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Group Promotes Forest Restoration to Ease Climate Change

February 17, 2009


reported by Josie Huang

With about 90 percent of its territory blanketed by trees, Maine is the most heavily forested state in the country. And since trees can suck up harmful carbon emissions, some environmentalists say Maine is in a unique position to fight climate change.

"The Maine woods represents the largest potential carbon sink on the Eastern Seaboard," says Jonathan Carter, a former Green Independent gubernatorial candidate and director of the Forest Ecology Network. Carter says the key to maximizing that potential is to encourage landowners to avoid practices such as clearcutting--cutting down whole stands of trees--and relying instead on selective logging of older trees, for example.

Changing forest management practices could double the amount of carbon stored by trees--the equivalent of 86 years worth of Maine's annual carbon output, he says. But Carter recognizes that landowners would need tax incentives or other financial incentives for this plan to work. "I'm not naïve thinking that the landowners are going to stop clearcutting and stop shelter wood cutting unless there's an incentive to do that, and what I'm offering is, we need the carrot. We don't have time for a stick. It's not worth it, we can't point fingers. We've got to work together the situation is so dire."

The idea of using forests to counter global warming is gaining currency as corporations try to find ways to offset their carbon emissions by contributing money to mass tree plantings or protecting a tropical rainforest. Bruce Kidman, a spokesman for The Nature Conservancy in Maine, says the idea has taken hold with governments around the world. "The Nature Conservancy is working with countries as diverse as Brazil and Borneo on programs that look at how to reduce the effects of deforestation and degradation of forests worldwide. That's where the biggest bang for the buck is going to come, I think, in the international arena, when you come to sequestering carbon and keeping it in the trees on the ground;"

As for the local proposal, Kidman says his organization has met with Carter but has not taken a position on his idea. Carter's proposal faces several challenges. First, and foremost, the initiative could cost millions each year, and there is no federal or state money currently available for such an effort. And the plan still has to win over landowners.

"I think we're interested in it but we're skeptical whether it can work and really benefit landowners," says Tom Doak, Executive Director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine. He says there are more than 100,000 smaller landowners with as little as a few acres of land up to a thousand or more.

Most of them, he says, would be interested in reducing the impact of carbon emissions. But he worries that qualifying for credits might prove more of a headache for landowners than a benefit, based on the proposals he's seen out there. "Some of them require permanent conservation easements or giving up permanent development rights on a property, for payments that are 10, or 15, or 20 years, and that isn't an equal trade from a landowner point of view. Some of the rules require very, very detailed inventories beyond what most small landowners would do, or have or could afford."

Where landowners wonder if the plan could work financially, proponents, such as John Demos, a board member for the Forest Ecology Network, focus on how it could help the local economy. "We can get a fast start by assisting landowners to continue good stewardship of the land and initiate job-creating projects to restore forests that have been damaged. This will also inject much-needed capital into Maine's struggling northern communities. Washington, D.C. is now searching for ways to jump-start the economy and get money into the hands of Americans as quickly as possible."

Carter says he plans to head down to Washington D.C later this month to lobby Maine's congressional delegation, as well as other members of Congress. He says he also wants to meet with members of the forestry industry, some of the largest landowners in Maine.

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