Forests are amazing! Recently they have been in the news because they sequester carbon, which is necessary to address the climate crisis. They also support many bugs and birds and mammals, and we humans have used forest products for millennia. Can forests meet all of these needs?
Last week, I was thrilled to hear that over 100 countries at COP26 made a commitment to end deforestation in eight years. I was also pleased to read in the Nov. 11 Recorder that the directors of the Northeast Wilderness Trust and the New England Forestry Foundation agreed that we need both wilderness and working forests.
Ihave found the New England Forestry Foundation’s (NEFF) recent work on climate inspiring. NEFF was founded in 1944 by foresters concerned about loss of forests, and forest health. Since that time NEFF has been conserving land, managing forests and documenting the outcomes, proposing forest policy, advising and more.
Last year they created the Exemplary Forestry Center to shine a light on their many projects that address the climate crisis. At the core is their “Exemplary Forestry” standards that aim to improve the long term health of New England forests, while
- enhancing the role forests can play to mitigate climate change;
- improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity; and
- growing and harvesting more sustainably-produced wood.
Their website explains that it is their landscape-scale approach to forest management that sets Exemplary Forestry apart from other forestry methods. In a four-minute video they state that, “If we want to solve the climate problem, we are going to have to figure out how forests can help mitigate climate change.”
But, in their view, this is not the only function forests need to play. They go on to say that “to have a sustainable planet we need to get more of our materials from biological systems that can be renewed and sustained for future generations. Exemplary Forestry is a pathway to that future.”
Last year, NEFF rolled out their Exemplary Forestry principles for the Acadian Forest region, which spans northern New England and into Canada. They plan to publish their principles for the southern forests of New England soon.
These principles are based on years of managing forests and collecting data on forest land they own. They are presently trying to quantify exactly how much carbon the New England forests can sequester in the next 30-years, if managed using their principles. They believe, and hope, that they will find that our forests can sequester 30% of our carbon emissions.
As for forest products, they are promoting and demonstrating how we can replace carbon-intensive building materials, such as steel, with wood. By doing this, they claim that we will not only cut climate change emissions, we will also be supporting the way of life of people who live in communities that have depended on the forests they live in for their livelihoods including foresters, mill workers, furniture makers, builders and more.
The four-story Design Building at UMass is a good example of their ‘Build it With Wood’ effort, where the framing is all wood. NEFF points out that the carbon in the wood frame is sequestered until such time that the building is demolished or burns.
NEFF is also researching habitat restoration, and has several other creative programs that aim to encourage people who own forest land to conserve it.
We all have a role to play in conserving and supporting our forests. As for conservation, in New England, approximately 25% of our land is conserved, so we are doing well. However we have a way to go to achieve the worldwide 30×30 effort, which aims to conserve 30% of the surface of our planet (land and water), by 2030. Biden signed onto this effort last summer. Area Land Trusts are eager to help landowners put conservation easements on their properties.
The 30×30 effort is a good step toward E.O. Wilson’s call for “Half Earth.” That is, half of our Earth for humans, and half dedicated to all living things.
We also have a big opportunity to shape our world, even if we don’t own land. We can enjoy and support our forests. We can buy wood products, as opposed to plastic, or metal, and help sequester carbon, and support people who work in the forestry industry. Wood products can also add beauty to our lives, and a feeling of connectedness to where we live.
We are so fortunate to live in the Northeast! Let’s support conserve forest habitat, address the climate crisis, and keep building with wood.
Link to 4-minute video quoted above: https://bit.ly/3kUIhu7
Nancy Hazard is a retired builder, director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, and member of Greening Greenfield. She welcomes comments and questions at Nancy.firstname.lastname@example.org.