Report: Increasing Carbon Storage in Smaller Private Forests in Maine   Leave a comment

In a previous post, I mentioned the challenges for small forestland owners in Maine to access carbon markets. Here’s a little background. Maine is a small state, but 89% of its land is covered by forest. The uptake of carbon by those forests equals about 60% of the total carbon emissions in the state from all sources. A large portion of that forest is owned by large private landowners, primarily forest products companies. Harvest activities in Maine forests have led to degradation of the forests, as clearly laid out in a 2019 article in Forest Ecology and Management by John Gunn (University of New Hampshire) and two co-authors (DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2018.09.046). The level degradation is reducing the amount of carbon taken out of the atmosphere and stored in Maine forests. One last piece of relevant background: small forest landowners (10-10,000 acres) account for 27% of the standing aboveground carbon in Maine forests.

This all tells us that forests are a big deal in the carbon budget of Maine, that increasing uptake in forests could further tilt the balance sheet in positive direction, that small landowners play an important role in this equation, and that improved forest management of those forests could play a key role in that process. The Maine Forest Carbon Task Force was created by the Maine Climate Council to propose solutions to these issues. To access the full report click https://www.maine.gov/future/sites/maine.gov.future/files/inline-files/MaineForestCarbonTaskForce_FinalReport.pdf

Here’s my brief and admittedly selective summary of the recommendations:

(1) Avoid the conversion of forest to non-forest by providing incentives for forest conservation

(2) Enhance forest resiliency through control of invasives, rapid post-harvest regeneration, and reducing carbon losses from disturbances, such as wildfires and insect outbreaks.

(3) Encourage better fmore so-called intermediate harvesting (e.g., thinning) aimed at accelerating remaining tree growth (and carbon uptake) and leave behind large portions of these thinning as forest-floor carbon stores.

(4) Concentrate investment in intensive management treatments in forests with high carbon value (e.g., superior soils)

(5) Increase the percentage of harvested wood that goes into long-lived products (that keep wood from decomposing, returning CO2 to the atmosphere)

(6) Improve partial harvests (i.e., harvests that neither clearcutting nor individual selection harvests) to retain quality trees and minimize stand damage. Comment: this is a major problem leading to the forest degradation mentioned previously.

(7) Let some forests grow for longer to produce longer-lived wood products (e.g., large boards used for building structures).

(8) Promote the use of foresters trained in climate-friendly forest management.

(9) Establish forest reserves that will allow the development of late-successional forests (and will promote other ecological values)

The report also lays out three key considerations/guidelines about the recommendations.

(1) It is critical that the amount of forestland in the state should not decline.

(2) Improving growth rate and regeneration of current forests through “intermediate treatment” (e.g., thinning) will require better developed markets for low quality wood (i.e.. the trees that are thinned out to promote growth of remaining trees).

(3) Following direction from the Maine Climate Council, these recommendations come with the caveat that the amount of harvested wood will either stay the same or increase, the task force’s interpretation of the governor’s order that any program must result in “maintaining current harvest levels.” Comment: there is a vigorous debate nationwide and beyond about whether the best strategy for retaining carbon in forests is to let them development into old growth forests or whether there are active management (i.e., harvesting) approaches that can lead to the same result. The task force’s recommendation here does not choose one over the other, but it could be construed as restricting the amount of forest land that could develop without harvesting. I hardly need to say that the task force is clearly trying to balance carbon retention, harvest levels, jobs, and more — a challenging task. These issues are complicated and well beyond the scope of this post. If you’d like some references for reading about the debate on different approaches to forest retention of carbon — better harvesting, no harvesting, tree planting, etc. — get in touch and I’ll be happy to send along some references.

The report goes on to recommend two key mechanisms for implementing these changes. First, there should be much more technical assistance given to small forestland owners to help them increase carbon storage in their forests. The recommendations range from training programs to the hiring of carbon and climate change specialist (Maine Forest Service) and much more. Second, current programs should be shifted to provide financial incentives for small forestland owners to shift their forest practices to enhance carbon sequestration (annual uptake of CO2) and storage (long-term storing of carbon in trees, soils, etc.) in forests. There are also suggestions for new programs that would provide incentives for this shift. Check out the full report for more on these many details.

The report is a step forward in encouraging both more carbon retention and better forest management in the forests of smaller forestland owners. The extent to which this shifts the landscape for carbon storage will depend on actual implementation of these recommendations. This was hard work developing these recommendations, and no doubt there was a lot of argument and compromise. The Maine Climate Council continues to push the state forward in both reducing our net carbon footprint and in preparing for the impacts of climate change.

Posted November 29, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

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