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Harnessing the Power of Forests for Climate (2023)

How OSI is Advancing New Approaches across the Field

Long appreciated for their beauty and tranquility, forests have a remarkable function: they are climate workhorses that naturally capture and store carbon dioxide. And they only get better with age, taking in carbon from the atmosphere through their leaves and storing it in their trunks, branches, leaves, and roots, as well as the soil.

Decision-makers are recognizing the value forests bring to the fight against climate change, and increasingly, these leaders are turning to the Open Space Institute (OSI) to put knowledge into action.

“Forests are a critical climate solution,” says Abby Weinberg, OSI’s Senior Director of Research. “U.S. forests store 35 years’ worth of U.S. carbon emissions and capture an additional 15 percent of U.S. carbon emissions each year. We just need to conserve and manage them responsibly to reap these benefits.”

OSI was awarded a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program to lead a major upgrade to National Forest Carbon Monitoring System (NFCMS) data. This information is used by government agencies and land organizations to identify, protect, and manage forested landscapes for carbon storage. The data update and tools developed by OSI and its partners will improve the ability to identify at-risk high-carbon forests and consider the other values forest conservation delivers, such as protection for wildlife habitat.

“OSI helps us put our data into a regional context so we can reap additional benefits for communities,” notes Claire Harper, USDA Forest Legacy Program Manager.

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OSI is also working directly with state agencies in Maine, Georgia, New York, and South Carolina to help them use science and data to meet their climate goals.

“Our agency has a critical role to play in achieving the goals in Maine’s Climate Action Plan, so we turned to OSI,” says Stephen Walker, Director of Land for Maine’s Future. “As a leader in integrating climate science into practice through
their grant programs and training, OSI has the expertise we need.”

OSI’s forest carbon leadership is also evident in its Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF), an $18 million program providing capital grants aimed at protecting high-carbon and resilient lands along the vast Appalachian Range, which captures more than 60 percent of carbon pollution absorbed by U.S. forests. The ALPF, capitalized by donors including the Doris Duke Foundation, was the first fund in the nation to target and evaluate land protection projects for forest carbon as part of the grantmaking process.

Weinberg explains that the ALPF functions as an incubator for other state and federal programs that want to achieve climate goals.

“The projects funded by ALPF are some of the first conservation deals that include explicit protection for forest carbon and habitat resilience,” she says. “Working with our partners, we test out new ideas and get them implemented on the ground. Then we leverage and share that knowledge so that others can most effectively target land conservation and management.”

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Building Pathways and Partnerships with Indigenous Communities (2023)

In recognition of the critical role Indigenous peoples play in land management and stewardship, OSI is providing land trusts in NY with tailored training, tools, and resources to improve relationship building and allyship with Indigenous communities.