Is New Jersey doing enough to protect its 2 million acres of forests — one of the most effective tools in ridding the atmosphere of the carbon emissions that cause global warming?
That issue is attracting the attention of legislators who are looking at how they can advance climate-change adaption policies in New Jersey, a coastal state particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme storm events.
Across the United States, the nation’s forests account for 15 percent of the carbon emissions that are pulled from the air and stored, according to Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests, which works to build resilient forests in rural and urban settings. “The U.S. already is delivering forests as a climate-change solution, and New Jersey is delivering, too,’’ he told legislators last month.
The question is, asked Daley, “how do we keep a good thing going?’’ His message: Retain as much forest as possible and keep what remains as healthy as possible — no small task with climate change increasing the threats to woodlands.
“If we don’t deal with the health stresses caused by climate change and forest loss, we’re going to lose this good thing we have going … ,’’ he said. Not only are forests under increased strain from infestation by insects but also from wildfires, the latter a concern in the Pinelands where wildfires are part of the natural ecosystem.
Pulling carbon dioxide from the air
In New Jersey, roughly 2.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions are stored in forests, Daley said. That’s in line with what is happening across the nation with trees capturing carbon emissions.
Emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing climate change, are taken up by trees, grasses and other plants through photosynthesis and stored in the vegetation and soils.
Surprisingly, the largest portion of carbon sequestration occurs in New Jersey’s urban areas, according to Daley, who grew up in the state.
Why so? Because urban trees reduce the effect of heat islands in densely populated areas, serving as a natural source of energy efficiency by reducing power use in heating and cooling. The U.S. Forest Service estimates urban forests reduce energy use by 7.2 percent, saving consumers roughly $7 billion a year.
“This is a real critical opportunity for New Jersey, in particular,’’ Daley said.
Many other benefits in tree cover
“Trees really make a difference,’’ agreed Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat who is chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “It makes cities more livable and comfortable.’’
Jeanne Herb, director of the Environmental Analysis & Communications Group at the Rutgers University Bloustein School, also saw value in Daley’s point. “Tree cover and urban greenways increase thermal comfort and help with storm-water management, improve air quality, recreational opportunities, and property values,’’ she told legislators.
In a joint hearing last month, Smith vowed to put together a bill to implement some of Daley’s recommendations, especially relating to expansion of urban tree plantings. “Trees are carbon sinks. That’s the thing that was the killer for me.’’
New Jersey is already ahead of the game with some of its land-use policies, Daley said, noting the state’s extensive efforts to preserve open space and farmland.
“If Green Acres didn’t exist, we’d probably need it today as part of the state’s climate-change solutions,’’ he said.