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Growing Trees for Health Care

by Shawn Regan

More than 60 million acres of family forest land is owned by people who intend to sell or transfer their land in the near future. Many of these owners want to pass their land on to the next generation but often liquidate their timber out of fear and uncertainty surrounding health care costs, according to a study by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.

In response, the Pinchot Institute partnered with a health care provider to kickstart a program to assuage landowners’ concerns over health care costs. The pilot program, located in Vernonia, Oregon, is based on the notion that “though money may not grow on trees, it is stored in them.”

It would allow landowners to use the carbon stored in their trees as a sort of all-purpose health savings account. The money would come from companies and individuals interested in purchasing carbon credits to offset their own carbon footprints, thus creating an incentive among landowners to hold onto their land. The money would go directly to Regence BlueCross BlueShield, which would in turn provide different levels of health coverage to the landowners, depending on what they wanted.

…Sharon Bernal, a real estate agent in Vernonia, said she believed the program would create much-needed incentives for landowners because so many are struggling under the weight of the current economic recession.

This problem has only compounded over years, as there have become fewer and fewer financial incentives for forest landowners to hold onto their property, according to Amy Grotta, a forestry faculty member at Oregon State University’s extension services in Columbia and Washington counties. “(Without insurance), people might otherwise sell their forest land,” Grotta said. “It’s something we continue to see.”

The program also plans to pool about 20 percent of funds to contribute towards a new health care clinic. They hope to have 300 landowners signed up by the end of the year.

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