Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Importance of New England Forests

Conserved forests like those around the Quabbin Reservoir provide clean drinking water to millions of New England residents without the need for filtration plants. (Clarisse Hart)

John Bos

There was a time in New England, once heavily deforested in colonial days, when it became one of the most densely wooded areas in the world, thanks to forests that regenerated over the past 150 years as farms were abandoned for city life.

But that reforestation began to peak in about 2010 according to a 2017 Harvard Forest report entitled “Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities.” At that time, New England began losing 65 acres of forest to development each day. At the same time, funding for land conservation fell to 50 percent after 2008. Annual forest conservation also fell more than sixfold since the early 2000s, from 333,000 acres a year to about 50,000 acres a year since 2010.

“Peak forest cover is over in New England,” said Jonathan Thompson, a senior scientist at Harvard Forest and one of the report’s 31 authors. “If current rates continue,” Thompson wrote, “New England will lose another 1.2 million acres by the year 2060 – that’s an area nearly twice as big as Rhode Island.”

In a 2021 study titled, “Avoided Deforestation: A Climate Mitigation Opportunity in New England and New York,” prepared for the United States Climate Alliance Natural and Working Lands Research Program, Dr. Christopher A. Williams and Dr. Natalia Hasler Li Xi, quantify how much mitigation could be achieved by avoiding these kinds of forest to non-forest conversions. The study also measures the loss of carbon sequestration that would have occurred had these forests remained intact.

Deforestation across northeast America as the result of development, agriculture and other land uses, is one more release of unwanted CO2 into the atmosphere accelerating our climate crisis.

The core cause of this deforestation, and of most other environmental damage, is America’s addiction to bigger and better. Economist Herman Daly, in the July 24 Sunday Times magazine, describes this addiction better than I can. “Growth is the be-all and end-all of mainstream economic and political thinking. Without a continually rising G.D.P., we’re told, we risk social instability, declining standards of living and the loss of pretty much any hope of progress,” Daly said. “But what about the counterintuitive possibility that our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is and causing such great ecological harm, might be incurring more costs than gains?”

Daly is a long-time advocate of a steady-state economy, one that forgoes the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth, recognizes the limitations of our planet and instead seeks a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium.

You don’t have to be an economist or a forester to comprehend how much forestland can be lost to building roads, housing and commercial developments.

The purpose of the “Avoided Deforestation” study is to provide actionable information that can inform the general public and assist states with greenhouse gas emissions and removal inventories as well as with plans to explore avoided deforestation as a necessary component of climate mitigation initiatives.

Protecting and expanding the carbon stored in forests belongs to a suite of “natural climate solutions” – defined as protecting, restoring, and better managing forests, grasslands, farms and wetlands to reduce and remove carbon emissions and safeguard the climate system. Thus, slowing the pace of forest loss (avoiding deforestation) is an important instrument in the fight against climate change.

To begin to achieve the mitigation of deforestation, state governments need to have a baseline of what the loss of forestland has been. The Climate Mitigation study provides this basic information for a number of states.

Massachusetts averaged about 5,125 acres of forest loss per year in the early 2000’s, committing 1.3 million metric tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) to the atmosphere as carbon emissions plus foregone sequestration each year.

Maine averaged about 4,628 acres of forest loss in the early 2000’s, committing 1.1 million metric tons of CO2e to the atmosphere as carbon emissions plus foregone sequestration each year.

New Hampshire averaged about 2572 acres of forest loss per year in the early 2000’s, committing 0.7 million metric tons of CO2e to the atmosphere as carbon emissions plus foregone sequestration each year.

Vermont averaged about 623 acres of forest lost per year in the early 2000’s, committing 0.2 million metric tons of CO2e to the atmosphere as carbon emissions plus foregone sequestration each year.

President Biden’s Earth Day executive order protects old-growth forests, which is essential. But it also calls for advancing “forest-related economic opportunities” – the kind of wording that often serves as a euphemism for allowing industrial-scale logging in national forests and on other publicly owned land.

America’s forests are essential to climate change mitigation, absorbing carbon dioxide equivalent for more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions. That noted, I believe each New England state is more aware of the importance of its own forestlands than the federal government. The question is, what will they do to stop deforestation not to mention preserve the natural habitat that is their New England heritage.

John Bos is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. His bi-weekly column “Connecting the Dots” is published every other Saturday in the Greenfield Recorder. His op ed columns about climate change and the environment have been published in the Springfield Republican, Brattleboro Reformer and other regional newspapers. Comments and questions are invited at

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