30 Percent Solution, Build It With Wood, Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund

Climate Solutions: Putting New England’s Woods to Work

Oct. 14, 2021
New England Forestry Foundation
Learn how we’re beginning to put Exemplary Forestry to work across the region, while also championing the sustainable wood these standards produce as a replacement for other, more energy-intensive building materials.

In summer 2021, New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) ran a climate solutions special issue of its newsletter, Into the Woods. The issue’s introduction and four articles are closely tied together, and so have been posted online as a single series of blog posts. Here are links to the series:

Post 1, Climate Solutions: Introduction | Post 2, Climate Solutions: Climate, NEFF and the Next Five Years | Post 3, Climate Solutions: A New Climate Wedge | Post 4, Climate Solutions: Pioneering Climate-smart Exemplary Forestry in New England | Post 5 (this post), Climate Solutions: Putting New England’s Woods to Work

Writing by Maine Mountain Collaborative Executive Director Bryan Wentzell (Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund) and NEFF Senior Forest Science and Policy Fellow Alec Giffen, NEFF Communications Manager Tinsley Hunsdorfer, and NEFF Landowner Outreach Manager Lisa Hayden

Now that we’ve examined Exemplary Forestry itself in the climate solution series (see Climate Solutions: Pioneering Climate-smart Exemplary Forestry in New England), we’ll be taking a close look at how it ties into the Center’s new Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund, as well as with several other interesting projects, one each from four of the Center’s key program areas: innovative conservation finance, policy, science, and outreach and coalition building.

Communications, our fifth key program area, has been making progress through projects like Prince Charles’ RE:TV video platform, which featured Exemplary Forestry as an example of sustainability innovation (re-tv.org/rebalance/restoring-woodlands), but we won’t be highlighting a Center communications project below, as you are already reading one of them.

A number of our Center’s initiatives are already well-known to NEFF readers, but visit the website’s Climate Initiatives section if you’d like to learn more about our Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge, Build It With Wood, Pooled Timber Income Fund, Western Maine Habitat Restoration, and Landowner Outreach initiatives. They all have a crucial part to play in spreading the implementation of Exemplary Forestry and building support for sustainable tall wood buildings.

Innovative Conservation Finance: Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund

NEFF’s Exemplary Forestry management practices are a fundamental tool, but how do we take them to scale across a landscape that is largely privately owned? For many large private landowners in the industrial forests of New England, financial constraints limit their ability to shift their forest management approach. Enter the Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund (EFIF), which is slated to launch in early 2022. Focused initially in the Mountains of the Dawn region of western Maine, the EFIF will be a new, privately held long-term timber investment fund that applies Exemplary Forestry standards on large tracts of forests. Initially conceived of by NEFF alongside its early work on the Exemplary Forestry standards, the EFIF is now being jointly developed by NEFF, the Maine Mountain Collaborative (MMC), and Quantified Ventures to attract investors who are interested in both long term, stable investment, and quantifiable environmental results.

The goal of the EFIF is to attract private “impact” investment funding to improve Maine’s forests and achieve conservation outcomes. “Impact investing” refers to investing that seeks positive social and environmental outcomes and also a financial return. While large public land acquisition or changing Maine’s forest practices laws are two ways to alter management practices across a landscape, the economic, cultural and political history of this landscape leans heavily toward private land ownership and away from government intervention. The EFIF is a tool that relies on private investment and private land ownership.

Trees in New England take a long time to mature—whether to become valuable saw logs, provide quality habitat for wildlife, or sequester large amounts of carbon—and patience and careful management are needed to realize the full suite of financial and environmental benefits Maine’s forests can provide. Starting from today’s average forest condition in western Maine, the timeline needed to increase forest growth rates and timber quality are simply not profitable for short-term investors. Unfortunately, some forests in northern New England are seeing the results of forest management that has prioritized short-term financial return, which has produced poor age class diversity, poor stand quality, and stocking below the regional average; the regional average is 15 cords per acre, and NEFF’s standards increase stocking to 25 cords per acre.

NEFF’s intent from the beginning has been to create a forest investment strategy that is attractive to patient investors and ensures forest management that realizes the potential of Maine’s forests for long-term benefits, including climate mitigation. The EFIF seeks to create the necessary financial incentives to allow the landowner and foresters to make long-term management decisions.

The model relies on private philanthropy supporting the goals of the Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund through purchase of conservation easements on lands acquired by the Fund. The revenue received by the Fund for the sale of the easements, along with sale of carbon credits, will provide a return to investors in the initial decade or more while the forest is restored to the point where it can produce more than usual amounts of high-quality timber on an ongoing basis.

The EFIF will be managed by investment and forestry professionals, with the on-the-ground operations handled by a highly respected forest management company. Adherence to the Exemplary Forestry standards will be assured through the oversight of a Board of Managers that will include representation from the Maine Mountain Collaborative along with forestry, conservation and investment experts.

The Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund is particularly well suited for investors with a long-term perspective for at least a component of their portfolio; who want to see their dollars bring about substantial and measurable environmental benefits in a globally significant forest and mountain region; who are interested in addressing climate change, particularly those that can use the carbon storage benefits derived from the EFIF’s forest holdings to benefit their own objectives; and who value the stability and countercyclical nature of forest investments.

The EFIF has begun seeking impact investment capital for forestland acquisition up to 100,000 acres, and raising the corresponding philanthropic funds to acquire conservation easements across this acreage. Once this proof-of-concept acquisition is in place, the fund could be expanded to a larger portion of the landscape.

Last year, the EFIF received a boost with a two-year grant from the Innovative Finance for National Forests Program. This program—a partnership of US Forest Service National Partnership Office, National Forest Foundation, and the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities—funds innovative private investment approaches that can tackle the critical restoration work needed to keep both public and private forests healthy and productive. NEFF and MMC also partnered with Quantified Ventures—an impact investing firm that seeks innovative ways to fill capital needs for high-impact environmental, social, and health projects—to bring the fund to launch.

EFIF Goals for Building a Conservation & Climate Legacy:

  • Create a for-profit long-term timber investment fund
  • Conserve 100,000 acres under Exemplary Forestry management in the largest intact temperate forest in eastern U.S.
  • Reach the landscape’s potential for timber productivity, volume, and quality
  • Sequester upwards of 30 MtCO2e per acre more than present levels, producing third-party verified carbon credits that can be sold for additional revenue
  • Increase timber stocking to 25 cords per acre or almost 50 percent more than current levels
  • Access new sources of capital by connecting project outcomes to a wider network of stakeholders

Policy: State Climate Councils

To help state governments meet their climate goals by using forests to help mitigate climate change, NEFF has been actively involved with both the Maine Climate Council (MCC) and the companion effort in Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) in Connecticut, and when appropriate, has brought Exemplary Forestry to the table as an example of a workable model for climate-smart forestry and a potential path forward.

In Maine, NEFF advocated for a program to encourage private landowners to increase carbon stocking on their lands while maintaining harvest. As follow-up, the Governor formed a task force specifically to address the issue of how to interest small landowners in increasing the carbon stored on their lands while maintaining harvest, and NEFF serves on this committee. NEFF also advocated for including recommendations to lower the emissions from new building construction over time, and this concept is included in a number of places in the report of the MCC. To review the report, visit climatecouncil.maine.gov

The Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) in Connecticut is vetting mitigation and adaptation policy recommendations. NEFF supported recommendations from the GC3’s Forests Sub-Group for enhanced funding to conserve forests, a “no net-loss of forests policy” for Connecticut, and mitigation-focused forestry and production of “local, long-lived forest products.”

The report references NEFF’s redefinition of sustainable forestry as, “forest management that prioritizes mitigating and adapting to climate change in the next 30 years as a critical aspect of meeting the social, economic, ecological, and spiritual needs of current and future generations.”

NEFF aims to ensure Connecticut—and all New England states—implement a systems approach to using forests in climate solutions. Forest conservation, Exemplary Forestry and substitution of mass timber for steel and concrete in building construction should be building blocks that will help the states meet climate goals in the crucial coming decade.

Science: New Criteria for Life Cycle Analysis of Mass Timber Buildings

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool to examine the comparative benefit to the atmosphere of different materials or products. Most life cycle assessments of mass timber construction to date ignore the loss of carbon in the forest when some of the trees are harvested. NEFF is conducting a new type of LCA that includes the in-forest impacts of harvesting the buildings’ wood supply (e.g., reduced carbon storage in the forest) as part of the results. This new analysis is only possible if there are measurable, replicable forestry standards like our Exemplary Forestry standards. The results will not only help better understand the potential of mass timber construction as a climate mitigation tool, but also should shed light on the potential benefits of manufacturing cross-laminated timber (CLT) or other forms of mass timber in Massachusetts. The results will also shape our efforts to get regional wood grown under Exemplary Forestry standards to be used to make local mass timber products.

Outreach and Coalition Building: The Mass Timber Dialogue

New England Forestry Foundation has participated in the Mass Timber Dialogue since it began in fall 2020; this collaborative effort is convened by the State of Massachusetts, the Climate and Land Use Alliance, and ClimateWorks Foundation, and is facilitated by the Meridian Institute. It investigates how mass timber construction, including but not limited to CLT, could be effectively increased across the New England region to help mitigate climate change. Collaborators include people from state governments, experts in forestry, representatives of the conservation community, architects and mass timber experts.

The group has developed a report that acknowledges full optimization of climate benefits depends on the implementation of climate-smart forestry practices like NEFF’s Exemplary Forestry standards. The report explains the benefits of mass timber, its current status, obstacles to increasing its use, and policy recommendations for actions that could be taken to increase its use. The essence of the report has been presented to Commissioners of key state agencies across the region and has been favorably received. NEFF and partners will now begin advocating for implementation of its recommendations.

Top photo by Lauren Owens Lambert