Several provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, recently signed into law by President Biden, could have a significant impact on New England’s carbon goals by expanding climate-smart forestry and growing the market for lower-carbon wood products, according to the New England Forestry Foundation.
New England Forestry Foundation research shows that combining climate-smart forest management with forest conservation and using wood building products to displace steel and concrete has the potential to keep about 645 million metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere during the next 30 years.
Those 645 or so million metric tons represent nearly a third of the total energy-related carbon emissions humans need to eliminate over the next three decades to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
“New England forests are a global carbon removal powerhouse,” said Andrea Colnes, deputy director of the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF).
Forests are a crucial element of the carbon cycle and they play a vital role in mitigating the impacts of climate change. They also provide wildlife habitat and help protect air and water quality.
Improper forest management, however, contributes up to 17% of global carbon emissions, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Among the strategies of climate-smart forestry, a new term being used in forestry management, are: thinning and harvesting operations to limit overcrowding and promote sustainable growth; prescribed fire applications to manage fuel loads and reduce wildfire risk; site preparation practices such as bedding and herbicide prescriptions may help trees defend themselves against current and new threats such as pests and competing vegetation; planting a diverse mixture of species or genetic traits to decrease chances of extensive forest loss.
Colnes noted the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) could provide new incentives and resources to deliver carbon-reduction opportunities to private forestlands throughout New England by working with both large commercial landowners and smaller family woodlot owners on these management techniques.
Rhode Island is about 50% forested, and some 38,000 private landowners control 70% of that forestland total.
Colnes said this “amazing investment will put pots of money into play” to address forest and climate resiliency. She said some of the money will be used to train and educate loggers, foresters, and private forest landowners in climate-smart management.
Some of the money will also be used to fund grants, incentives, and long-term financing to put climate-smart management into practice. NEFF executive director Bob Perschel called this “patient money” or “slow money,” because these management practices are not designed to deliver short-term financial gain.
NEFF, founded in 1944, has been working to get millions of acres of New England forestland under climate-smart management, creating the financial models that will make these programs work, and explaining to policymakers the benefits of supporting these management techniques.
The Littleton, Mass.-based organization noted some highlights of the IRA that could help protect forestland in the six-state region:
The $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, also being called the “green bank,” will support the use technologies to reduce emissions, including low-cost financing to enable forestland owners to implement climate-smart forestry to reduce carbon emissions. This money can be accessed through NEFF’s recently launched Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund.
The $50 million under the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act (CFAA) could provide payments to owners of private forestland for implementation of forestry practices that provide measurable increases in carbon sequestration and storage beyond customary practices on comparable land.
The $100 million under CFAA could provide grants to support the participation of forest landowners who own less than 2,500 acres of forestland in emerging private markets for climate mitigation or forest resilience.
The $150 million under CFAA will provide grants to underserved forest landowners in emerging private markets for climate mitigation or forest resilience.
Some $700 million will be put into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Legacy Program, which encourages the protection of privately owned forestland through conservation easements or land purchases. Since its creation in 1990, the program has conserved nearly 3 million acres of forestland.
“Rhode Island is losing forestland and this bill will help,” said Perschel, who used to work as a forester in southern New England. “Rhode Island also has urban forests that need help.”
The IRA also allocates $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program to bring cooling and pollution-fighting urban tree cover to marginalized neighborhoods.
“Extreme heat is a life or death issue in our cities, thanks to climate change,” said Jad Daley, American Forests president. “This legislation gets the forestry details right and will have lasting impacts as it helps cities protect their residents from extreme heat.”
He noted that through American Forests’ Tree Equity Score, scientists and policymakers have “found a map of trees in our communities is also a map of income and race, leaving millions of U.S. residents at risk from extreme heat and other climate effects.”
Earlier this year, the USDA created the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, which is designed to support a “diverse set of farmers, ranchers, and forest owners” through climate solutions that increase resilience and expand market opportunities. The new program provides up to a total of $1 billion for pilot projects that “create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.”
NEFF and a host of partners, including New England commercial forestland owners, the region’s logging industry, and The Nature Conservancy, have applied for a $38 million grant to, among other things, fund climate-smart forestry incentives for practices that accelerate carbon storage in working forests and products.
This effort would be achieved, according to NEFF, by a pilot group of forest landowners, on large commercial forests and First Nations woodlands primarily in Maine, as well as smaller privately owned woodlands in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
It would include: direct payments to landowners, foresters, and loggers to implement “uneconomic forest management practices that increase carbon storage in the forest and forest products;” training for foresters and loggers on implementing climate-smart practices; and expanding outreach to engage small private landowners.
By Frank Carini / ecoRI News staff