Hoosac Range

Open Space Institute Leading Critical Updates to National Forest Carbon Data

NEW YORK, NY (June 1, 2023)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) has been awarded nearly $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service Forest Legacy Program to implement a major upgrade to National Forest Carbon Monitoring System (NFCMS) data. The upgraded estimates of forest carbon will help the land conservation field strategically identify, protect, and manage land to optimize the ability of forests to capture and sequester harmful carbon emissions.

OSI has developed approaches for use of forest carbon data to identify priority landscapes and evaluate projects for protection. These processes have been adopted by land trusts, government organizations, and other conservation groups to prioritize conservation and management of land with the greatest capacity to absorb and store carbon.

With the USDA grant, OSI will upgrade the working dataset with the most recent forest carbon estimates, and then project future sequestration through 2070. The information, expected to be made available in early 2024, will be integrated into online tools that will help land managers identify high carbon-capture forests; evaluate which forests are at greatest risk of conversion for development, which would release some accumulated carbon back into the atmosphere; and assess the cost benefit of land protection for avoiding future carbon release. With these tools, land managers can best determine how to maximize forest absorption of atmospheric carbon through conservation and land management. OSI will also lead efforts to provide technical support and guide organizations utilizing the data.

“Forests are a critical climate solution,” said Abby Weinberg, OSI’s senior director of research. “Conservation organizations and many government agencies are eager to address climate change and we are making sure they have the science and data to target their work effectively. We are grateful to the USDA for recognizing the importance of this work and are proud to be working with them on this effort.”

Forests absorb an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions each year, making them essential in the fight against climate change. The US National Climate Task Force has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, an effort that requires land trusts and others to have access to accurate, up-to-date data.

“Working forests are a critical part of the solution to climate resilience by helping secure carbon in our forested ecosystems," said Claire Harper, USDA Forest Legacy program manager. “Updating the data will help ensure private landowners and communities have the best available scientific data and tools to conserve vital forests. We are excited and grateful to be supporting this important work.”

“Land for Maine’s Future is eagerly anticipating the upgrades to the NFCMS data,” said Laura Graham, acting director, Land for Maine’s Future (LMF). “The State of Maine has already benefited from OSI’s technical support and guidance to help us target our land protection for carbon-capture and forest resilience. The updated tools will ensure we are working in the smartest, most effective way possible. We extend our thanks to OSI for leading this important work.”

An example of OSI’s work utilizing carbon data is seen in its Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, through which OSI has committed to saving 50,000 acres along the Appalachian Range. This region, stretching 1,500 miles from Alabama to Canada, contains massive stores of forest carbon, absorbing 1 million tons of air pollution each year. OSI’s Fund was the first nationally to evaluate land protection projects for forest carbon sequestration as part of the grantmaking process and to help grantees target grants to areas of high carbon capture.

Partners in the NFCMS data upgrade project include Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, Land Trust Alliance, American Forests, Dr. Christopher Williams of Clark University, and the USDA Forest Service Forest Legacy program.

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