Eric Martin, 25, of Orono, and Morgan Cushing, 23, of Glenburn, fish from canoe on June 21, 2017, on Branch Lake in Ellsworth. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

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Karin R. Tilberg is the president and CEO of the Forest Society of Maine.

There is much discussion in Maine about how best to mitigate climate change. The December 2020 “Maine Won’t Wait” report of the Maine Climate Council sets forth a broad and well-researched set of actions to do so. One of them is simple and relatively inexpensive: Keep Maine’s forests as forests. This opportunity is right in front of us, but is often relegated to the back burner. This action should be prioritized, and quickly.

Here are some facts. At approximately 89 percent forested, Maine is the most forested state in the United States. These forests are also the most unfragmented forests east of the Mississippi River and are a tremendous economic engine providing wood products, employment,and outdoor recreation. They provide habitat for a diverse array of species including moose, Canada lynx, and Eastern brook trout, and are globally significant for migratory songbirds.

However, a little-known fact is that the managed forests in Maine absorb or sequester more than 60 percent of the human-made greenhouse gases generated in the state every year. This underscores the importance of concentrating efforts on retaining Maine’s forests so they can continue to sequester carbon as well as provide opportunities for the forest products industry and outdoor recreation.

Specifically, “Maine Won’t Wait” states that conserving forests through conservation easements is one of the more cost-effective strategies to help reach carbon neutrality by maintaining forest cover. Voluntary purchases of working forest easements and lands will support robust forest products economies, increase carbon storage opportunities, conserve biodiversity, and enhance climate adaptation and resilience for wildlife, people, and communities. The Forest Society of Maine, along with other land trusts, is working with landowners who wish to retain ownership of forestland but want to prevent the land from being developed and from having public access restricted.

As a land trust, the Forest Society of Maine acquires permanent conservation easements on forestlands to ensure they are not converted to other uses such as housing, commercial, or utility infrastructure development. This is the type of action that can keep Maine’s forests intact, but it takes funding to do so.

A bond for the Land for Maine’s Future Program would replenish this program and enable opportunities for forestland conservation that keeps land on the tax rolls and accessible to the public. Maintaining forestland will not happen on its own — the demand for second homes, often at the edges of woodlands, has been accelerated by the pandemic and the resulting desire to be in rural areas. For the first time in a long time, forest acreage in Maine is starting to shrink.

Supporting programs like the Land for Maine’s Future that fund conservation easements will help ensure that forests continue to sequester carbon, support jobs, safeguard habitat for wildlife, and provide public access to the land. Let’s act on this opportunity in front of us.