can be very erratic due to floods, draughts and the shifting prices of commodities, GreenTrees offers stable forms of income for landowner. Second, it does not require the strenuous manual labor farming does; landowners can sit back and watch their forests grow along with the bulge in their back pocket, with the additional benefit of knowing that they are helping to restore the health of the MAV.

The GreenTrees reforestation program is a win-win for all involved; the private landowners, its investors, and most importantly, the environment it restores. Believing that river systems like the MAV are the most ecologically, and in this case economically, important areas in need of protection and restoration, GreenTress is looking to expand their efforts in the MAV and extend their reach to other river systems.

On April 22, GreenTrees announced their partnership with Blue Text, a digital marketing, branding and communications agency that develops digital platforms designed to optimize brand performance in an increasingly digital environment. GreenTrees looked to Blue Text to “refine its story, overhaul its corporate and sub-brand identity strategy, and then develop a unique animated video to tell its story.” Watch the new GreenTrees video powered by Blue Text below.