In a report released today, 60 organizations urged lawmakers to help meet New England’s economic challenges by investing in the region’s forests, and outlined six critical federal policy opportunities to protect this vital source of new jobs and growth.
The report, A Policy Agenda for Conserving New England’s Forests, is released at a time when forest cover is declining in all six New England states, threatening the region’s drinking water and air quality. New England’s forests are the headwaters for all of the Northeast’s major rivers, and protect drinking water for millions of people.
"With fall foliage season just around the corner, most of us in Massachusetts are well aware of the tourism benefit we get from our forests, but this report reminds us of the benefits we may not think about every day – including that our forests clean the water in two of the most important sources of drinking water in the Northeast, the Chicopee and Westfield watersheds,” said Laura Marx, a forest ecologist with The Nature Conservancy.
The region’s 33 million acres of forest also clean the air by storing vast quantities of carbon, slowing climate change by offsetting more than a quarter of New England’s carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, the report says, New England’s natural beauty, recreation, and wildlife assets draw millions of visitors annually to the region, contributing billions of dollars to local economies.
Spurring New England’s economy − so strongly dependent on woodlands for tourism, outdoor sporting activities, heating fuel from sustainably managed forests, and healthy fish and wildlife − may well be influenced by six crucial policy actions facing Congress in Fiscal Year 2012, the report says:
• Funding private working forestland – the backbone of New England’s forest products economy. Projects include High Peaks-Crocker Mountain in Maine, Northern Green Mountains (Vermont), Southern Monadnock Plateau (Massachusetts), Androscoggin Headwaters (New Hampshire), and Thorpe Mountain (Connecticut).
• Conserving large New England landscapes such as the North Woods (Northern Forest) and the Connecticut River watershed.
• Connecting forests and communities for public benefit and recreation through programs that would develop and maintain recreational trails, and help communities preserve open space and develop trails and greenways.
• Protecting special places by adding to federal lands. Since New England has far less public land that other parts of America—less than 5% in federal ownership—adding to federal units such as the Conte National Fish & Wildlife Reserve, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, and Acadia National Park can serve to provide public recreation opportunities for future generations.
• Providing incentives to forest landowners through the Healthy Forest Reserve Program and Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, helping them meet essential forest stewardship goals like timber stand improvement, watershed protection, and habitat restoration.
• Directing policy focus to thermal biomass programs, enabling efficient use of forest resources. The report cites Vermont—a national leader in developing community-scale biomass—where fully 20% of schoolchildren go to a school heated with biomass, saving money for local budgets and creating economic returns for private forest owners.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.