Mass. aims to reserve 10% of forest land as part of climate plan

A new-growth tree sprouts up on protected conservation land in Weston, Mass. (Charles Krupa/AP)
A new-growth tree sprouts up on protected conservation land in Weston, Mass. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Massachusetts will aim to have 10% of its forested land across all ownership types held aside as reserves as part of an initiative to protect and manage forest lands in ways that maximize their climate benefits, a process that will involve new state land acquisitions.

One year after launching the "Forests as Climate Solutions" initiative to invest in conservation, develop updated guidelines for state lands, and provide incentives for landowners, the Healey administration on Monday released "a comprehensive work plan" that presents a detailed timeline for implementing the recommendations made by the Climate Forestry Committee to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

"The science leaves no doubt that human health and well-being is dependent on the health and well-being of the natural world. The Healey-Driscoll Administration's commitment to integrating the best climate science into every aspect of our forest and land use management policies protects our vitally important forests, biodiversity, and our communities," Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer said. "Forests in the Eastern U.S. contribute 2-3.5 degrees F of cooling, working like giant natural air conditioners to keep us safer, especially during periods of peak summer heat."

The work plan calls for policies like expanding forest reserves, including the target of having "10% of forested land across all ownerships as reserves" to be achieved through new state acquisitions and partnerships for reserve designations with private, non-profit, and municipal landowners; issuing a list of priority projects and cutting plans; updating existing incentives, regulations and land conservation programs to optimize carbon sequestration and storage; managing state lands utilizing techniques suggested by the Climate Forestry Committee to optimize carbon sequestration and storage and increase resilience to climate change; gathering data on harvested wood processing and utilization; and developing a dashboard to track land conservation and management metrics.

In addition to a minimum 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, the climate roadmap law requires Massachusetts to reduce emissions by at least 75% by 2040 and at least 85% by 2050. Tag-along policies like carbon sequestration are expected to help the state get the rest of the way to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

Massachusetts has about 3.1 million acres of forest, covering more than 60% of the state's land area, according to the MassWoods project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The state owns 10% of that forestland while about 79% is privately owned, UMass said. Mass Audubon has previously said the state's forests sequester 7% of carbon emissions annually.



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