Leaders of nonprofits in forestry and wilderness conservation spoke to the benefit of working together to address climate change and the biodiversity crisis during a joint presentation Wednesday night.
“We have to practice good forestry in the region; we also have to leave some of the land alone,” said Bob Perschel, executive director of the New England Forestry Foundation. “Neither of these two aspects of forest protection and health should be left behind.”
Perschel and Jon Leibowitz, executive director of the Northeast Wilderness Trust, presented to the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership’s board on bridging the advocacy efforts between wilderness protection and forestry management.
“My message, and the message of Northeast Wilderness Trust, is not an anti-forestry message,” said Leibowitz. “Wilderness conservation is a complementary strategy, not an opposing one.”
Leibowitz said he and Perschel are working on the same mission, just with different tactics.
“We’re talking about wildlands and woodlands, not wildlands or woodlands,” Leibowitz emphasized.
He said roughly one-quarter of New England is conserved in some way, the vast majority of which is managed forestland.
“It is out of balance,” Leibowitz said, referencing a map of the region. “That’s not to knock forestry; it’s just to show we have a lot of room for more wilderness on the landscape.”
Echoing a point also made by Perschel, Leibowitz spoke to the importance of forests for sequestering carbon.
“Whether well-managed or set aside for wilderness, forest carbon can help slow climate change,” he said.
The percentage of wildlands compared to managed woodlands, farmlands or urban land is “the less important metric of success,” according to Leibowitz.
“Far more important,” he said, “is achieving a holistic approach to conservation that finds balance between woodlands and wildlands.”
He asked Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership board members and members of the public at Wednesday’s meeting how we can balance comforts of “modern existence” with nature. His suggestions included setting aside more places as wild, and — once again echoing his counterpart — finding ways to use limited resources in creative ways.
Perschel said per the analysis of the New England Forestry Foundation, there is the opportunity to offset 30% of emissions in New England “if we do the right things with our forests.”
The most significant element of this would be changing forest management practices by using “exemplary forestry,” which emphasizes sustainable forest management.
“We want to put wood we get out of the forest into taller buildings, into urban areas,” Perschel said. “We can actually build with wood now. That means we won’t pollute the air with the concrete and steel emissions that are required to make those products.”
He said the practice of converting forestland to alternative uses should also cease.
“We also want to stop losing forestland,” he said. “We want to stop the yearly conversion of land to other uses, and keep our forest intact. We’re losing forest base now. Let’s stop that.”
Perschel said his forestry nonprofit has more than 1.2 million acres of conservation land.
“We’ve turned our attention in the last 10 years to thinking about climate change and the biodiversity crises — two crises that are facing us right now,” he explained. “We believe, and others are coming to realize, that forests have a significant role to play in climate change.”
Leibowitz said wildlands and managed woodlands should both be considered in the conversations about climate change and the crisis of biodiversity.
“We’re not fighting with each other,” he said. “We can do both of these things and we can do them better.”
An earlier version of this article had the incorrect acreage of land conserved by the New England Forestry Foundation. The nonprofit has 1.2 million acres of land conserved.
By Mary Byrne, Staff Writer
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne