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Forests & Climate Change

If climate change is the largest challenge of our lifetimes, then keeping forests healthy and abundant is one of the best ways we can respond to this challenge.

What does CFPA do to keep forests healthy and abundant?

For almost 125 years, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) has been working with forest landowners, policy-makers, and interested citizens to keep forests healthy. In the beginning, the priorities were re-growing forests, controlling sparks from locomotives, and building a network of fire towers to keep forests from burning. Since that time, the goal has been ensuring forests are well-tended and good laws are bolstered by a partnership of forestry professionals, municipal tree wardens, and an educated public.

Today, CFPA continues this long tradition of taking action for forests which also helps combat climate change in several ways:

  • CFPA advocates for laws such as Public Act 490 which keeps property taxes low for forest landowners (critical to keep more forests as forests), and for laws like the Forest Practices Act which ensures the highest standards for Connecticut’s licensed forestry professionals;
  • CFPA conserves over 2,000 acres of forested properties directly to benefit wildlife and forest health, and to provide opportunities for other forest landowners to learn about the benefits of a well-managed forest;
  • CFPA educates teachers, students, adults, families, and others on the many values of forests to public health, wildlife, clean air, and water; and
  • CFPA builds and maintains trails that enhance recreational access and deepen the public’s appreciation for Connecticut’s forests.

How do forests relate to climate change?

The rate of climate change is based upon many complex interactions in our environment, but overall it boils down to some simple math. Greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are being emitted into the atmosphere at an unsustainable rate. Globally, about 1/3 of GHG are being absorbed or sequestered by natural solutions such as plants, soils, and the ocean. Amongst land-based sources for sequestering carbon, forests sequester about 90%.

Because more GHG are emitted than are being sequestered by plants, soils, and the ocean, these gases are building up in the atmosphere and are speeding up the rate of climate change. Water, energy, transportation, wildlife, agriculture, natural ecosystems, and human health are all experiencing the impacts of a changing climate. Clearly, it will take additional actions if Connecticut’s future forests are to sequester more carbon and help even more to offset emissions.

How is Connecticut utilizing forests to slow down climate change?

About 55% of Connecticut’s landscape is considered to be forested, and for the past 5 years, Connecticut’s forests (both state and private owned) have grown slightly faster than they have been lost. Overall there have been net gains in forest biomass (although it is likely that forests have become more fragmented in some areas over this same period). This is encouraging, especially in light of significant forest losses and fragmentation over the past 50 years as Connecticut’s population and developed land has grown. However, if we hope to take local actions that will make a difference in this global climate threat, more forests should be protected by acquisition, easement, or long-term forest management commitments by private landowners.

Today, many state and private forests are managed as “working forests.” Working forests utilize forest management plans to accomplish multiple ecosystem and economic objectives, such as generating revenues and wood sustainably while enhancing wildlife habitats, protecting water quality, and enhancing recreational opportunities. Some of the outputs from working forests, such as long-lived wood products like flooring or furniture, represent another way that carbon can be sequestered.

What can Connecticut do differently moving forward?

Although keeping forests healthy and abundant is one of the best ways to mitigate climate change, most of the responses to climate change by government so far have been focused on reducing emissions from the energy, housing, and transportation sectors. Of course, reducing emissions from these sectors is important, but we would suggest that it is similarly important to have ambitious goals and programs to encourage carbon sequestration by investing in natural ecosystems like forests and wetlands.

The Governor’s Council on Climate Change, as updated by Executive Order #3, has recently formed a working group on “natural and working lands” that will hopefully help identify resources (both people and funding) necessary to protect and manage forests, farmlands, open space, and wetlands.

In addition, existing state plans such as Connecticut’s Green Plan, Forest Action Plan, Wildlife Action Plan, the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), and forest management plans for State Forests include several recommendations that, if implemented, can move Connecticut forward with a more coordinated and focused approach to climate change mitigation using natural solutions.

Other opportunities to sequester carbon that Connecticut should consider include incentives and educational efforts that encourage reforestation in urban and suburban areas, forest management for increased sequestration and resilience, funding for additional protection of forestland, and recognizing forest benefits from forestlands that don’t qualify for enrollment in P.A. 490 (forests under 25 acres) but represent a large portion of Connecticut’s forested land.

Thanks to your support, CFPA will be participating in these efforts and will continue to be a leader in promoting the importance and value of forests in combatting climate change. If you would like to learn more or get involved, please contact CFPA Executive Director Eric Hammerling via ehammerling@ctwoodlands.org.