Forestry identified as one of nine “policy sectors”

By Charlie Mitchell

Since taking office in 2019, Governor Evers has committed to taking action on the effects of climate change in Wisconsin. The Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, created in October 2019 with Lieutenant Mandela Barnes as chairman, has recently distributed their Climate Change Report dated December, 2020, with recommendations of actions to “meaningfully mitigate” the negative effects of climate change “for the benefit of Wisconsin communities”.

The 115-page Report cites how the 1degree Centigrade (2degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperature above the average temperature of the twentieth century is impacting Wisconsin: damage to property by severe storms, damage from flooding, crop failures due to drought and other adverse growing conditions, and elevated incidents of heat strokes and exhaustion.

The Report states that 19 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and that even if the world meets its current greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, the globe is expected to warm 3degrees C by 2100. The increased heat is expected to threaten Wisconsin’s cold-water fisheries, affect the health of native trees and plants, cause the proliferation of pests and infectious diseases, and cause the destruction of beaches and marinas by storm surges.

The Report presents statistics recently published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, the electric power sector produced 33% of the emissions, transportation 24%, agriculture 15%, and industrial 11%. Carbon dioxide accounted for 81% of greenhouse gas emissions and methane 10%. Emissions have declined in Wisconsin by 9% between 2005 and 2017, mostly due to reductions in the electric sector.

Sanctuary Woods in County Grounds Park, Wauwatosa
Photo by Charlie Mitchell

Nine policy sectors are identified and the Report describes recommended “climate solutions” for each of the sectors. The sectors are Climate Justice, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, Resilient Systems, Economy, Education, Food, and Forestry. Most of these sectors produce greenhouse emissions. Forestry is the only sector that absorbs emissions. Tree leaves take on CO2 in the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. However, Wisconsin forests and natural lands lost over 25% of their carbon sequestering ability between 2005 and 2017 due to the encroachment of agriculture and the conversion of cropland to urban development.

In the Forestry Sector, there are five priorities listed for attention: forest conservation, reforestation in rural areas, tree planting in urban areas, climate-focused forest management, and support of wood-product utilization.

To accomplish conservation, also described as “keeping forests as forests”, some of the strategies recommended are: tax forested land on its value in its current use rather than its highest/best use, provide tax and other incentives to landowners who donate forested land to conservation easements, and explore the possibility of a family forest carbon credit program for small woodland owners.

All of these recommendations require some new state legislation and funding. There are no cost estimates because the Report did not go into that depth.

In the realm of reforestation, the main ideas are to implement a rural tree-planting campaign, fund private owner assistance for tree-planting, and purchase and reforest open lands that were formerly forested. Reforestation could “offset” an estimated 5 million tons of CO2 per year.

Regarding tree-planting in urban areas, develop and implement a campaign to plant more shade trees, and provide assistance to communities that are interested in participating in carbon credit programs. Increased forest canopy in cities has the potential to sequester and store an additional 0.3 tons of carbon a year, plus provide additional benefits such as reducing temperatures in the city, reducing storm-water run-off, and increasing air quality. The presence of trees in a city also reduces crime rates and increases property values, too. Trees reduce energy demands because they provide cooling by the shade that they give and by transpiration of water vapor.

To implement climate-focused forest management, define carbon as a forest product through state policy, provide funding sources for planting understories in forest stands that are not fully filled in, and establish funding to purchase land and maintain it as a working forest.

To support wood products utilization, develop a campaign on the benefits of using Wisconsin wood products, invest in research and commercialization of “mass-timber” and cross-laminated lumber, and incentivize the use of renewable fuels (woody biomass) for space heating, and industrial process heat. Wood is extremely effective for long-term carbon storage. Buildings made from wood can store carbon that otherwise would return to the atmosphere when trees die and decompose on the forest floor.

Of course, expanding and nurturing our forests has the well-known additional benefits of an increase in beautiful scenery and fresh air, and the enjoyment of it.

For more information and to see the complete report, go to

March 15, 2021