The Governor’s Task Force on the Creation of a Forest Carbon Program was established by Executive Order on Jan. 13, 2021. The Executive Order directs the Task Force to develop incentives to encourage forestland management practices that increase carbon storage specifically on woodland owners of 10-10,000 acres while maintaining harvest levels overall.
It notes the negative impacts climate change is having on Maine, and recognizes that Maine’s forests, which cover 89% of the state, currently sequester an amount of carbon equal to at least 60% of the state’s annual carbon emissions, or 75% when durable forest products are included. It also notes that Maine is losing an estimated 10,000 acres of natural and working lands to development each year, and that this development is a direct source of carbon emissions and hinders the growth of natural climate solutions.
The work of the Task Force advances that recommendation of the Maine Climate Council’s Natural and Working Lands Work Group to develop incentives that increase carbon storage on this forestland size category while maintaining harvest levels. The Task Force also identified certain overarching principles that are foundational to the success of Maine’s forests in sequestering more carbon. These include:
- Maintaining existing forestland (“keeping forests as forests”) is fundamentally important if forests are to make a growing contribution toward achieving the State’s climate goals. The Task Force supports increasing state, federal, and private funding for forestland protection, including funding for conservation easements or fee purchase. To monitor Maine’s progress in this regard, the Task Force recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) be permanently tasked with tracking the amount and type of conserved land in Maine (including municipal, NGO, state, and federal lands), and also tracking forestland loss.
- It is equally important to increase forest carbon on existing forestland by improving forest condition through the widespread adoption of sustainable forest practices that increase carbon sequestration, both through more intensive silvicultural management of stands that will increase forest growth, and by delayed harvests that allow trees to mature into older forest, resulting in greater carbon storage, which also increases the opportunity to store more carbon in long-lived forest products.
- The adoption of carbon-enhancing forest practices depends on the existence of economically viable markets for low-grade wood. Such markets incentivize Maine woodland owners and loggers to practice sustainable forestry that results in improved silviculture. The lack of such markets is a particular and ongoing challenge for Maine woodland owners and loggers. While markets alone do not inherently produce climate benefits, they are a necessary part of the equation as they can either reduce the costs of climate-beneficial practices or even make them profitable. Expanded, financially viable markets for low-grade wood will also help to counteract pressures to convert forestland to non-forest uses.
In offering its ambitious recommendations, the Task Force also offers a note of caution, acknowledging the significant uncertainties that influence the health and productivity of Maine’s forests. These vulnerabilities, exacerbated by climate change, include impacts from pest outbreaks, disease, extreme weather events, wildfire and invasives, all of which can have a negative bearing on the ability of Maine’s forestland to sequester carbon.
Despite these risks, the Task Force enthusiastically supports the recommendations in this report, understanding the important role Maine’s forests currently play in sequestering carbon, and the potential of Maine’s forests to continue to make significant contributions to achieving Maine’s climate goals.
This report is structured to align with the nine directives outlined in the Governor’s Executive Order. These directives provide the framework for actions the Task Force is recommending be taken to develop a voluntary, incentive-based program for woodland owners of 10 to 10,000 acres and forestry practitioners to increase carbon storage in Maine’s forests.
In broad terms, these actions aim to:
- Increase investment in forestland conservation
- Encourage, promote, and incentivize the voluntary adoption of climate-friendly forest management practices
- Promote the expansion of markets for low-grade wood
- Highlight the need for better data regarding harvest levels within this broad landowner size class, and the relative effectiveness of various forest management practices in increasing carbon sequestration
- Significantly increase technical assistance to landowners by expanding Maine Forest Service
capacity and engaging licensed consulting foresters
- Increase alignment with federal funding programs that support forest carbon sequestration efforts
- Explore partnerships with a private entity or entities to support the development
of a voluntary credit-based and/or practice-oriented carbon program
- Promote climate-friendly timber harvesting practices and support the use of low-impact harvesting equipment
- Identify a suite of potential changes to the Open Space Current Use Taxation program that integrate carbon management elements into the program
- Encourage coordination between landowners of 10-10,000 acres and large, commercial forestland owners for mutual learning and benefit
- Recognize the potential of collaborating with other states to increase investment in forest carbon sequestration
- Establish a statewide total forest sector carbon sequestration target.