Jamison Ervin: Older forests are having a moment — except in Vermont – vtdigger.org

Jul 24 2022, 7:10 AMJuly 21, 2022
Jamison Ervin is a Duxbury Selectboard member, a global expert on parks and forest management, and one of many Vermonters who submitted a petition calling for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to promulgate rules for state land management, as required by Vermont law. 
Older, mature forests appear to be having a moment, at least nationally. 
Last November at the global climate conference in Glasgow, President Biden released an ambitious plan to protect mature, intact forests around the world as a climate mitigation strategy. On Earth Day this April, Biden continued this theme with an executive order that aims to restore and conserve mature and old-growth forests across the U.S. 
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But here in Vermont, older, mature forests are still overlooked as a climate mitigation and adaptation solution, especially by the Scott administration and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
The recent attention to older forests is long overdue. The value of older, intact forests in storing and sequestering carbon is immense; forest protection has the potential to sequester between 5.5 and 8.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide globally by 2050. 
Although much of the work linking forests and carbon has focused on tropical forests, recent research on temperate forests has shown similar results. In Vermont, for example, net sequestration by forests, agriculture and other land use currently offset 48% of our state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and could sequester and store considerably more.
But older forests are far more important than just carbon storage and sequestration. Forests are critical for ensuring the drinking water for more than 83 million Americans. They also play a key role in mitigating natural disasters, especially flooding. This is especially important in Vermont, where damages from climate-exacerbated flooding may exceed 5.2 billion over the coming century, and where more than 90% of Vermont’s state lands are located in forested headwaters, areas especially important for reducing runoff and controlling floods.  
The good news is that here in Vermont we have ample opportunity to protect and conserve older, mature forests.
First, although less than a tenth of a percent of Vermont’s forests are categorized as “old growth,” we do have an abundance of mature forests (80 years and older) that could soon take on characteristics of old forests. In fact, Vermont’s forests could store up to 4.2 times more carbon than they currently store — if they are simply allowed to grow old. 
Many of these mature forests are on public lands, including Camel’s Hump State Park.
Second, we have a strong policy environment that links forests and climate. For example, Vermont Conservation Design identifies large, intact, interior and older forest blocks, such as those found in and around Camel’s Hump State Park, as key areas for climate action and biodiversity, and calls for at least 9% of Vermont’s forests to be either maintained as old forests, or passively managed to become old. 
Third, we have strong environmental leadership and vision in the Vermont House and Senate. This year, both bodies passed bold legislation, in the form of S.234, which aimed to update Act 250, including provisions that would maintain intact forests and strengthen forest connectivity, and H.606, which aimed to conserve 30% of Vermont lands by 2030, part of a national and global response to our biodiversity and climate emergency.
Now the bad news. Gov. Scott and the Agency of Natural Resources lack the will, foresight and vision to lead our state to respond to our biodiversity and climate crises. 
Gov. Scott vetoed both bills, stating that S.234 would create a burden on housing development (it wouldn’t), and H.606 would diminish other conservation tools (it wouldn’t). 
Moreover, Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has moved ahead with its plans to log 3,750 acres of forests in Camel’s Hump State Park, including some forest tracts that are well over 150 years old, as well as mature forests that could play a key role in climate mitigation and resilience, if simply left to grow.
Finally, the state of Vermont has not developed the rules required by 10 V.S.A. § 2603, in which the commissioner of forests, parks and recreation must develop and promulgate rules governing the use of state forests and parks. 
As a result, the Camel’s Hump management plans are misaligned with both the emerging science regarding forests and climate, as well as the state’s own climate policies.
We are undeniably in the midst of an interconnected biodiversity and climate emergency, and older, mature forests are a vital solution to both. The Agency of Natural Resources’ recent refusal to create rules related to the management of public lands, as required by state law, is profoundly disappointing. 
If the government of Vermont won’t take action to protect older forests to tackle our climate and biodiversity crises, then we as Vermont citizens must step forward and require that they do so. 
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