News & Updates
Brinkman and The Earth Partners LP: Perhaps The Largest Private Land Restoration Initiative in US History
By Erik Brinkman
Brinkman is excited to be a co-founding partner of The Earth Partners Limited Partnership, a company that currently has projects under development to restore millions of acres of degraded and marginal lands across the USA and an amazing array of ecosystem restoration and bioenergy contracts in the pipeline.
In 2007, Brinkman Earth Systems began investing funds and allocating key managers to develop US partnerships and projects aimed to undertake large-scale ecosystem restoration projects that were funded from restoration values, such as carbon and conservation offsets, and biomass. With The Soil Partners Ltd. Brinkman jointly led the development of the first comprehensive soil and ecosystem restoration methodology registered in 2012 through the world’s leading greenhouse gas program, the Verified Carbon Standard.
In 2011 Brinkman and partners founded the US “The Earth Partners LP” (TEP), which “works across diverse ecosystems, including degraded rangelands and grasslands, diseased forests, and improved management of plantation forests (to) find hidden value and risk mitigation opportunities in feedstock procurement for bioenergy products.” TEP has termed this approach conservation biomass.
After several years of lobbying energy policy-makers in Europe, TEP has developed a triple win climate impact scenario and conservation biomass is now being recognized in the European Union as a premium eco-product. In 2014, the United Kingdom changed its bioenergy regulations to reflect this policy shift, as did the Netherlands, and in 2015 we are seeing some policy movement in Belgium, all as a result of the Brinkman-TEP lobby.
TEP is also participating in policy dialogue in the United States. In 2014, at the request of the White House, and with the support of Brinkman Earth System specialists including carbon accrual, sustainability and ecosystem modeller Robert Seaton, TEP developed a policy paper with The Rocky Mountain Institute. The goal of this paper was to advise President Obama and Chinese President Qi Ping Lin on how the U.S. and China could cooperate to transition out of coal powered energy by using biomass, without negative impacts on the forests and lands in each nation’s biomass supply regions. This extensive study showed there could be as much as one gigatonne (1/39th of the total global annual greenhouse gas emissions) of climate benefits through a coal to conservation biomass climate partnership by the two countries. This paper was used by both administrations to help determine targets and reach agreements for the U.S. – China Joint Climate and Clean Energy Cooperation announcement made on November 11th 2014 at the G20 meetings in Brisbane Australia. It has also guided new regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency designed to encourage the replacement of coal in power plants with bioenergy sources (See Emily McGlynn, TEP’s Sustainability Manager’s comments at the upcoming International Bioenergy Conference.)
One of TEPs larger operational conservation biomass projects currently underway is the restoration of the long grass prairie rangelands in the semi-arid Southwest United States. Beginning with the settlement of the area by European immigrants in the 19th century,
these degraded areas have over time become overgrown with woody brush (juniper and mesquite). Historically fire maintained this ecosystem, with burns occurring on average every 7 years, refreshing the grasses and keeping the brush at bay, apart from a few fire hardened vet trees on the native landscape. However, settlers from Europe did not understand the importance of the fire dynamic in maintaining the health of this grassland ecosystem. Through overgrazing and the elimination of regular fire cycles from the ecosystem, shrubs and small brushy juniper and mesquite trees replaced the native prairie grasses. By 2011, with the grassland ecosystem in an advanced state of degradation, and unable to be resilient in the face of natural stresses, Texan ranchers sold 80% of their cattle during a severe drought. Wildfires on these unmanaged lands tend now to be out of control due to the higher level of woody brush fuel, and as such, much more destructive than normal fires that occurred on grasslands; these large scale fires destroy soils and causing mass erosion, further contributing to drought and disruptive dust storms. During 2011, with 100 days above 100oF over 4,000,000 acres burned in Texas, double the previous record.
Variations of this problem affect massive areas ranging from Canada all the way to Mexico. TEP’s Texas rangeland restoration project will restore the natural grassland conditions through the removal of the encroaching woody brush for the production of wood chips and wood pellets for renewable energy applications. This will result in verifiable carbon credits from improved soil health, carbon uptake in soils, water retention, aquifer recharge and reduced erosion. We have pioneered the process of producing a valuable conservation biomass by-product to sustainably displace coal combustion while also restoring degraded land, instead of using productive arable or forested lands to create biomass with a greater greenhouse gas footprint.
Given the careful work of Brinkman Biomass Manager Chris Norman to secure the trust and cooperation of the ranchers in the project area, TEP has signed up more than a million acres of land in Texas, meaning that we have been able to secure the scale of volume that permits new pellet plants to be built. With a million plus acres now under long term agreement in one single project, TEP may be carrying out the largest private land restoration project in US history.
TEP is currently developing other projects that may in the near future compete with this status. Other TEP projects include: Gulf Coast restoration work, growing switchgrass and native prairie grasses for bioenergy and soil restoration in Louisiana, the Deadwood Bioenergy plant in South Dakota (a pellet plant that is using beetle killed pine), improved carbon storage in soil in agricultural areas, and mine site restoration.
Through policy work, innovation and leadership, in collaboration with US-based The Earth Partners, Brinkman looks forward to expanding these operations while developing more innovative, profitable, and ecologically beneficial land restoration initiatives. Together we are turning the biggest problems into opportunities!