March 12, 2010

Keep Maine Woods as carbon sink

— The Forest Ecology Network is launching the most important effort it has ever undertaken.

We are calling for the Maine Woods to be designated as a National Carbon Storage Forest.

Let me begin by defining the scope of the crisis, or should I say the extent of the climate disaster unfolding. We are on a catastrophic course.

When Jim Hansen, a senior climate scientist at NASA, states that we are already at higher levels than what is needed to ''preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life is adapted,'' it should set off an alarm bell so loud that it comes close to rupturing the eardrums.

The public and policy makers need to wake up to what the scientific community has already concluded -- a climate disaster is unfolding and an effort to decarbonize needs to be implemented immediately.


Current modeling portends such dire changes in the coming decades that some say it is simply too late. Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist, last summer stated that ''most of the climate targets debated by politicians and campaigners are fanciful at best, and 'dangerously misguided' at worst.''

If you don't believe we have a problem, consider these climate-related facts and comments:

Last year, for the first time it was possible to boat around the North Pole; storm surges, wildfires, ice storms and hurricanes have occurred at unprecedented numbers and magnitudes; western trees are dying twice as fast as they were 30 years ago; moose in northwestern Minnesota have declined 50 percent; bird species are being pushed hundreds of miles north; and Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently said, ''We're looking at a scenario where there is no more agriculture in California.''

I think we are all aware that changes are taking place in Maine. In the forest, the northern larch is dying. I suspect that climate change has weakened the species resistance and has allowed the deadly sawfly insect to establish itself.

The climate catastrophe is upon us. The question is not whether we can stop it, but how do we mitigate it and adapt to the inevitable change. Technological solutions, alone, have no chance of significantly mitigating the climate catastrophe.

Without maximizing the carbon storage potential of the Maine Woods and other forests around the nation and the world, we are committing our children, grandchildren and children yet unborn to a world of unprecedented hardship, poverty and misery.

The Maine Woods represent the largest potential carbon sink on the eastern seaboard. If carbon storage forest management practices were implemented, it would be possible to at least double the amount of carbon.

To put this into perspective, if we double it, this would be the equivalent to 86 years of Maine's current annual carbon output or equal to the output of the next 216 years of Maine's transportation sector.

The 17.7 million acres of the Maine forests already have the ability to remove the equivalent annual carbon output of 35.4 million cars. It is clear that Maine, as the most-forested state, has the potential to make a significant contribution to the effort of mitigate climate change.

Unfortunately, current forest practices in Maine are designed to maximize bottom-line profits, not bottom-line carbon sequestration. This must change.


In beginning the process of transitioning toward forest management based on carbon storage potential, the first commitment has to be to keep forests as forests. In the last 25 years Maine has experienced a loss of over 800,000 acres of forest due to land use changes.

Second, we must protect all late successional and old growth forests.

Third, we need to replace forest practices that reduce storage potential (clear-cutting, etc.) with practices that promote higher levels of carbon storage. Growing trees and restoring forests are key to increasing carbon storage.

I believe that if we make the changes, there is a more viable future for the wood products industry in Maine.

Rather than experiencing increasing unemployment, mill shutdowns and reduced revenues, the very real opportunity exists to reinvigorate and boost the forest products sector of Maine's economy.

At the same time, we can greatly increase the carbon storage capacity of the Maine Woods.

— Special to the Press Herald

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