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Retiree Gary Kaster is still concerned about carbon, land use

by on December 8, 2010

McCONNELSVILLE, Ohio — Many people have an “ah-ha!” moment at some point in their lives. For Gary Kaster, it came as he was flying from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in that South American nation.

Retired AEP forestry manager Gary Kaster continues his work to leave the world a better place for his two granddaughters, above.

“As I looked down at the countryside after we left Santa Cruz, I saw bean fields, more bean fields, pasture land and more bean fields before we finally came to the forest in the national park,” said Kaster, who retired as AEP’s manager of eco-assets in 2005.

“It was then that the light bulb switched on in my head and I fully realized that little tiny humans can have a serious impact on their environment — particularly in the area of deforestation and land use change,” he explained.

“I spent the last 11 years of my career at AEP working on carbon sequestration projects involving reforestation of various tracts of land,” he recalled. “When I retired, in addition to spending more time with my family, I knew I wanted to continue to work in the area of climate change, carbon sequestration and forest management.

Today, Kaster operates a consulting business called Carbon Project Services, which assists and provides guidance to clients in evaluating, developing and monitoring carbon sequestration projects.

In addition, he and two partners operate Buckeye Forestry Services, a firm that provides more traditional forest management services for private landowners.

“You could say I’ve evolved to a more enlightened level as a forester,” said Kaster, who earned his forestry degree from West Virginia University. “These days, I’m less of a ‘sustainable yield’ kind of forester. Today, I tend to ask more questions. Maybe there are places where, for various reasons, the harvest should be reduced or trees shouldn’t be cut at all.

“There’s a lot of buzz today about earning carbon credits or carbon offsets,” Kaster pointed out. “The agricultural community and the forestry community are definitely excited and want to learn more about the subject.”

Kaster has been speaking to both industry groups and farming groups, and he emphasizes to them that different carbon registries, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange and the American Carbon Registry, have different criteria or standards as to what qualifies as an offset.

Densely forested land at AEP ReCreation Land, reclaimed land that Central Ohio Coal Company formerly used for surface mining operations in southeastern Ohio.

“When Congress finally passes a bill, or when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets its standards, will your carbon credits or offsets from such registries still pass muster? That’s the critical question,” Kaster said.

“The high-quality registries won’t give you any credits or offsets if you merely own a tract of land and allow the trees to continue growing,” he explained. “They want to know what positive, proactive steps you’ve taken to increase the amount of carbon being sequestered, and they give you credits only for the amount of increase.

“How do you increase the amount of carbon sequestration on a given tract of land? You plant more trees, you do selective cutting to make the residual trees grow faster, you reduce the level of harvest, or perhaps you change the cutting cycle from 10 years to 15 years, or something like that,” he said.

Kaster spent two years working for Winrock International — a company that specializes in sustainable resource management and terrestrial carbon sequestration — before deciding to become a consultant again.

“Winrock is a great company, but at this stage of my life, I’m not really interested in attending meetings, supervising other employees or filling out reports,” he said. “Being a self-employed consultant suits me better and I am able to spend much more time with my wife and grandchildren.”

A native of East Canton, Ohio, Kaster began his 36-year AEP career in 1969 with Ohio Power Company, assisting with reclamation tree-planting activities at Central Ohio Coal Company.

A majestic waterfall in the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia.

“At the same time, we began to develop a comprehensive forest management plan for Ohio Power’s land holdings,” he remembered. “We were able to generate significant income from sustainable timber harvesting, above and beyond that which was being sold in advance of Central Ohio Coal’s mining operations.

“Over time, we expanded the comprehensive forest management approach to Kentucky Power, Indiana Michigan Power, and Appalachian Power Company. At the end of my tenure with AEP, we were managing the former CSW’s timber lands, as well.”

In 1994, Kaster transferred to Columbus to work on climate change issues. E. Linn Draper Jr. had become chairman, president and CEO of the company, Dale Heydlauff had been named to direct AEP’s environmental affairs function, and “climate change had become a hot-button issue,” Kaster said. “Those two, but especially Heydlauff, changed my life.

“We wanted to show that there were other solutions available that would be less expensive than shutting down coal-fired power plants,” he recalled. “That’s how we became involved in stopping the logging on a concession area adjacent to the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia, and essentially doubling the size of the park.”

Kaster was named president of UtiliTree Carbon Company, a consortium of 41 electric utility companies that completed carbon sequestration projects in Malaysia, Belize and the lower Mississippi River Valley of the U.S. “Basically, they needed someone with forestry experience to lead the group,” he said modestly.

In 2001, Kaster was named to lead Power Tree Carbon Company, a consortium of 25 electric utility companies that focused its efforts strictly on the U.S. He still does consulting work for Power Tree today.

In addition to Bolivia, where he served as AEP’s technical advisor for the Noel Kempff Mercado project, Kaster has traveled to Brazil, Belize and Malaysia to oversee carbon sequestration initiatives.

“These travels have helped enlighten me about what’s happening in the rest of the world,” he said. “The depletion of the rainforest in South America wasn’t an isolated example. Deforestation and land use change have been happening in a great many places.”

Kaster and his wife, Susan, live in McConnelsville, Ohio. Besides being devoted to their children and grandchildren, they are active in their community, especially with the Morgan County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Looking back over his career, Kaster said, “I am proud of my forestry legacy. The important thing to me is managing our forest resources sustainably, doing it right and making sure that we conserve and restore the resources that we use.

“Obviously, this has been a major focus in my working life,” he concluded. “Someday, when I completely retire, I hope people will say I’ve made a difference.”

From → Retiree Profiles

One Comment
  1. supershiftsuper permalink

    Don’t suppose those flights to and around Bolivia added any carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, do you? Maybe AEP bought some carbon credits from Al Gore.

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