Startling Capacities Of Regional Forests

Harvard Forest (pictured) was included in a study that looks at how New England forests can be better utilized in the fight against climate change.
Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

We had no clue how much forest area that region has, nor how much capacity to absorb carbon that would translate to:

New England forests, new strategies can offset most regional emissions over 30 years, report says

Study, led by Harvard ecologist, lays out five policies to boost levels of absorption as six states lower emissions

A major new report suggests that with a handful of strategies New England’s 32 million acres of forests, which cover about three-quarters of the region, could eventually come close to absorbing 100 percent of all the carbon produced by the six states.

The report, “New England’s Climate Imperative,” commissioned by the conservation nonprofit the Highstead Foundation and led by a Harvard ecologist, looks at how forests in the region can be better utilized in the fight against climate change.

“Most people have learned that forest or trees in one way or another can be a help to climate, but beyond that there isn’t a lot of clarity about how significant a role they could play or what their role is,” said Jonathan Thompson, a senior ecologist at Harvard Forest who helped lead the research team. “It’s why we felt that there was a need, despite all the many climate reports that come out, for a specific estimate on this role forests could play, especially if you take different activities that are defined by state governments themselves and NGOs.”

According to the report, the region’s forested areas already annually absorb almost 27 million tons of carbon through photosynthesis, the process by which plants synthesize food and release oxygen as a byproduct. The report lays out five steps policymakers and conservation NGOs can pursue that can lead to forests absorbing almost 360 million additional tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years. That means New England’s forests will be able to absorb virtually all the carbon produced in the region, provided the six states hit their existing emission-reduction goals.

Thompson and collaborators from nine institutions — including the New England Forestry Foundation and the Northeast Wilderness Trust — created their recommendations after interviewing dozens of local lawmakers and conservationists on steps they hope to take or have already started taking to use trees and forests in the region to reduce carbon…

Read the whole story here.

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