UMaine’s Forest Climate Change Initiative Builds Connections for Scientists and Land Managers

At the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests, a group of scientists from academia and private institutions have come together to form the Forest Climate Change Initiative (FCCI). The purpose of FCCI is to build connections among researchers, scientists, stakeholders, legislators, and the interested public on climate change issues around forests.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been a busy year for FCCI. With the Forest Stewards Guild’s help, the group kicked off programming in February 2020 with an in-person science and practice forum at the University of Maine where 43 foresters and other natural resource professionals came together to:

  • Catalyze scientist-manager discussions about climate change research.
  • Begin growing Maine’s forest climate adaptation community of practice.
  • Be an information source for the Maine Climate Council about Maine’s forest and climate change.

The forum themes focused on ecology, operations, socioeconomics, and overall messaging about forests and climate change. Throughout the day-long event, participants discussed their highest priority concerns around climate change and low-hanging fruit that may quickly build resiliency in forest communities. These discussions resulted in a synthesis of findings from the forum (see table below). 

Table: Synthesis of findings from February 2020, Science and Practice Forum at the University of Maine. The numbers under the “high priority” and “low hanging fruit” indicate how many votes each comment received by participants.

“The work of the FCCI is increasingly important in providing information and expertise on Maine forests and climate change,” said University of Maine Distinguished Professor of the School of Forest Resources, Dr. Ivan Fernandez. A founding member of  FCCI, Fernandez also serves on the Maine Climate Council and co-chairs the groups Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. “[These efforts are] particularly valuable for the work of the Maine Climate Council in the development of the Maine Climate Action Plan, and more importantly, in its implementation in the months and years ahead.”

In the spring, FCCI researchers released a 2-page fact sheet on The State of Maine’s Carbon Budget. The budget factors in all carbon emissions sources to the net uptake of carbon by forests, wetlands, agriculture, and urban environments. According to the fact sheet, “~25% of the 4.9 MMTC/year emitted on average from fossil fuels in Maine is effectively contributed to the atmosphere after accounting for sources and sinks in the state’s lands and waters… Maine’s net emissions are estimated to be approximately 1.2 MMTC/year.” This finding indicates that about 75% of Maine’s carbon emissions are sequestered by either forestland, wetlands, agriculture, or urban environments. Most of the carbon uptake occurs in Maine’s vast forestlands.

In the late summer, FCCI researchers released a report on Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) for Maine’s forest and agricultural sectors. In this study, NCS address ways our forests and farms can store more carbon and build resilience to the risks of a changing climate. The report highlights the costs and effectiveness of various NCS approaches compared to standard business-as-usual practices. In the coming months, the team will meet and survey forest owners, large commercial potato and blueberry growers, and operators of small diversified family farms about how well the identified solutions can work in the real world. The research is slated to be completed by spring 2021, when findings, data, and information, including a fact sheet of benefits and costs of NCS alternatives, will be made available.  

University of Maine Distinguished Professor of the School of Forest Resources Dr. Ivan Fernandez addressed the Science and Practice Forum at the University in February 2020. Photo credit: Forest Stewards Guild

This fall, FCCI advances its outreach and education efforts with the Forest Stewards Guild’s help by developing and delivering an interactive webinar series for stakeholders and the interested public. Science and Practice: Addressing Forest Climate Change in Maine webinars take place the first Wednesday of each month at noon with a panel of researchers, scientists, and stakeholders tackling climate change issues and how it is influencing Maine’s forests and forest economy. Topics include impacts on forest health, recreational use, forest management, biodiversity and pests, and the role of carbon and greenhouse gases. 

The webinar series aims to build a community of practitioners who work in Maine’s forested landscape that better understands all the information surrounding climate change and its impact on Maine’s forests. “UMaine’s FCCI is leading the way in connecting the vast world of climate science with boots-on-the-ground forest managers,” said Amanda Mahaffey, Deputy Director of the Forest Stewards Guild. “The FCCI events and resources keep this growing work meaningful, relevant, and engaging. The Forest Stewards Guild is excited to share this work in the community of practice in New England and well beyond.” 

Two webinars have occurred since October. The first, “Risky Wood Vs. Safe Wood,” with the University of Maine’s Forest Manager Keith Kanoti, focused on harvest operation planning under changing weather conditions. The session included a virtual field tour, in which Kanoti walks viewers through a harvest site where he took special care to ensure water resource protection. November’s webinar on “Carbon Budget, Management, and Credits featured Dr. Adam Daigneault, Assistant Professor of Forest Conservation & Recreation Policy, and Dr. Dan Hayes, Associate Professor of Geospatial Analysis and Remote Sensing. They shared where Maine stacks up with the rest of the nation on net carbon emissions and how they calculated those emissions and uptake values. Each webinar session concludes with a discussion with panelists based on questions asked by the audience. 

Keith Kanoti, University of Maine’s Forest Manager, poses next to a stream crossing while filming the Risky Wood Vs. Safe Wood Virtual Field Tour

Six more webinars are scheduled between December 2020 and May 2021. You can register for the series and review resources from past sessions by visiting the FCCI Webinar webpage. You can keep up to date with the Forest Climate Change Initiative by subscribing to their newsletter.

Center for Research on Sustainable Forests Director and FCCI Leader Aaron Weiskittel stated that “Maine has some exciting ideas and discussions on climate change currently. FCCI is trying to provide key connections to the actual ongoing science on climate change and maintain an open dialog on the topic. The positive response to FCCI has been rather reassuring and emphasizes the university’s role.” 

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