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Commentary Energy & Environment

Opinion: Mature Forests Hold the Key to Mitigating Climate Change

Forests photo by jplenio.

By Veronica Cassilly

The writer resides in Darlington.

Planting millions of young trees is a great thing to do, but it will not do much to mitigate the immediate effects of climate change we face in the next two or three decades because little trees just don’t store much carbon. Preserving our existing mature forests is essential to any climate change policy we enact.

William Moomaw is a physical chemist and environmental scientist who helped start the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University and served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a recent interview with the Yale School of the Environment, Moomaw stated, “The simplest and most effective way to mitigate climate change is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their full ecological potential, to store carbon and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services.”

Moomaw said that “preserving existing mature forests will have a much greater effect on slowing global warming in the coming decades, since immature trees sequester far less CO2 than older ones.” Researchers have determined that most tree species remove far more CO2 from the atmosphere after they reach 50 years of age, compared to younger trees.

These mature forests hold the key to mitigating climate change.

Tragically, the latest high resolution Chesapeake Bay Program land cover imagery reveals that Maryland lost 10,000 acres of forest in just four years, from 2013 to 2017. Just as concerning, much of Maryland’s remaining forests are now threatened by invasive vines. These vines cover the trees, prevent adequate photosynthesis and eventually grow large enough to pull the trees over.

Letting existing natural forests grow to reach their full ecological potential is not as simple as it was 30 years ago.  Back then, forests could simply be put in preservation, and we could count on them to perform all of the essential ecological services we depend on. Now, with our multitude of invasive species, this is no longer the case.

Forests must be monitored for these invasives, and they must be removed to ensure that our native trees remain healthy. Simply putting more forest into preservation will not mitigate climate change unless we ensure the health of the forest by controlling the invasives. The land in our state parks is preserved, but the forest is not.

Lawmakers in the Maryland House and Senate have said that passing aggressive climate legislation is among the top priorities for this year’s General Assembly. Legislators argue over whether they should require a 50% or 60% reduction in emissions, mandate electric school buses and plant millions of new trees.

According to climate scientists, to achieve aggressive and effective climate legislation we must immediately preserve our remaining forests and simultaneously fund crews to maintain them.


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Opinion: Mature Forests Hold the Key to Mitigating Climate Change