Minnesota Needs A Climate Champion

Sequester carbon in forests

Grade: D

How we use land has a huge impact on the climate. Carbon can be naturally captured in forests, native prairies, wetlands and soils. Natural carbon capture is happening now, but Minnesota is also losing forests, native prairies, and naturally-occurring wetlands from unsustainable logging, development, and transitioning to agricultural land.

Minnesota could do much more to capture carbon especially by expanding and enhancing forests. Additional carbon sequestration could offset some of the hardest-to-manage greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent report by the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota identifies four strategies to increase carbon storage in our forests: reforestation of marginal lands, the creation of riparian forest buffers, avoiding forest conversion and improving forest management through practices like extended rotation, increased stocking, thinning and multi-age management. A recent report from the multi-stakeholder Minnesota Forest Resources Council made similar recommendations.

Minnesota has more opportunity and expertise than most states to naturally sequester carbon in forests, native prairies, and wetlands. Minnesota workers know how to plant and maintain forests. 

What Minnesota hasn’t done is make a plan to scale up replanting and restoring so that the carbon sequestered will make a significant and measurable difference. Any plan must include reforestation in cities that have lost trees, or never had them, because of the additional health benefit from shade.

What Governor Walz has done:

  • Proposed, through his Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to increase its capacity to grow tree stock, yet the DNR proposal is nowhere near the scale necessary. 
  • Created a subcabinet on climate change, which includes a natural and working lands action team, headed by the DNR and the Department of Agriculture. This group is responsible for developing policies to increase forest carbon sequestration and storage. However, these agencies have not proposed solutions at the scale needed.

What Governor Walz should do:

  • Make a plan to scale up replanting and restoring forests so that the carbon sequestered will make a significant and measurable difference. Any plan must include reforestation in cities that have lost trees, or never had them. 
  • Invest at the scale needed for afforestation (mature forest development), reforestation, and additional tree nurseries like the Badoura nursery.
  • Get the emerald ash borer under control and replace the ash we will lose with other tree species. We need investments that match the scale of the issue; Minnesota will lose all of our ash trees and release all that carbon into the atmosphere if we don’t act. 
  • Invest in agroforestry and managed rotational grazing on forest floors. 
  • Expand forest buffer zones around rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.
  • Ensure that the DNR holistically includes climate impacts when proposing timber harvesting plans. This would include lengthening rotation ages for tree harvesting to produce more mature trees and increase sequestration, and development of a classification and management system that encourages the preservation and expansion of older growth forests for their carbon storage and sequestration capacity.
  • Build stronger connections with tribal nations to share wisdom regarding sustainable forest management.
  • Start immediately by supporting HF 934 / SF 1385, authored by Rep. Todd Lippert and Sen. Jason Isaacson.

More benefits for all Minnesotans:

  • Trees not only sequester carbon but also filter air and reduce heating and cooling costs. Communities of color often have less tree cover than white communities. Investing in urban forestry in urban areas will improve air quality of BIPOC communities. 
  • Managing forests for more intact, diverse forests will provide Minnesotans not only with climate benefits but also with more wildlife and beautiful spaces to enjoy.