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5 Ways Forests Can Be Critical Climate-Fighting Tools

winter forest

Hardly a week goes by without some startling news about the climate crisis. From hurricanes to fires, and even a week of balmy 70 degrees in November here the Valley. Each of these wacky weather events is a stark reminder—the time is now to take action to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Fortunately, technological solutions to the climate crisis are plentiful: electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines, energy efficient buildings. All of these are needed on a scale we have only begun to imagine—and as soon as humanly possible. Each of us can find ways to participate in this great infrastructure transformation at home and in our communities.

But here’s the thing: None of those technologies make your daily life more beautiful or more peaceful quite as well as forest conservation. This critical and natural solution to the climate crisis provides so many other benefits to our species—and to the other species that we share this planet with.

New England Climate Report Cover
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According to the recent report called New England’s Climate Imperative, published by Highstead Foundation, “New England forests are a critical yet underutilized tool in fighting climate change.”

The report outlines five distinct but complementary pathways to show how our forests can make a difference:

  1. Avoided Deforestation: Each year, 28,000 acres of forests are permanently converted to development, emitting their stored carbon and forgoing all future sequestration. If we reduce deforestation to 7,000 acres per year in New England, 74 million U.S. tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) would be kept out of the atmosphere by 2050.
  2. Wildland Reserves: Less than 4% of our forests are currently protected as wildland reserves—where forests are left unmanaged and unharvested. If just 10% of New England’s forests are allowed to mature as wild forests without removing trees or soil, they would sequester an additional 50 million U.S. tons CO2e by 2050.
  3. Improved Forest Management: Society is heavily dependent on wood products, and New England is a great place to grow trees.  By changing forest management practices and stewarding timberlands to maximize carbon sequestration, we could maintain harvest volumes while increasing carbon storage in the forest. If just 50% of logging operations employed climate-smart techniques, an additional 203 million U.S. tons CO2e could be sequestered by 2050.
  4. Mass Timber Construction: Trees are a valuable climate solution even when used as timber. Using trees as structural building material is much less carbon intensive than steel or concrete, and has the added benefit of storing carbon throughout the life of the building. If 50% of eligible new multi-story buildings used mass timber construction, an additional 15 million U.S. tons CO2e could be stored.
  5. Urban and Suburban Forests: Expanding tree and forest cover within our communities has enormous benefits even beyond carbon, including shading, clean air, clean water, and recreational and employment opportunities. A 5% increase in urban tree canopy in New England could sequester an additional 17 million U.S. tons CO2e by 2050.

According to the report: “New England’s forests currently absorb roughly 27 million U.S. tons of CO2e each year—equal to 14% of the CO2 emitted through burning fossil fuels in the region in 2020. By adopting these pathways, even at a moderate pace, forests could sequester the equivalent of 21% of 2020 emissions. The relative importance of these pathways will increase over time. As New England states meet their specified goals for reducing emissions, and total emissions drop from 187 million U.S. tons CO2e to 40 million U.S. tons CO2e, forests will sequester the equivalent of 97% of remaining emissions.”

By investing in Kestrel Land Trust, you are actively supporting three of these five solutions: protecting land from sprawling development to avoid deforestation; acquiring land as wildlands, to working with landowners to conserve woodlands; and ensuring high quality, sustainable, and climate-smart forestry.

And by conserving forests, you’re not only helping to address the climate crisis. You are also saving wonderful woody and wild places that both wildlife and humans need to thrive.

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