Healthy Forests

New England’s forests are integral to the health of our environment. They play a key role in water quality and storage and, as carbon collectors, provide our best natural defense against climate change. Forests are peaceful places that provide critical habitat for wildlife and abundant opportunity for outdoor recreation. And, when harvested sustainably, forest products can provide viable alternatives to fossil fuels in the form of biomass energy. Striking the delicate balance among uses to ensure forests’ long-term sustainability requires vigilance and vision.

Moving New England toward a clean energy future will mean utilizing a variety of sources, such as hydropower, wind, and biomass. These forms of energy – and new transmission lines to distribute it – could have forest impacts, including flooding, clearing, and harvesting. CLF looks to the latest science to evaluate each project and determine whether the benefits outweigh the impacts.

In 2003, CLF guided the negotiations for re-licensing of three large hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River, protecting tens of thousands of acres of native forest and conserving fish and other wildlife habitat in Northern New England. Today, CLF is carefully considering the impacts of bringing hydropower from large facilities in Canada through fragile forest land in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. And while CLF believes that biomass energy can play a role in New England’s transition to renewable energy, we advocate for regulations that strenuously protect forest health.

Renewable energy projects or other development that disturbs forests, must consider the carbon storage capacity of the forest in question in addition to its other ecosystem services. To preserve the value of New England’s forests in the fight against climate change, CLF advocates for protection of roadless areas in the national forests and sustainable timber harvest levels, as well as low-impact management that allows ecosystems to adapt to climate change impacts.

Recreation in forests greatly enhances our quality of life in New England and improves mental and physical health. CLF has long fought for expanding areas of protected forest for the enjoyment of all, including helping to gain permanent protection of 42,000 acres of the Green Mountain National Forest’s most pristine lands with the passage of the federal New England Wilderness Act in 2006. But certain kinds of recreation tread too heavily on fragile forests and parkland. The all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) favored by some outdoor enthusiasts for off-road adventure can cause irreparable damage to plants and wildlife habitat. They also create air, water, and noise pollution and are a risk to public safety. The issue has come to a head in Vermont, where ATV use is currently illegal on state lands but enforcement is lax. CLF is fighting for stricter rules and enforcement by Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, a key piece of advocacy in our ongoing effort to protect New England’s forests.

Chris Kilian, VP, director, Clean Water and Healthy Forests Program