TWO BILLS NOW before the Legislature — H.912, An Act Relative to Forest Protection and H.1002, An Act Relative to Increased Protection of Wildlife Management Areas — would help to meet the Commonwealth’s climate goals and stem the loss of biodiversity. We strongly support their passage as a positive step to address the planetary emergencies we now face.

The Baker administration was counting on hydropower from Quebec as well as the regional Transportation Climate Initiative to help Massachusetts reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Both strategies are off the table, at least for now.

The net-zero goal requires reducing annual carbon emissions by nearly half by 2030, and by 2050 match any remaining emissions with carbon accumulation in our forests, wetlands and soils. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report confirmed that over the last six decades, global forests and other land-based natural systems have continued to remove about 31 percent of our annual carbon dioxide emissions.

Forests around the world are being lost or degraded at alarming rates. They are being unsustainably logged for timber, burned as bioenergy, and converted for agriculture, urbanization, and large solar arrays. The result is massive release of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, foregone carbon accumulation, and accelerated biodiversity loss. This is happening here too.

Recognizing these dual emergencies, climate and biological scientists around the world are calling for providing 30 percent of our lands and waters with the highest level of protection — similar to our national parks — by 2030 (known as the “30 by 30” initiative).

How will Massachusetts contribute to this worldwide protection campaign?

The Next-Generation Roadmap for Climate Policy Act passed last year includes important provisions, including protection for environmental justice communities. Although this act addresses “natural and working lands,” it offers nothing to specifically increase the amount of land given the highest level of protection as called for by the 30 by 30 initiative. Meanwhile, less than 2 percent of the Massachusetts land base now enjoys strong, permanent, legal protection. This is not nearly enough!

H.912 and H.1002 seek to update the existing laws regardingthe management of state lands that were enacted as long as a century ago — well before the planetary emergencies we now face.

These bills call for permanently protecting more than 410,000 acres of state-owned lands as parks and reserves under the care of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and about 50,000 acres under the care of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Together, they would safeguard 8.5 percent of Massachusetts’ land base and 14 percent of forested land.

E.O. Wilson signing the current state land protection petition on July 16, 2019.

The legislation would reduce climate change by allowing public forests to maximally continue accumulating carbon far into the future; preserve large, contiguous tracts of natural habitat needed to sustain the full range of biological diversity; and provide many public benefits such as clean air and water, flood reduction, evaporative cooling, outdoor recreation and tourism, enhanced public health, and spiritual renewal for all residents.

These bills are practical, cost effective, and build upon existing state designations of parks and reserves by conserving intact ecosystems that are influenced primarily by natural processes. They allow management flexibility for public health, safety, and environmental concerns with little or no increased funding for their implementation.

Each bill would create an independent council – one for Department of Conservation and Recreation lands and one for Fish and Wildlife lands – to use the best and latest science to meet climate and biodiversity goals. These councils would include public officials, scientists, and members of the public to review and propose appropriate policies and practices, and with public participation.

With greatly increased numbers of visitors to our state lands during these pandemic times, there is growing appreciation that access to unspoiled natural areas is important for our mental health. Ample access to such areas should be assured for all residents of Massachusetts.

H.912 and H.1002 have broad public support, Forty-six organizations and scientists have signed a letter of endorsement and the esteemed Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson — widely respected as a founder of biodiversity science — strongly supported this effort prior to his death on December 26.

“This is the single most important action the people of the state can take to preserve our natural heritage,” Wilson said. “As it has many times in the past, Massachusetts can provide leadership on this issue, inspiring other states across the country to take similar bold action.”

We call on members of the Legislature to pass these bills to protect our natural heritage as Wilson requested as a way to honor him.

William Moomaw is professor emeritus at Tufts University, visiting scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center, and a five-time lead author of major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports who lives in Williamstown. J. William Stubblefield is a biologist and independent researcher from Wendel. Michael Kellett is the executive director of the regional nonprofit organization RESTORE: The North Woods. He resides in Lincoln.  Janet Sinclair is a co-founder of Save Massachusetts Forests and lives in Buckland.