Gov. Mills establishes task force to develop forest carbon program for woodland owners
AUGUSTA – As part of Maine’s ambitious effort to fight climate change by reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Janet Mills has signed an executive order to create the Maine Forest Carbon Task Force.
The task force is a recommendation from the state’s new four-year climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait, and aims to develop a voluntary program for small-to-medium size woodland owners in Maine of who want to utilize their land for long-term storage of carbon emissions, a process known as carbon sequestration. Forest carbon programs provide financial incentives to preserve forests, thereby storing carbon emissions. However, today, most existing programs are not accessible or economically feasible for smaller woodland owners.
Meanwhile, forests cover 89 percent of Maine and are the foundation for Maine’s forest products industry and the state’s overall natural resource-based economy. Each year, Maine’s forests sequester an amount of carbon equal to at least 60 percent of the state’s annual carbon emissions, a figure that rises to 75 percent when durable forest products are included. The task force work seeks to build upon this effort.
“This task force is a critical first step in Maine’s effort to harness the immense ability of our natural lands as a powerful force for storing harmful carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality,” said Gov. Mills. “Developing voluntary incentives for Maine’s small woodland owners, foresters, and loggers to store carbon will not only help stem climate change, but also give Maine families a new resource to protect their lands for future generations.”
“A right-sized forest carbon program would deliver financial benefits for small landowners by encouraging climate-centered forestry practices to increase Maine’s carbon storage,” said Amanda Beal, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and one of two appointed co-chairs of the task force. “The work of this task force will help us to determine the parameters of such a program and to ensure it meets the needs of Maine’s landowners and the overall goals of the Maine Climate Council.”
“Maine’s forests support abundant environmental resources, wildlife biodiversity, recreational opportunities, and a critical $8.5 billion forest products industry,” said task force member Ivan Fernandez, Distinguished Maine Professor at the School of Forest Resources and Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. “With pressures like climate change, land development, and others posing risks to the future of our forests, I look forward to using the best available science and working with woodland owners, loggers, and foresters to further utilize our forests to mitigate climate change while ensuring the values we enjoy from them continue for generations to come.”
“Maine family woodland owners play a critical role in the health of the environment and have a keen interest in carbon markets. But existing systems do not work well for small- and medium-sized woodland owners,” said Tom Doak, executive director of Maine Woodland Owners. “We welcome this opportunity to explore voluntary ways in which these woodland owners can participate and benefit from carbon markets and carbon-friendly practices while protecting the environment and supporting the ongoing public benefits of forested lands.”
By law, Maine must reduce its carbon emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and by 80 percent by 2050. Gov. Mills also signed an Executive Order directing Maine to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, a process that depends on curbing harmful emissions while also bolstering natural climate solutions, like forest carbon sequestration.
Unlocking the powerful carbon-storage potential of forested lands means designing a forest carbon program that helps reduce the loss of natural and working lands to development, which is now estimated at 10,000 acres annually and rising.
To recommend a comprehensive plan and framework for woodland owners to manage their land for carbon storage, carbon sequestration, or both, the task force will:
Review available data for practice-based carbon programs throughout the United States;
Review current harvest levels and carbon stocking data on woodland owners of 10 to 10,000 acres;
Identify a suite of climate-friendly forest management practices that improve carbon stocks and maintain current timber harvest levels;
Identify a suite of financial incentives and technical assistance activities to increase carbon sequestration on woodland owners of 10 to 10,000 acres and carbon sinking in wood products through active forest management;
Identify incentives for high-quality, on-the-ground performance by loggers and promote the use of low-impact harvesting equipment;
Recommend updates to the Open Space Current Use Taxation program including in a manner that incentivizes climate-friendly land management practices;
Explore opportunities for partnerships with large, commercial forestland owners;
Consider opportunities for Maine to participate in multi-state forest carbon initiatives;
Recommend the numeric goal or targets for increased carbon sequestration in Maine over time.
The Task Force, co-chaired by Commissioner Beal and Tom Abello, legislative director for Gov. Mills, consists of the following 13 members appointed by the Governor. Recommendations are required to be submitted to the Governor on or before Sept. 1, 2021:
Mark Berry, The Nature Conservancy; Barrie Brusila, Mid-Maine Forestry; Adam Daigneault, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine; Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners; Dana Doran, Professional Logging Contractors of Maine; Fernandez, Climate Change Institute and School of Forest Resources, University of Maine; Alec Giffen, New England Forestry Foundation; Stacy Knapp, Maine Department of Environmental Protection; Donald Mansius, Maine Forest Service, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Ryan Robicheau, Maine Department of Inland, Fisheries and Wildlife; Melissa Shea, The Mountain Farm; Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council; and Karen Tilberg, Forest Society of Maine
A copy of the executive order is available online (https://www.maine.gov/governor/mills/sites/maine.gov.governor.mills/files/inline-files/EO%2081%2024.pdf).
The task force will hold its first virtual meeting at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12. Interested parties may register to observe the meeting by contacting Tom Gordon at DACF.