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Fighting Climate Change Could Make N.H. Forests More Profitable

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New research suggests New Hampshire forests could help store more climate-warming carbon dioxide while growing higher-value trees.

The study, from Clark University and the Nature Conservancy, says better land management – especially reforestation – could store up to a fifth of America’s climate-warming carbon emissions. 

The U.S. emitted about 5.8 billion tons of carbon in 2016.

That carbon builds up in the atmosphere and leads to slow but steady warming that drives sea level rise, more extreme weather and other harmful effects of climate change.

But trees can also store that carbon, preventing it from concentrating in the atmosphere.

UNH forestry professor John Gunn says for New Hampshire’s forests to contribute more, landowners will need incentives to grow longer-lived, higher-quality trees.

He says those do better at soaking up carbon than the short-lived species that have long been grown in Northern forests for chipping and pulping.

“If we are serious about using forests as a carbon mitigation pathway, then I think there are definitely ways to do it, and of course it involves money,” Gunn says.

Gunn has done similar research to the Clark study. He says it shows New Hampshire forests could be reshaped to store at least 27 million tons more carbon than they do now.

That's equal to the emissions from more than 15 million homes’ annual electricity use, according to federal data.

“And it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice the forest industry to do that,” Gunn says. “In fact, I would argue that in the long run it improves the forest sector because you end up with much higher-value forest.”

Gunn says government could set aside money from programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or industry could pay, to help landowners afford the higher-quality trees and get their forests certified as carbon sinks.

He says they could rotate their harvest areas to keep more trees storing carbon on the landscape at one time, while still profiting from the sale of higher-quality saw logs long-term.

And Gunn says Northern forests will always contain some low-grade timber – maintaining fuel for pulp mills as well as biomass power plants, many of which have required state subsidies to stay afloat.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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