University of Kentucky's Robinson Forest a key part of the university's Path Forward

The University of Kentucky’s Robinson Forest spans 15,000 acres across three counties in Southeastern Kentucky.

For decades, as one published report recently put it, the forest that covers parts of Breathitt, Perry and Knott counties has served as a “living laboratory for how healthy forests can impact the water and animals that run through them.”

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Now, though, thanks to the innovative thinking of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, the forest has the ability to provide additional resources to enhance its research, teaching and demonstration missions. As part of the Our Path Forward initiative, Robinson Forest is helping preserve the environment and protect UK’s fiscal future, too.

The concept is a novel and innovative one: UK is working with The Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program, which allows Eastern Kentucky landowners to certify conservation efforts of forests. The conservancy calculates how much carbon is in the forest and then helps convert it into carbon credits that can be purchased by others who want to offset pollution that may be attributed to them, according to a recent article in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The effort could ultimately yield several million dollars over several years — dollars that would help meet the mission of Robinson Forest to serve Eastern Kentucky, while generating revenues for UK’s efforts in the region.

“This initiative is a win-win for UK and for the environment that Robinson Forest and the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources has been so central to protecting for decades,” said Nancy Cox, dean of UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE). “Our team developed a way of reducing the global carbon footprint with a nonprofit partner, while at the same time helping generate the revenues necessary to help expand our mission of education, research and service to Eastern Kentucky.”

The effort is one of the first initiatives under Our Path Forward, a five-year financial strategy for UK. The goal is to generate more than $200 million in new revenues over the next five years to help meet anticipated expenses and continue to fund the institution’s growing mission of service to the Commonwealth.

Other initial efforts in Our Path Forward include overall enrollment growth, including summer school; increasing retention and graduation rates; expanding online education efforts; and reforming the university’s procurement efforts, among others. A second round of initiatives is being discussed now by university officials.

Cox said UK CAFE officials are continuing to work with The Nature Conservancy to establish the program’s parameters over the next several months. The hope is to begin realizing revenues from the program in the next year. Officials estimate the carbon credit effort alone could make up to $4 million to $5 million in the first five years of the program.