Healthy Forests -- Healthy People  

Vernonia, a small logging town in northwest Oregon, is pioneering an innnovative approach to improving the health of its forests, its people and its economy.  Several years ago, Catherine Mater, Senior Fellow of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, went on a mission to find out why we were losing 6,000 acres of forestland every day in the U.S. She researched family-owned timber farms in communities across the nation – Vernonia was one of those research communities. Mater’s research revealed that one of the biggest reasons timber families decided to sell their forestlands to be made into malls and housing developments was due to unexpected medical bills and inadequate health insurance. And so, with the help of the Pinchot Institute, a group of timber families in Vernonia Oregon got together and launched the Forest Health Human Health Initiative.

Under this initiative timber producers started implementing sustainable forestry practices, most importantly letting the trees grow for longer periods of time before being harvested. This is resulting in a significant increase in carbon sequestration in the forests and the participating timber families are now able to quantify the carbon storage and sell carbon credits to businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions.

What is truly unique about this project is that all the money generated by selling carbon credits will go directly toward paying health care costs for the timber families and funding a community health clinic. The investors buying the credits know this and report that this as an added incentive to purchase the Healthy Forest – Healthy People credits.

Investor payments for carbon stored in family forest trees will be deposited into landowner ATreeM cards which are specifically coded so they can only be used for health care services and products. The ATreeM card has been trademarked and PacificSource has been selected as the national administrator for the card. Oregon is the pilot state for the ATreeM card.

Vernonia’s innovation doesn’t stop with the Healthy Forest – Healthy People initiative. After suffering two 500-year floods in the last 7 years, the community made the decision to relocate all schools, public buildings (including the
community health clinic), and 50% of the
residential homes outside of the flood plain and they decided to make sustainability the backbone of the rebuild effort. For example, they have rebuilt the K-12 schools to LEED green building standards. Some of these buildings will be heated with locally produced woody biomass.

Between the commitment to green building, energy efficiency, local energy development and the Forest Health – Human Health initiative Vernonia is a unique case study in sustainability. Dr. Ken Cox, Superintendent of Vernonia Public Schools said that his community is creating living laboratory and that, “The lessons learned from this Forest Health-Human Health Initiative will be incorporated into our teaching curriculum for all our children in the community.”

PBS has just released an original PBS Film Documentary called "Seeking the Greatest Good" that features the Forest Health – Human Health initiative. That clip can be seen at:

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Cylvia is a speaker, writer and teacher of Economic Evolution.  She is an award winning New Economy leader who is known for speaking truth to power.  

She is faculty in the Sustainability Department, College of Agriculture, Oregon State University and is founder and director of The ReThink.    

She is a smart systems thinker who understands and is able to describe the deeper connections between seemingly unrelated issues. She is also the former First Lady of Oregon.


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