In November 2021, EcoActors Luke Mendenhall and Alice Chang travelled to Tennessee to audit Cherokee Forest, an 8,600-acre improved forest management project that EcoAct supports.
After a few years of auditing projects from behind a computer screen in their homes, EcoActors Luke and Alice were excited to get back into the field when travel restrictions were lifted. They headed out to the Cherokee Forest project, an Improved Forest Management project EcoAct supports in Johnson County, Tennessee, to meet the local stakeholders and analyze the impacts of key activities around the project. After a 3-hour drive from Charlottesville North Carolina, they arrived in Tennessee at dusk and were welcomed by rolling hills, sprawling mountains and seemingly endless forests.
At 8,600 acres, Cherokee Forest is in one of the largest remaining blocks of privately-owned forest in the Southern Blue Ridge region. In 2012, Cherokee Forest was involved in a federal bankruptcy leaving it vulnerable to being auctioned off. The Nature Conservancy facilitated the purchase of Cherokee Forest on behalf of the state of Tennessee. The land was then transferred to the newly legislated Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) for ownership and management. This large parcel of land provides essential habitat for black bears, birds and salamanders, and with over 60 miles of trails, plenty of space for sustainable recreational activities.
The Cherokee Forest project began in October 2017. To maintain and conserve the forest, the project developer, Bluesource, signed a Carbon Marketing and Development agreement with DMRA creating the Doe Mountain Improved Forest Management project. The project was registered with American Carbon Registry in 2019 and EcoAct got involved shortly after purchasing carbon credits from the project.
The project is aligned to the Improved Forestry Management methodology for quantifying greenhouse gas removals and emission reductions through increased forest carbon sequestration on non-federal U.S. forestlands.
“It was fantastic to see first-hand the important work the project and carbon finance is playing in protecting this beautiful forest in Tennessee. Enhancing carbon sinks plays an essential role in combatting climate change while also playing a key role in providing habitats for flora and fauna as well as benefiting communities.” Luke Mendenhall, EcoAct
The project requires the carbon stock to be monitored to ensure verified emissions reductions and removals. The forest carbon inventory is conducted by EcoForesters, a non-profit professional forestry organization, founded in 2015, dedicated to conserving and restoring Appalachian forests through education and stewardship. EcoForesters implements active forest stewardship and prioritizes conservation impacts over profit. While there have been some deaths of Elms, Hemlocks, and Red Oaks, the foresters assess and work to prevent invasive plants from entering this land.
The DMRA has successfully opened and operated more than 50 miles of recreational trails in the Cherokee Forest. Folks looking to visit can find activities such as hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and explore trails for low-impact ATV touring. Permits for the off-highway vehicles are managed by the DMRA and provide essential additional income for forest management. They also host activities with nature programs, outdoor adventure expositions and safety classes. Income from the carbon offsets is used to protect and manage the health and resilience of the forest, maintain the trails, and provide support for biodiversity research for the area.
“On our second day, we visited Doe Mountain and toured miles of recreational trails that weave throughout the forest. We were able to see first-hand the health of the forest and stopped at multiple viewpoints where we could see breath-taking views of untouched forest as far as the eye could see.” Alice Chang, EcoAct.
Alice and Luke were toured around Cherokee Forest for two days with the DMRA Executive Director, Shawn Lindsay. Shawn, a Tennessee local, is passionate about the carbon project and the effects it will have on the community surrounding Cherokee Forest.
“Doe Mountain is a special place. The Carbon project has allowed the preservation of 8,600 acres of forest and allowed scientific research into its diverse ecological systems and the many species that depend on it. It also provides benefits to thousands of recreational users each year as they come to the mountain to find fresh air, diversion, and healing in a time it is needed the most when so many are disconnected from the wild. It has also created jobs and supported dozens of businesses with independent studies showing over 4 million a year in economic impacts for one of the poorest regions of the country. Those economic impacts are also growing rapidly as carbon credits are reinvested into the mountain by the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority making it more accessible and helping new businesses that have connections to the mountain start up and prosper.” Shawn Lindsay, DMRA.
Alice and Luke departed Cherokee Forest with a better daytime view, making the forest seem even more magnificent. The DMRA’s ownership of this land plays a key role in promoting and managing the health of the forest.
Cherokee Forest not only protects biodiversity and forest health, but also actively provides numerous social and environmental co-benefits that help humans and nature thrive.
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