New England Forestry Foundation

Storing More Carbon by Improving Forest Management in the Acadian Forest of New England, USA

In November 2022, New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) celebrated an exciting milestone with its first publication of an original research paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The paper, published in the journal Forests, built on NEFF’s previous forest modeling and financial analysis to quantify the climate benefits of switching from conventional forest management to Exemplary Forestry.

All told, Exemplary Forestry could increase carbon storage by an estimated 488 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — equal to about 23 percent of the emissions reductions needed for New England to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The study was coauthored by NEFF Senior Forest Science and Policy Fellow Alec Giffen; NEFF Forest Scientist Colleen Ryan; Natural Climate Solutions Forester Ethan Belair of The Nature Conservancy; Mike Pounch, now Chief of Silviculture for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands; and Seth Brown from Quantified Ventures.

The capacity of forests to store carbon, combined with time-tested approaches to managing forests, make forests a useful tool for atmospheric carbon mitigation. Unlike in the western U.S., where the federal government manages extensive landholdings, most of New England’s timberland is privately owned, with 92 percent of Maine and 78 percent of the Acadian Forest region in private hands. The average standing volume per hectare of private forest land varies widely across New England, with stocking lowest in portions of Maine, suggesting that if forest stocking was increased, both annual forest carbon storage and timber harvests could grow.

Researchers used a forest growth and yield model to simulate forest management across a large area of northwestern Maine based on NEFF’s Exemplary Forestry standards, which prioritize providing habitat for native wildlife while producing timber, storing carbon, and maintaining other forest values. They found climate-smart forestry could increase carbon stored in the forest substantially. The estimated 488 million metric tons CO2e of potential added carbon storage represents more than three times New England’s annual carbon emissions (145 million metric tons CO2e in 2019).

As with any modeling effort, the numbers produced here are estimates, and while the actual in-forest results of implementing Exemplary Forestry are expected to be similar, they may be more or less than 488 million metric tons.

The estimated increase in carbon storage only accounted for the carbon stored in the forest, but climate-smart forestry would also produce long-lived wood products that store carbon. Those products can further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by substituting for products like concrete and steel.

Researchers from Quantified Ventures also conducted financial modeling demonstrating that Exemplary Forestry can be profitable for private landowners in the short term (within 15 years) by combining income from timber management, sales of carbon credits, and philanthropic funding of conservation easements.