December 19, 2018|By Kevin Harnish| Climate
In October 2018, I had the privilege of visiting Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas to monitor and measure trees that The Conservation Fund planted in 2008, 2017 and 2018, using donations from the Fund’s voluntary carbon and climate programs. This area was once retired agricultural fields, but in 2008 we partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the land to the hardwood forests they were long ago. We have continued our work here, beginning to restore 1,400 acres by planting more than 440,000 seedlings of American sycamore, persimmon, bur oak, pecan, northern red oak, and other tree species. Support from individuals, climate-forward foundations and leading companies has helped us initiate the restoration process, and will help the project continue to succeed. 

Restoring Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar forest-based carbon sequestration initiative, which was verified at the gold level under the standards of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance in 2009 and was certified by SCS Global Services under its SCS Greenhouse Gas Verification Program. As the forest matures, it is expected to trap an estimated 475,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is equivalent to taking more than 100,000 cars off the road for one year. In addition to this impressive climate impact, the project will restore interior forest habitat for the yellow-breasted chat and indigo bunting, among other species. 

12 19 Yellow chatYellow-breasted chat. Photo by Mick Thompson.

The work of forest restoration doesn’t end the day the seedlings are planted. In fact, the work is just beginning at that point. The Conservation Fund will be monitoring the planted area over the long term to ensure the trees survive and that the forest restoration is successful.

One growing season after the seedlings have been planted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our staff establish survival plots across the planting area and a proportion of surviving seedlings is recorded. If survival is low, the planting area is monitored carefully to determine if replanting is necessary. 

12 19 IMG 0812Refuge biologist Tim Menard and wildlife refuge specialist Pam Moore work to establish a survival monitoring plot near a row of American sycamore planted in 2017. After nearly two full growing seasons, these trees are off to a great start! Photo by Kevin Harnish.

After the trees are 10 years old, permanent plots are established throughout the planting area, and trees that fall within the radius of the plot are measured to estimate the biomass stored within each tree. Using established volume and biomass equations, the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent per tree is estimated. These measurements are repeated every 10 years, with intermediate monitoring every five years in between. 

12 19 IMG 0739Kevin measured the diameter at breast height of a pecan tree planted in 2008 as part of this forest restoration project 10-year monitoring. Photo by Tim Menard.

12 19 IMG 0736The white PVC pipe with orange tape serves as the permanent plot location that will be revisited as the forest grows to monitor increases in forest biomass. Photo by Kevin Harnish. 

Watching the restoration process unfold as the forest ages is a very rewarding experience. This project at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge is especially interesting to visit because fields that were planted only this past winter can be viewed in the same afternoon as young forests that were planted in 2008. It’s almost like watching a baking show; first you see all the hard work that goes into making the cake, and then to save time the baker pulls a cake out of the oven that had been prepared earlier to show you the pending results immediately. Forest restoration requires patience; it sure is nice to view the seedlings planted this year and know they’ll look similar to the successful 10-year-old restoration effort in the future.

12 19 IMG 1372Bur oak planted in 2017 on left, Sycamore planted in 2008 on right. Photo by Alterra Hetzel

I’ve learned something new each time I’ve visited the refuge over the past two years. Tim Menard, the wildlife biologist at Marias des Cygnes is a wealth of information. Listening to Tim identify the birds that utilize the refuge as they migrate across the continent is always a highlight. This year, we were lucky enough to see migrating monarch butterflies dotting the restoration area. 



The restoration effort at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge still needs your support. With the holiday season just around the corner, what better gift to give than the gift of trees!


Make sure to read parts 1 and 3 of our climate series:
Part 1: Climate Change: Seeing the Forest for the Trees by Alterra Hetzel, manager of the Fund’s business partnerships
Part 3: Walking the Talk by Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI)

We need your help to plant trees in Kansas today!

Feel like doing some measuring of your own? Check out our carbon calculator. It can help you measure your carbon footprint by adding up the CO2 emissions produced by your home energy use, auto transportation and air travel. We can also help you calculate the carbon footprint of your company’s operations and special events like conferences and holiday parties! Contact Alterra Hetzel for more information about corporate giving.

Donations to offset your carbon footprint will go toward planting trees in Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge, where forestry experts like Kevin will carefully monitor their growth and the benefits to our climate and wildlife. So, give the gift of trees this holiday season and support Marais des Cygnes!

We are grateful to the many visionary individuals, foundations and companies that have already contributed to the restoration effort at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge, including: AOL; Bear Naked; C&S Wholesale Grocers; Cambridge Systematics; Dell; Delta; Emkay; Freshpet; Gaiam; Indianapolis Colts; Land Rover Portland; MaCher; Midea Group; Momentum Group; Monsanto; New Jersey Natural Gas; Philadelphia Eagles; Pictorial Offset; PREMIERETV; SEAT Planners; The Grupe Company; The Home Depot; The North Face; Timberland; U-Haul; United Talent Agency; William McDonough & Partners; Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.