We’ve been hearing a lot about forests lately, including the reports from Glasgow, Scotland, and the COP26 Summit regarding important steps to combat climate change. One significant outcome was the  pledges by 114 leaders representing 85 percent of the planet’s forests to halt or reverse deforestation by 2030. This is noteworthy given that global forests already absorb one-third of the annual carbon dioxide that humans release through burning fossil fuels. When we hear such stories, we often think of the famous and well-known places such as the Amazon rainforest. But Maine forests are part of the solution, too. The Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use endorsed the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in all forests across the globe.

A moose crosses a logging road in Maine’s North Woods. The recent report on strategies to mitigate climate change, “Maine Won’t Wait,” calls for increasing the share of conserved Maine land to 30 percent, up from about 21 percent now. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, File

Make no mistake, Maine’s forests are expansive – the North Woods is generally considered to be 12 million acres – 3.5 times the state of Connecticut. This vast forestland is globally significant for migratory songbirds, and is without doubt, the last stronghold of Eastern brook trout in the eastern United States. Maine’s undeveloped and remote forests are the last dark skies east of the Mississippi and contain significant portions of seven of Maine’s major watersheds, which supply clean water to many Maine communities. They are increasingly celebrated for their resiliency to climate change and their tremendous capacity to sequester and store carbon dioxide.

However, by current estimates, Maine loses about 10,000 acres of natural and working lands to development each year – a figure that is projected to grow in coming years. This development is often a direct source of carbon emissions and hinders the growth of natural climate-change solutions, such as the powerful carbon-storage potential of forested lands. Fragmentation of forestland by intruding development also impairs the ability to manage forestland for woods-related products and can weaken the economic stability of both the forestry and outdoor recreation sectors.

The recent report “Maine Won’t Wait,” published by the Maine Climate Change Council and endorsed by Gov. Mills, calls for forest conservation to play a significant role as a natural climate solution. As noted in the report, Maine’s forests alone can draw back, or sequester, an amount equal to at least 60 percent of the state’s annual carbon emissions, a figure that rises to perhaps 75 percent if forest growth and long-lasting wood products are included.

To address the loss of forestland, “Maine Won’t Wait” calls for increasing the share of conserved Maine land to 30 percent, up from about 21 percent now. Forest conservation is identified as an essential strategy and must proceed rapidly to achieve this goal. Maine’s North Woods are mostly privately owned, and partnerships between landowners, communities, land trusts and the state have developed strategies that respect this pattern of ownership. These strategies rely on having willing landowners utilize conservation easements that are permanent, with the landowner retaining ownership of the land.

The easements typically ensure public access, prohibit development and allow for forest management. In specific instances, where there are sensitive ecological or significant recreational features on the land, acquisition by state agencies or conservation organizations is appropriate. The good news is that conservation funding is available now through the Land for Maine’s Future Program, and partners such as the Forest Society of Maine are standing by. Let’s not dally in our effort to hold on to the highly significant forest here at home – Maine’s North Woods.

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