Investing In Forest Health: Venture Capital To The Rescue?

Don Russell, reporter, editor, and publisher (along with Jim Roos) of the Mountain Messenger, is one of the last journalists to embody the spirit of Mark Twain. His weekly reports on the shennanigans in rural Sierra County are always a joy to read.

This article in particular caught my interest. I always like to see innovation in dealing with the many problems associated with California’s endangered forests…

Right, wrong or indifferent, capitalism is the economic system widely embraced in these United States.

As a rule, the empathetic and those and those inclined to gung-ho cooperation are suspicious of capitalism, which by law, has a primary duty to the fiscal well-being of investors.

Those suspicious Christians always run into “the tragedy of the commons;” the evidence that when everybody owns something, nobody does, and no care is taken of whatever is owned.

The lack of public funding of our commonly-held national forests is a perfect example. Forest Service economists can and have proven that a dollar spent in fire prevention saves a fortune in firefighting and habitat loss.

Congress, especially a Republican Congress, may well know this, but a representative’s tenure is short. He or she won’t be around long enough for voters to appreciate a long-term wise investment.  So little money is spent on forest maintenance and the West burns.

On Tuesday, our Board of Somnambulance heard from Blue Forest Conservation (BFC), a group of engineers and investment managers who propose to harness the desires of capitalists to the needs of the forests.

BFC is of the opinion that forest health benefits can and must be quantified, i.e. measured. Those benefits can then be monetized i.e. given a dollar value. Beneficiaries, such as the Forest Service, utility companies, insurance companies, water dependent companies, lumber producers, states and local governments and neighboring landowners, can then pretty well know what kind of bang for a buck they receive.

Given the measured value, investors will be interested in providing that buck; the up-front capital for forest maintenance and restoration., expecting to be repaid from the beneficiaries who know the value of their benefit.

An example: poorly managed forests can suck up too much water, or create downstream sedimentation from uncontrolled erosion. A downstream utility, making its money from hydroelectric generation, would benefit from preventing either of these scenarios.

Knowing it will receive a certain increased number of acre feet of clear water, the utility knows what profit it will make, what costs it will save, and will pay for the increase.

Investors get their money back with interest, and get to brag at Sierra Club cocktail parties they’ve saved the planet.

That’s BFC’s plan. They’re currently working with do-gooder capital from the likes of the Rockefeller and Packard Foundations, to develop pilot projects to prove the plan works.

The Forest Service’s current North Yuba Project is one of those projects BFC would like to use as a pilot.  BFC’s proposed investment would be a rather modest $4.5 million.

According to BFC, there are thousands of shovel-ready NEPA projects, approved Forest Service projects waiting for funding. The BFC proposes to work only on such projects that have already received agency approval with all the necessary background work completed.

Given the gargantuan nature of the problem of forest health, the number of rural jobs suddenly available would be a stunning revitalization of local economies such as our own.

To the suspicious, isn’t this the O’Bamacare of forest management? An enshrined middleman is paid to stand between public money and private benefit, being guaranteed a piece of the action.

Aren’t investors benefiting from the public funds spent on the planning process?

How do you monetize ocean-going fish caught by foreigners?

Only faith can refute suspicion. Faith, and the unalterable fact of the status quo; nothing is happening and no benefit is occurring.

BFC sees a rosier picture than a socialist’s suspicion. Given eternity, eventually, they allow, a public agency will begin and likely complete the work. But, they point out, many beneficiaries would be willing to pay to accelerate such a project and reap the benefits sooner.

BFC contemplates a 4% return on capital from investors, returned in as little as three years. If this conservative return is, in fact, a safe investment, many institutions would be interested. Many corporations would prefer to remove themselves from the wild and irrational speculations of stock markets in favor of actual production.

Nationally, the benefits of maintained forests are obvious. In 1995, 16% of the Forest Service’s budget went to firefighting. Lately, it is over half the budget, and in eight years is expected to be two-thirds of the agency’s budget.

Given that, there will be no fire prevention nor forest maintenance without private capital.

Although there is now plenty of reason to doubt the “budget hawk’s” actual fiscal conservatism, perhaps only by monetizing health and well-being can we get their attention.

More information on the investment group is available at


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1 Response to Investing In Forest Health: Venture Capital To The Rescue?

  1. Michael Anderson says:

    Tree huggers wearing Goldman Snacks outfits. Better get the Toddster on the case.

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