‘Groundbreaking.’ This is how Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts President Scotty Herriman described the recently announced agreement between Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC), the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC).

This milestone arrangement, the first of its kind in Oklahoma, involves the purchase of carbon sequestration offsets generated by farming practices in the North Canadian River Watershed. The carbon offsets to be purchased through this program will be the result of changes in farming and ranching practices instituted by local landowners as part of a Section 319 Clean Water Initiative being implemented by the OCC Water Quality Division in cooperation with local Conservation Districts in Blaine, Dewey, and Canadian Oklahoma Counties.

“We are honored to have WFEC as a partner in this groundbreaking initiative,” said Herriman. “The purchase of the carbon offsets that will result from the planting of grass and trees and new no-till crop production will reward landowners for the good stewardship they are practicing,” he added. “It will also help address not only water quality issues, but also help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere as well.”

Herriman explained that WFEC will provide funding to pay landowners in the watershed $3.50 per metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered through farming practices put on the ground to reduce erosion and run-off. The restoration of riparian areas next to streams, the planting of grass on marginal land, the conversion of conventional crop production to no-till all help address water quality issues. However, they also result in increased carbon sequestration, or storage, from increased photosynthesis. This in turn, reduces the overall atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, a gas many experts believe is helping create climate change.

This project is another example of how the Conservation Partnership helps landowners address natural resource concerns through voluntary means, according to Sarah Love, director of the OACD Carbon Initiative. “From the days of the dust bowl to today, the Conservation partnership in the United States has always addressed natural resource concerns through voluntary, locally led means,” Love explained.

“We believe this partnership with WFEC will help us address several important issues,” Love noted. Among these are water quality, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and fuel conservation by encouraging no-till and improving wildlife habitat through riparian restoration. “All of these are performed through voluntary methods, not because of regulations or new laws, but through cost-share assistance to landowners and technical assistance,” Love pointed out.

This assistance is from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the OCC and the local Conservation Districts in the participating watershed. “This is a win-win for everyone concerned,” Love explained.

“WFEC is proud to be a part of this innovative project for Oklahoma. Along with our 19 member distribution cooperatives, we are committed to being good stewards of the environment,” commented Gary Roulet, WFEC chief executive officer. “As the world is turning more attention towards carbon dioxide levels and its environmental effects, WFEC is eager to be involved with methods of carbon sequestration,” Roulet added.

“The carbon sequestration technology is unfortunately years away from being fully developed for power plants to have effective methods of capture or long-term storage of CO2,” Roulet pointed out. “However, an agreement such as this is certainly a step in the right direction for WFEC, as well as other entities involved.”

Roulet noted that the WFEC Board of Trustees is very much in favor of this pilot program and the positive potential it has for the state. The WFEC Board has also approved an additional contribution to Oklahoma State University for further carbon sequestration research. ”This donation and participation indicates the strong leadership of WFEC’s Board and its staff towards the further development of environmental stewardship.”

OACD Executive Director Clay Pope said that this agreement will provide a new way for producers to make money while addressing numerous natural resource concerns.

“If we can find ways to help landowners address environmental issues and make money at the same time, everyone wins,” Pope said. “By helping producers sell carbon offsets to address CO2 levels in the atmosphere, by helping reduce fuel costs and conserving water by switching to no-till, this can be successful,” Pope added.

The pilot program will also aid in improving wildlife habitats through riparian restoration and native grass plantings, which can lead to hunting and watchable wildlife leases. Pope explained that if all works well, water pollution issues on the river can be reduced and carbon can be stored, both which will help the bottom line of the farmers and ranchers in the watershed.

“This is a win-win for everyone and we are excited to be a part of it,” Pope concluded