State formalizing forestry role in emissions fight


State House News Service

Published: 06-07-2023 3:53 PM

The Healey administration moved Wednesday to draft the state’s forests into the effort to address climate change, announcing a new initiative to invest in conservation, develop updated guidelines for state lands, and provide incentives for landowners to maximize the climate benefits of their forests.

By optimizing the ability of forests to take carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, Gov. Maura Healey said the new Forests as Climate Solutions initiative “will play an essential role in the stewardship and conservation of our natural resources” and help the state make good on its carbon emission reduction targets. In addition to a minimum 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, the climate roadmap law requires the state to reduce emissions by at least 75% by 2040 and at least 85% by 2050.

Tag-along policies like carbon sequestration are expected to help Massachusetts get the rest of the way to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

“Forests have to be at the forefront of our climate strategy,” Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer said. “Trees can sequester carbon for centuries. We have a responsibility to use the best science to ensure that their potential for carbon sequestration and storage is reflected in our approach.”

The initiative was announced as the Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday extended its statewide air quality alert through the day as smoke from burning Canadian forests lingers in the Massachusetts air.

“Smoke is expected to enter western sections of the state and impact air quality through much of the state today,” MassDEP said Wednesday morning. “Air quality is expected to be unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

Massachusetts has about 3.1 million acres of forest, covering more than 60% of the state’s land area, according to the MassWoods project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The state owns 10% of that forestland while about 79% is privately owned. Mass Audubon said the state’s forests sequester 7% of carbon emissions annually.

The administration said that the new Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs initiative will “accelerate progress” toward the goals set out in the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2050, which set land conservation goals of protecting 30% of the state by 2030 and 40% by 2050. It will be supported with funding that the administration said it will outline in the coming weeks.

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The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs plans to convene a committee of scientific experts and will solicit public input to inform the development of new climate-centered guidelines that are to be implemented by the end of the year. While an initial six-month review takes place, no new state timber harvesting contracts will be signed, according to the office. The initiative is expected to lead to new incentives for private woodland owners and municipalities that optimize carbon storage, and will also provide financial assistance to forestry businesses to reduce carbon loss and environmental impacts.