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Old-Growth Forests Absorb Much More Carbon Than Young Ones

Old-growth forest in Western Massachusetts


North Central Mass. with Most Large Trees Sees Largest Deforestation Rate
by Mary J Metzger
“Right now nature is taking out 29 percent of the carbon we are putting into the air. In the watershed, that is happening in wetlands soils and forests,” said Dr. William Moomaw of Tufts University when he spoke at the Nashua River Watershed Association’s River Resource Center in Groton.
     The talk marked the actual fiftieth anniversary date of the NRWA, which was founded October 16, 1969. Moomaw lauded the Association’s many half-century accomplishments: the “miraculous” clean-up of a badly polluted river system, continued water quality monitoring, greenway protection, and environmental education.
     “It’s a relay race we never really finish. We need to maintain the accomplishments of the past, but turn to the work of the future. The main task of the future is and will be adapting to climate change.”
     Moomaw’s climate science credentials run deep. He worked 31 years in the field, becoming, in 1986, the first scientist to testify on climate change before Congress. He was the lead author of five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Reports, one of which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He was Chairman of the Climate Group North America and Woods Hole Research Center, the top climate change think-tank in the world.     
“Watersheds are the ideal scale for addressing the multiple challenges of climate change, as they unite numerous towns, states, and political districts.”
     Climate change is bringing increased precipitation to New England, with increased vulnerability to flooding. “Everything we’ve done to address this is based on 1958 statistics, where 100-year floods happen every 100 years. Now they are happening every few years, and they are going to get worse. We need to get the zoning right, so we are not putting businesses and people in harm’s way.”
     Wetlands and forests reduce run-off, but they also moderate temperatures and store carbon. The black rich wetlands soils have been “composting on steroids” since the Ice Ages. Though wetlands are only 5% of the land, their soils contain as much carbon as standing forests.
     “We need to be enforcing Wetlands Laws. It’s the lowest cost thing we can do to mitigate climate change.”
Forests Are Best Way to Capture Carbon
Forests are the most effective means of removing carbon from the atmosphere. Most forests in Massachusetts have a median age of 60-79 years. “These young forests are just getting started in removing carbon. Older trees remove more and the rate of removal increases with their age. If you have 100 trees in a forest, one large tree may hold half of its carbon.”
Largest Deforestation in State
Is North-Central Region
     Almost all forests in the United States are managed for timbering. Some of the worst canopy loss in the world, rivaling the cutting in the Amazon, is happening in the Southeast. In Massachusetts, the north central region, which has a greater number of large trees, is seeing the largest deforestation rate.
     “We need to put the state forests off limits. Many municipal and land trusts forests can also help mitigate the effects of climate change, if we let them grow.” Moomaw calls this effort “proforestation.”
Old-Growth Forests Absorb The Most Carbon
     “Old growth forests take a long time to develop. We need to find the fastest growing older forests and let them grow, as young trees do not absorb as much carbon as older ones. Climate change affects everyone across the state. The state needs to change the compensation for saving trees, paying for the service landowners are providing when they let their forests grow.”
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