Background image of illustrations of trees on a blue background

Taking climate-smart forestry to the bank

We explore how community-centered management, operationalized by a unique financial model, can lead the way toward climate resilience.

More than a decade ago, in the 2003 version of their Forest Management Plan, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community introduced the idea of a “forest bank” as a potential means of reconnecting a fragmented landscape, coordinating management across ownership, and exploring alternative markets and conservation finance to fund and support community-based stewardship and climate-smart forestry.

In 2015, Ecotrust and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community were jointly awarded funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant program to explore establishing a Forest Bank for the Swinomish Reservation and scope the major building blocks of how the bank would work.

Facilitating community forestry

Like many reservations, the Swinomish Reservation was divided into allotments with the Dawes Act of 1887, creating a system of ownership that has raised systemic barriers to land management: Those original individual allotments that checkerboard the Swinomish lands are now subdivided across generations of owners often with multiple family members owning small tracts of forest.

This mixture of ownership complicates any landscape approach to forest ecosystem management and has challenged the Tribal Community’s efforts to coordinate the locations, scope, and timing of forest management actions to further the best interests of the Tribe, community, and forest. In addition, the current system cannot meet the Tribe’s interests and needs, which are increasingly focused on taking action to achieve community resilience in the face of a changing climate.

“The Swinomish forest has always been a community resource. The hopes for this project are to create a more stable revenue source in addition to establishing a healthy forest ecosystem that meets Tribal landscape-level management priorities.” — Brent Davies, VP Forest & Ecosystem Services

A large pile of chopped wood beside two men wearing safety vests. One man is holding a piece of wood, the other man is using machinery to cut the wood.
Phillip McCoy and Bruce James, Sr. prepare wood for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community's Elder firewood program. Photo by Sean Gutierrez

Modeling a new method

At its most basic, by joining the Forest Bank, individual allotments, while still having many owners, would be managed with a shared set of climate-smart standards. Rather than siloed, uncoordinated management conducted by individual owners, the Bank would coordinate management activities like timber harvests or restoration projects across the Reservation, generating financial return to both participating individual allotment holders and the Tribal Community. Land management through the Forest Bank would follow approved Forest Management Plans—detailed documents that provide an account of all management activities, from timber sales, to roadbuilding, restoration, and more.

The funding for payments made by the Tribe to individual allottees would be drawn from profits generated by forestry activities. In addition, an initial lump sum could be distributed upon enrollment, funded by forest management activities on land owned by the Tribe. Enrollment of individual allotments in the Forest Bank is completely voluntary and opt-in.

This Forest Bank concept for coordinating climate-smart forest management across a matrix of mixed ownerships, and financing landscape-level management and restoration of forests could help build ecological and community resilience to climate change.

Our gratitude to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community for partnering with us in exploring this innovative model.