Editorial: A healthy plan for forests, humans

What’s happening in Oregon when it comes to a connection between landowners, trees, the environment and health care should be of interest to Massachusetts residents, particularly those in our part of the state.

Here’s what’s going on:

Through a program called Forest Health-Human Health, older landowners now have a way of raising money that doesn’t include having to sell the trees on their property to timber companies. Instead, the trees are assigned a value as “carbon sinks,” something that any number of companies need to help offset the carbon emissions that they produce.

In Oregon’s case, this includes the health care industry.

Under the program, “... turning the value of the public benefits these lands provide — such as carbon storage — into credits, the woodland owners can use this additional income to pay for health care products and services.

“Purchasers of these credits,” the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, the nonprofit organization that developed the program, explains, “such as companies within the health care industry, contribute an important public service, not only by measurably reducing their net carbon emissions, but by taking meaningful action to reduce the loss of forests, all while providing additional health coverage in rural communities,”

It produces a win-win-win ... for the landowner, who isn’t forced to sell off their timber or land because of financial concerns, for the companies who are in need of lowering their carbon footprint and for the environment, which benefits as a whole by leaving the living trees up.

Concern over loss of forest land is not just a issue in Oregon. With over half the forest land in the country in private ownership, the Pinchot Institute has estimated that “Over the next 20 years, an area of forest larger than the entire state of Idaho (57 million acres) is expected to be at a very high risk of being lost to development as it transitions in ownership to a new generation of landowners.”

That fear of diminishing forestland here in Massachusetts was recently addressed in a Harvard Forest and the Smithsonian Institution study that calls for more attention to land use. As part of a forest management and protection plan, we would think the Forest Health-Human Health program might be applied here in Massachusetts.

We would like to think that landowners and those concerned about the environment share this view and will take a serious look at the plan.

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