By Nick Whatley, BTLT Board Member
On September 14, a group of 25 folks gathered at Crystal Spring Farm for a forest walk with MOFGA and BTLT to discuss forest management strategies with added emphasis on carbon storage and sequestration. Our guide was Steve Pelletier, a seasoned ecologist and license forester, who shared his perspective grown from a lifetime of forest ecology management. He gave us all plenty to think about when it comes to carbon, and the key takeaway when creating a forest management plan is that the answer always starts with “it depends”. When considering management strategies it is important to recognize at the start that we are entering an already existing system and must establish a clear understanding of our goals before making decisions that will affect the forest. At Crystal Spring Farm, we have the existing goals of recreational trail use, forest ecosystem health, and control of invasives. With the acute awareness that many of us now have of the climate crisis and the necessity of taking effective action, forest carbon storage and sequestration has come to the forefront of forest management goals.
So how can we balance these goals?
Steve showed us a little bit about how to read a forest by asking lots of questions. What kind of trees are growing? Is the canopy overly dense or just right? What does the understory look like? What creatures are living there? Are there cavity trees that are providing shelter for birds? Are there older less healthy trees that can be removed in order to release younger trees below? What, if any, is the commercial value of trees that may be cut? In many cases, Steve pointed out that a tree may have more value decomposing on the forest floor or left standing both to soil health and wildlife habitat.
Steve also explained carbon sequestration in the forest. There is a finite amount of sunlight in any given area that can contribute to photosynthesis. Plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to sugars that feed the tree and flow through to the root system and soil as well. The healthier this system is, the better the result. In short, carbon sequestration is the removal of CO2 from the air and the storage takes place as plant tissue (wood) and soil hummus. Forests are already providing this important “service” and perhaps we can contribute to greater carbon sequestration with improved management plans.
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