Maine, March 6, 2023 —A new study was released today by the Forest Carbon for Commercial Landowners (FCCL) Initiative demonstrating that shifts in forest management in Maine’s commercial timberlands could increase forest carbon sequestration and storage while maintaining current harvest levels. The study further determined that the incentives required to make such changes are relatively inexpensive compared to many climate interventions.
Through a combination of forest modeling and economic analysis, the FCCL report shows that by changing forest management practices, commercial forest landowners could increase annual average carbon sequestration and storage by at least 20% over the next 60 years and maintain current-day harvest levels.
Storing more carbon in the forest while maintaining the ability of forests to produce climate-friendly forest products is essential to overcoming “leakage,” one of the biggest technical challenges for programs that seek to use forests to mitigate climate change. If a program to increase carbon storage by reducing harvest on one forest ownership results in other forest owners cutting more to meet society’s wood demands, there could be little or no net carbon removal from the atmosphere.
The FCCL Report is important because the demand for forest-based carbon removal projects (or “forest carbon offsets”) increased four-fold in just one year (2020 to 2021) as more and more companies commit to “net zero” carbon emissions goals. Investing in forest carbon projects can be an effective way to meet their net-zero goals, if the projects don’t shift the wood supply from one place to another. The FCCL study shows that by investing in an array of silvicultural practices, such as refining harvest prescriptions, thinning, or increasing planting, harvest levels in Maine’s commercial timberlands can be maintained while increasing carbon storage. Another benefit of climate-smart silvicultural practices is that more resilient tree species can be favored.
Tom Walker, Project Coordinator and natural resource economist, said “What’s important about the FCCL study is that it shows there’s a real opportunity in Maine to create forest carbon projects that do not leak and therefore make a real difference for the atmosphere, which is, after all, the whole purpose of efforts to sequester and store more carbon.” Dr. Adam Daigneault (University of Maine), who led the economic analysis, said “Not only can Maine’s commercial forests sequester more carbon and maintain harvest, but it can be done at relatively low cost when compared to other ways of mitigating climate change.”
The FCCL study is especially relevant in Maine, although it has implications for forest carbon projects globally. Maine has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2045. Maine’s forests already sequester about 70% of Maine’s annual fossil fuel emissions. With changes in forest management described in the FCCL report, Maine has an opportunity to create programs that could credit additional forest carbon sequestration to help Maine meet its net zero goals. Sandy Buck, a member of the FCCL Steering Committee and the Maine Climate Council, the
body that generated Maine’s Climate Action Plan, said “With the FCCL results, Maine has an even better chance of becoming carbon neutral, or even carbon positive, over the long run. That’s great for everyone, not just Maine. The whole world benefits from Maine’s working forests.”
Dan Hudnut, President of Wagner Forest Management, which owns or manages 800,000 acres of commercial timberland in Maine, said “Sustainably managed forests in Maine already store and sequester enormous amounts of carbon. With incentives, private landowners could do even more. The FCCL group recognized the critical importance of supporting Maine’s forest products economy and rural communities while bolstering carbon on the landscape. That local imperative is reinforced by the global importance of storing carbon in longlived forest products, and the tremendous potential for expanding the use of renewable forest products in novel applications.”
The FCCL Report is timely. The New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), a supporter of the FCCL study, recently won a $30-million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Climate Smart Commodities Program to pilot forest management programs that would pay forest landowners to change forest practices in ways that store more carbon. “We’re fortunate to have this solid science come out at this particular time,” said Bob Perschel, Executive Director of NEFF. “It’s a key scientific study that will help us shape the program.”
John Hagan, Chair of the FCCL Steering Committee, said “We have to find ways to address climate change that are real for the atmosphere and that don’t upend people’s livelihoods at the same time. The FCCL Report found a way. This is good news for the climate, for the forest, and for Maine’s forest economy.”
About the Forest Carbon for Commercial Landowners Initiative
The Forest Carbon for Commercial Landowners Initiative is a diverse group of conservationists, commercial forest landowners, and scientists from many organizations and institutions who came together in 2021 to better understand the technical case for whether Maine’s commercial forests could store more carbon while maintaining harvest levels. The participants are listed below.
The FCCL Team
Tom Walker, Project Coordinator, Independent Resource Economist
Adam Daigneault, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Maine
R. Alec Giffen, Senior Forest Science and Policy Fellow, New England Forestry Foundation
Erin Simons-Legaard, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor, University of Maine
Jeanette Allogio, Research Assistant, University of Maine and USDA Forest Service
Laura Kenefic, Ph.D., Research Forester, USDA Forest Service
Aaron Weiskittel, Ph.D., Professor, University of Maine
Zoë Lidstrom, Research Assistant, University of Maine
Steering Committee and Technical Team
John Hagan, Ph.D., Our Climate Common, FCCL Chair
Greg Adams, J.D. Irving, Limited (retired)
Mark Berry, The Nature Conservancy
Richard Birdsey, Ph.D., Woodwell Climate Research Center
John Bryant, American Forest Management (retired)
Alexander Buck, Horizon Foundation
Kyle Burdick, Baskahegan Co.
Tom Colgan, Wagner Forest Management
R. Alec Giffen, New England Forestry Foundation
Dan Hudnut, Wagner Forest Management
Laura Kenefic, Ph.D., USDA Forest Service
Wilhelm Merck, Essex Timber
Roger Milliken, Baskahegan
Jim Robbins Sr., Robbins Lumber
Tom Walker, Project Coordinator
Aaron Weiskittel, Ph.D., University of Maine
Ethel Wilkerson, Spatial Informatics Group