30 Percent Solution, News Room, Science

NEFF Science Backs Up Healey’s Climate-Focused Forestry Initiative

Jun. 20, 2023

Writing by Bob Perschel, New England Forestry Foundation Executive Director

New England Forestry Foundation New England Forestry Foundation's Prouty Woods Community Forest, photo by Lauren Owens Lambert

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has announced new steps to ensure Massachusetts’ forests are managed to optimize carbon sequestration and mitigate climate harms as part of meeting the state’s climate targets.

Gov. Healey’s new Climate-Focused Forestry Initiative recognizes our forests as a huge untapped resource in the fight against climate change. At New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), we have been working for the past decade to determine how to best manage our forests for climate change mitigation. Our findings indicate expanding the use of improved and climate-smart forestry, stopping the net loss of forests to development and building with sustainable wood products can provide 30 percent of the carbon emissions reductions New England needs in the next 30 years, while also improving wildlife habitat, protecting air and water quality, and supporting forest recreation.

Improving forestry practices can provide huge benefits, but such efforts need to align with other approaches to protect forests’ many benefits, and that is why we applaud the Climate-Focused Forestry Initiative’s comprehensive approach, which includes a focus on accelerating conservation to avoid loss of forests to development, outreach to private woodland owners to adopt climate-smart practices to foster forest resilience, protecting more wildland reserves, and support for forestry businesses to adopt best practices and maintain a supply of locally and sustainably produced wood products.

This new initiative is built on a solid foundation of science:

  • In November 2022, NEFF published a peer-reviewed article in the journal Forests that demonstrated implementing our own Acadian Forest Exemplary Forestry standards in New England could increase carbon storage by an estimated 488 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
  • NEFF’s conclusions were supported by the October 2022 report, New England’s Climate Imperative: Our Forests as a Natural Climate Solution, from Highstead Foundation and coauthors like Harvard Forest, which studied the projected carbon impacts across New England of five integrated climate-mitigation pathways: avoided deforestation, wildland reserves, improved forest management, mass timber construction, and urban and suburban forests.
  • The Forest Carbon for Commercial Landowners (FCCL) Initiative released a March 2023 report stating northern Maine’s commercial forestlands could store at least 20 percent more carbon each year by changing forest management practices, and without reducing harvest levels.
  • The recent Wildlands in New England report released by Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities ties the establishment of a forest reserve system into a comprehensive approach that can protect biodiversity while our forests mitigate climate change.

The Healy Administration process can build on this science to address all of the pathways in this comprehensive approach in a balanced fashion to deliver the best outcomes in a time of climate change. Protecting 30 percent of the Massachusetts landscape by 2030 is an ambitious and necessary goal that can be achieved by halting our loss of forest land, conserving more land through purchase or long-term easements, establishing an appropriate system of forest reserves, and improving our forest practices.

NEFF looks forward to engaging in this process. We have established Exemplary Forestry standards for the forest types in Massachusetts and performed preliminary modeling on the potential climate benefits of changing forest practices. NEFF’s work under our $30 million USDA Climate-Smart Commodities award directs us to identify new forest practices in Massachusetts and the appropriate amount of incentive funding to accomplish them. NEFF’s work for the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts already has us engaging with foresters on climate-smart management plans. We are ready to utilize both of these ongoing initiatives to inform and support the Governor’s Climate-Focused Forestry Initiative.

Photo: NEFF’s Prouty Woods Community Forest in Littleton, Mass., photo by Lauren Owens Lambert