New England’s Economy Depends on Its Vast but Threatened Forests
More than 80 organizations across the region urged lawmakers on March 7 to help meet New England’s economic challenges by investing in the region’s forests, outlining seven critical federal funding opportunities to conserve this vital resource and the green infrastructure it provides.
The organizations submitted to Congressional leaders A Policy Agenda for Conserving New England’s Forests at a time when forest cover is declining in all six New England states, according to the science-based report, Wildlands and Woodlands: a Vision for the New England Landscape. According to the 85 groups, federal conservation funding is a vital strategy to retain the many economic and environmental benefits of the region’s forests.
“Organizations representing New Englanders in recreation, forestry, agriculture, conservation and wildlife have endorsed these policies because of the profound value the forests have for our economy, our health and well-being and our future, as well as the futures of the other species that rely on the forests,” said Andrew Finton, director of science and conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. “The value of forests in Massachusetts is immense and so is the significance of Congressional support for them.”
"Forests define the nature of Massachusetts and the region, maintaining clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and a strong economy. We must halt forest loss and fragmentation to protect the quality of life that makes our communities so attractive and vibrant,” said Laura A. Johnson, president of Mass Audubon.
New England is the most densely forested region in the nation, and its communities depend heavily on the forested landscape to fuel the economy, including monies from tourism and outdoor recreation, and heating fuel and timber from sustainably managed forests.
New England’s forests protect the headwaters for all of the Northeast’s major rivers; filter drinking water for millions of people; and shelter fish, wildlife, and rich biodiversity. The region’s 33 million acres of forest clean the air and store vast quantities of carbon, slowing climate change.
“The daily benefits to human life, or ‘ecosystem services,’ that our forests provide are truly priceless—invaluable at both a regional and national scale,” according to Dr. David Foster, director of Harvard University’s Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. “There is no cheaper way to mitigate climate change or produce clean water than widespread forest conservation.”
The 85 organizations urged Congressional leaders to adopt seven key actions to protect New England’s forests as Congress moves forward to review and finalize the president’s budget for Fiscal Year 2013.
- Fund working forest conservation by continuing to fund the Forest Legacy Program at the levels in the president’s recently released budget. Since the program’s establishment in 1990, it has protected 996,000 acres from development in New England, sustaining the region’s forests that contribute tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to states’ economies. Forest Legacy funds have helped protect the forested Quabbin Reservoir watershed, which provides the drinking water for Greater Boston’s 2.2 million residents, as well as the Connecticut River watershed, one of the region’s largest most important waterways.
- Conserve large New England landscapes to protect water quality, farmlands, recreational spaces and habitat corridors in a time of climate change by including the priority landscapes in the implementation of America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) with any competitive funds matching state, local, and private funding for FY13. In Massachusetts, the Blackstone River Valley Greenway and an effort to designate part of the Connecticut River as a National Blueway have been highlighted as AGO priorities.
- Connect forests and communities by continuing programs such as the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program; Urban and Community Forestry; Recreational Trails Program; Rivers, Trails; and Conservation Assistance Program.
- Protect special places through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, which have previously protected New England treasures including the Green and White Mountain National Forests and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.
- Provide incentives for forest landowners and forest businesses by funding the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development Programs, which provide crucial assistance towards preserving the partnership between New England private landowners, forest businesses, and the federal government.
- Develop sustainable community-scale thermal biomass energy by funding the Community Wood Energy Program.
- Protect fisheries and wildlife and mitigate climate change by funding wildlife protection programs including the North American Wetland Conservation Act; State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program; the North Atlantic Conservation Cooperative; the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund; the Habitat Conservation Plan; the Recovery Land Acquisition Grants; the National Fish Habitat Action Plan; and the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.
Despite substantial differences in population, development, and geography across the six New England states, 85 representative organizations from across the region have come together to call on Congress to keep intact the nationally significant and economically vital green infrastructure of New England’s forests.
The unprecedented regional unity of these 85 organizations reflects increasing recognition of New England’s fundamental reliance on its forested landscape, and a rising crescendo of voices in support of reversing the escalating forest loss. The New England Governors Conference recently issued a major report that advocates a “Keep Forests as Forests” strategy, and has called for a new federal-state partnership in New England to better address conservation of the region’s invaluable forests and forest-based economy.
The organizations urging action are listed in A Policy Agenda for Conserving New England’s Forests. Additional voices from around the region in support of this Agenda are appended to this release.
Regional Voices in Support of the FY13 Forest Conservation Policy Agenda:
- “Farmers own nearly 2 million acres of New England woodland,” according to Cris Coffin, New England director for American Farmland Trust. “Federal farm conservation programs not only help farmers protect and manage their farmland, but their woodlands, too, helping them diversify their farm operations and generate additional income.”
- “A commitment to the conservation of New England’s forests is a key to the future health of the New England economy, the integrity of our air and water, and the availability of natural landscapes that provide recreational opportunities for the region’s residents and visitors.” - Susan Arnold, vice-president for Conservation for the Appalachian Mountain Club, the nation’s oldest conservation and recreation organization.
- "The U.S. Forest Service estimates that by 2050, 60-70 percent of Rhode Island and Connecticut could be urbanized. We are working hard in Connecticut to stem the relentless development pressure on our imperiled natural resources, but we cannot do it alone; federal collaboration is central to our success." - Amy Paterson, executive director of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council.
- “New England’s forestlands are mostly privately owned and up for grabs due to escalating development pressure. Federal monies must play a key role in conserving our invaluable forested landscape while we still have this spectacular chance.” - Emily Bateson, conservation director of Highstead; coordinator of the New England Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative.
- "Forests define the nature of Massachusetts and the region, maintaining clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and a strong economy. We must halt forest loss and fragmentation to protect the quality of life that makes our communities so attractive and vibrant.” - Laura A. Johnson, president of Mass Audubon.
- "New England's forests are the backbone of our culture, economy, and well-being. Federal matching funds through programs like Forest Legacy and the Community Forest Program will match strong efforts from New England's states and communities to conserve these nationally significant public assets." - Rodger Krussman, Vermont and New Hampshire State director for The Trust for Public Land.
- “Forest fragmentation is afoot in Vermont because of our proximity to three major metropolitan areas, and the transfer of land associated with an aging population of forestland owners. We have an urgent need for new forest conservation funding, especially to support landscape-scale and community-connected forest protection.” - Gil Livingston, president of Vermont Land Trust.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
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Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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