BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP)– A new state initiative will use forest conservation as a way to help with reducing the impact of climate change.

The program, “Forests as Climate Solutions” will expand existing state programs, invest in forest conservation, enhance a network of forest reserves, and develop forest management guidelines based on the latest climate science for state properties. It will also offer incentives for private landowners to use them to maximize the climate benefits of their forests. 

“The climate crisis is here, and conserving our forests is one of the most important natural climate solutions we can pursue to fight this threat,” said Governor Maura Healey. “Massachusetts has long led the nation in environmental and climate action. We’re continuing our leadership with this new initiative that will play an essential role in the stewardship and conservation of our natural resources.”  

Massachusetts is required to achieve net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As part of the Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) for 2050, the state established the land conservation goals of protecting 30 percent in 2030 and 40 percent in 2050. The “Forests as Climate Solutions” initiative will accelerate progress toward this goal, supported by additional funding to be outlined in the coming weeks by the Healey-Driscoll Administration. 

The initiative will:  

  • Develop climate-oriented forestry practices for state lands that increase carbon storage and resilience to climate change. EEA will convene a committee of scientific experts and solicit public input to guide development of climate-oriented management guidelines, evaluating and building on the existing science-based practices currently in place;

o   Conduct this review over a six-month period, during which no new state timber harvesting contracts will be signed, pausing the process to allow for a review of current best practices; and,

o   Implement new climate-centered guidelines by the end of the year that are informed by the latest science, complementing other best practices for habitat and watershed management. Adoption of the guidelines by private landowners will also be encouraged. 

  • Create new incentives for private woodland owners and municipalities to center climate concerns in forest management and optimize resilience and carbon storage when pursuing forest management objectives; 
  • Convene a forest reserves group, including conservation organizations, land trusts, and municipalities, to establish new statewide goals for forest reserves on public and private lands based on the potential to absorb carbon and support biodiversity;  
  • Implement EEA’s Resilient Lands Initiative to realize a forest land conservation goal and a target for reduced land conversion established as part of the Initiative. EEA will work in partnership with land trusts, municipalities, and other conservation organizations to purchase land and conservation restrictions that prevent the conversion of forest land to developed uses; 
  • Update and expand the use of the latest scientific research to inform state lands management and make data about forests easily accessible and available to the public; 
  • Provide financial assistance to forestry businesses to reduce carbon loss and environmental impacts, decarbonize operations, and increase competitiveness through enhanced technology and business practices; 
  • Incentivize the use of wood from Massachusetts forests to sequester carbon and meet local needs for wood products; and, 
  • Expand funding for land conservation and provide grants and technical assistance to enhance partners’ capacity to advance these goals.