Light a Fire 2017: Caring for the Planet

Ecotrust Puts Its Faith—and Funds—in Healthy Forests

The green nonprofit makes conservation profitable.

By Ramona DeNies October 16, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Washington’s Olympic Peninsula rain forest, near two Ecotrust Forest Management holdings

Jobs or the environment? Forests or money? For Jeremy Barnicle, executive director of Ecotrust, the 26-year-old conservation and forestry management stalwart, the argument is as tired as coal-fired power.

“I just don’t buy that,” he says. “It’s a false dichotomy. I basically reject the premise.”

To prove that saving the planet can also be bankable, Barnicle points to the nonprofit’s subsidiary, Ecotrust Forest Management, a 12-year-old registered B Corp that has invested more than $80 million in “ecologically valuable” forestland with high species diversity, crucial wildlife habitat, and plenty of high-value trees. Ecotrust’s formula for “light logging” mitigates long-term damage through things like natural water filtration (nearly 75 percent of Oregon drinking water comes from our forests), replanting, and longer rotation cycles. Ecotrust’s 75,000 acres of sustainably managed timberland also act as a sponge for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

This ecologically attuned strategy—called “impact investing”—is paying off. This past spring, an independent study compared the profitability of impact funds like EFM against their conventional peers over the past 17 years. It wasn’t even close: the impact funds made returns nearly double those of the conventional funds. Barnicle smiles.

“I think it’s fair to say that we have investors coming back.”

Ecotrust’s Forestry Projects

Ecotrust’s timberland impact funds can turn a profit by selling off forestland. But there’s often a greater payoff.

2015: Sek-wet-se Forest

The Grassy Knob Wilderness’s Dry Creek in Southern Oregon’s Siskiyous is home to spawning grounds for chinook and other salmon. Now, these 3,200 acres once again belong to the Coquille Tribe—restoring a key piece of the tribe’s ancestral homelands.

2016: Fivemile Forest

This two-mile-long, 125-acre patch of wetlands on Fivemile Creek near Reedsport is crucial habitat for threatened coast coho. Now, this sensitive habitat is back in the hands of the area’s original land stewards: the Siletz Tribe.

2017: Onion Peak

Tucked between Tillamook Head and Nehalem Bay are 5,000 acres of watershed-rich “coastal edge.” EFM has arranged to transfer the bulk of this land to the North Coast Land Conservancy, to permanently protect this freshwater resource.

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