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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2019

  • Title: Wildland Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good
  • Primary Author: Susan Masino (Trinity College)
  • Additional Authors: Edward Faison (Highstead, Inc.)
  • Abstract:

    William R. Moomaw, (Tufts University)

    Unmanaged, older forests (wildland forests) store more carbon than do comparable managed forests. Wildland forests are also the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems, with additional benefits to society and the economy (Watson et al. 2018). Internationally, focus has been on preventing loss of tropical forests, yet intact temperate forests have the highest carbon biomass densities in the world (Keith et al. 2009). United States forests remove sufficient atmospheric CO2 to reduce national annual net emissions by 11%; however, U.S. forests have the potential for much higher sequestration rates if left alone to grow older and larger.

    The recent 1.5 Degree Warming Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2018) identifies reforestation and afforestation as important strategies to increase negative emissions but they face significant challenges: afforestation requires an enormous amount of land, and neither strategy can remove the needed amount of carbon in the critical next decade(s). In contrast, growing existing forests as wildland ecosystems – which we term proforestation – is a more powerful, immediate and low-cost approach. Far from plateauing in terms of carbon sequestration (or wood growth) as long believed, older forests (e.g. >100 years of age) composed of large trees continue to sequester additional carbon for many decades or even centuries.

    New England is a region particularly well-suited for proforestation, given that it is one of the most densely forest regions in the country. Currently a small fraction of the land is managed as wildland forest (2.5%), and only about 1% of the region is legally protected from logging and other resource extraction (Figure 1). Overall, proforestation serves the greatest public good by maximizing nature-based carbon storage and sequestration and providing unparalleled ecosystem services such as biodiversity enhancement, water and air quality, flood and erosion control, public health benefits, low impact recreation, and scenic beauty (e.g., Watson et al. 2018).

    IPCC 2018.

    Keith, H., Mackey, B.G. and Lindenmayer, D.B., 2009. Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world's most carbon-dense forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(28), pp.11635-11640.

    Watson, J.E., Evans, T., Venter, O., Williams, B., Tulloch, A., Stewart, C., Thompson, I., Ray, J.C., Murray, K., Salazar, A. and McAlpine, C., 2018. The exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems. Nature ecology & evolution, p.1.

    Figure 1. New England region color coded as forest (green), wildland (Gap 1) forest (yellow), and legally protected wildland forest (red). Inset: State-specific % of land managed as wildland forest, and protected legally as wildland forest. Data from US Protected Areas Database, Harvard Forest, and Highstead.

  • Research Category: Forest-Atmosphere Exchange
    Conservation and Management

  • Figures:
  • Figure 1_HF abstract 2019.jpg