Bioeconomy, Build It With Wood, Climate-Smart Commodities, Western Maine Habitat Restoration

NEFF’s Climate Team Checks In

Dec. 07, 2023

Our climate team and the initiatives they lead have taken flight

New England Forestry Foundation Lauren Owens Lambert

Two years ago, New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) made Exemplary Forestry and the forest-climate connection the center point of our programmatic work. We now have a powerful team working on the climate crisis from a variety of angles in support of NEFF’s 30 Percent Climate Solution, which could pull more than 646 million metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the next 30 years, with 542 million of those tons coming from adoption of Exemplary Forestry.

Exemplary Forestry is an approach created by NEFF to support forests’ long-term health and the highest standards of sustainability with a focus on three key goals: enhancing the role forests can play to mitigate climate change, improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and growing and harvesting more sustainably produced wood. At NEFF, managing our forests to support the combination of biodiversity, climate mitigation and the continued production of sustainable wood products is the holy grail. As we pivot to a climate-changing world and the need to grow a bioeconomy that maximizes the use of renewable natural materials and minimizes carbon emissions, our climate team supports a powerful and integrated approach to the people, forests, wildlife and climate of New England.

So, how are things going two years in? By any measure, our climate team and the initiatives they lead have taken flight. Advancing forest-climate solutions that also support ecological health, biodiversity and harvesting wood products has found its way into all that we do. It is most visible in signature initiatives like NEFF’s $30-million USDA Climate-Smart Commodities program, which will pilot the application of climate-smart forestry across the region with family, commercial, and Tribal landowners. Here are some top-line highlights of what the NEFF team is doing.

Bioeconomy Initiative

NEFF’s new Bioeconomy Initiative is progressing quickly with exciting work emerging in three areas: we are working with developers, builders and architects to grow market demand for local sustainable wood. We’ve been doing a lot of outreach via one-on-one conversations and requests for presentations across our region, and have worked with ZGF Architects on a variety of mass timber-related initiatives and hope to support the exciting decision by the Portland Museum of Art to build a major mass timber addition. NEFF is digging into climate-smart wood sourcing in our region and at the national level through our work with the Climate Smart Wood Group—a coalition that helps the North American building sector identify and procure climate-smart wood products—to develop sourcing criteria and guidelines. We have also begun our work around identifying the potential for increased use of mass timber in the affordable housing sector and the creation of mass timber design guidance working with partners in NEFF’s Climate-Smart Commodities program.

Massachusetts Woodlands Partnership

As NEFF continues to work as Administrative Agent for the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts, a three-year project is launching to implement forestry practices that promote climate resilience on 700 acres of town-owned and private family forests. In an exciting expansion of this project, NEFF received $540,000 in Congressionally Directed Spending to pilot climate-smart practices in the Partnership’s 21-town region of western Franklin and northern Berkshire counties—the most forested corner of the Commonwealth—and will partner with Mass Audubon to implement the program. The region is a high priority for both the state and the U.S. Forest Service, which have agreed to work with these rural communities to promote conservation as well as sustainable economic development that includes forestry and recreation, while addressing climate challenges and solutions. Learn about NEFF’s outreach work, and about the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts.

Climate-Smart Commodities: Forestry and Training

As part of the Climate-Smart Commodities project, NEFF is beginning to work with partners to develop a climate-smart forestry curriculum and training program with the Trust to Conserve Northeast Forestlands. This program will train and certify loggers and foresters in the implementation of climate-smart practices on forestlands enrolled in NEFF’s program. Learn more about the Climate-Smart Commodities initiative.

Western Maine Habitat Restoration

Based on the successful 2016 project to restore native wildlife habitat on privately owned forest in western Maine, NEFF launched a new $1.5 million, five-year Resource Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in July 2023 that focuses on private forest ownerships greater than 75 acres that link fish and wildlife habitats across ownerships in the Acadian Forest. NEFF’s new role as a primary NRCS partner in the 2023–2028 Western Maine RCPP allows NEFF to shape the project while striving to make Exemplary Forestry accessible, affordable, and easy to implement for family forest owners through a $320,000, three-year award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

And this is only the beginning of NEFF’s work to address climate change as we seek to fully realize our 30 Percent Solution. Building on the bold Climate-Smart Commodities program, NEFF is simultaneously working with partners to create a much larger financing program to allow landowners to implement climate-smart forestry across the region. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund is key to mobilizing climate finance in the battle against climate change, and NEFF is working with partners to direct some of this money to a new revolving loan fund that would allow landowners to invest in climate-smart forestry. Learn more about the Western Maine Habitat Restoration initiative.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund

Created by the Inflation Reduction Act, the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leverage private capital for investments in environmental infrastructure and nature-based climate solutions. The GGRF is designed to make funding available for projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution, with a particular emphasis on projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

In New England, the GGRF has the potential to create new financing initiatives to bring climate-smart forestry solutions to scale, building on NEFF’s Climate-Smart Commodities program to deliver fully 30 percent of New England’s carbon reduction goals.