CORVALLIS, Ore. — Older mid-Willamette Valley landowners who have to sell timber from their forest lands to pay for health care could get an alternative soon.
An Oregon conservation group has proposed a health initiative linking landowners with carbon-offset buyers, getting money to the older owners for health-care costs while more effectively managing their timber.
The initiative can work for woodlots as small as 20 acres, The Corvallis Gazette Times reported.
Catherine Mater of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation says the initiative will conserve forests, reduce the threat of climate change and provide rural landowners with access to health care.
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“Fir trees are excellent oxygen producers,” Mater said. “Trees are carbon-eating machines.”
The Forest Health Human Health program would allow family tree farmers to sell carbon credits based on the amount of carbon estimated to be digested by their trees each year.
Under the plan, timber harvesting could continue in the form of tree thinning or underbrush removal. The program is already in place in Columbia County.
A national 2005 study was the first time medical expenses were identified as potential key factors in the decision to sell family woodlands.
The 2005 study and another one in 2007 showed that 50 percent of landowners and their offspring had high-deductible insurance coverage and that 30 percent of landowners and more than 35 percent of offspring are likely underinsured.
In addition, they found that 45 percent of offspring believe it is likely they will have to accelerate the sale of timber from the family forests to pay for health care in the future.
Mater said contracts would be for 20 years.
Ninety percent of the payment would go into a health-care account and the landowner would receive an “ATreeM Card.” The other 10 percent would be dedicated to community health programs — for example, a scholarship fund to help educate doctors who will practice medicine in rural areas.