Fighting climate change with forest management

Lauren Cooper leads the Forest Carbon and Climate Program at MSU, which trains professionals in forestry as a way mitigate environmental damage.

Lauren CooperGlobal carbon dioxide levels are at the highest point in the past 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. More than 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity through the burning of fossil fuels is the primary culprit.

Lauren Cooper, program director for the Forest Carbon and Climate Program (FCCP) in the Michigan State University Department of Forestry, believes more natural resources, energy and building professionals should be equipped with the skills to address this problem.

The program is centered on the idea that one way to mitigate environmental damage is by harnessing the ability of trees to absorb carbon. A single mature hardwood tree, for example, can sequester 48 pounds of carbon per year. Over 40 years, that equates to nearly a ton.

“Forests already absorb 15 to 20% of U.S. carbon emissions,” Cooper said. “Through using forestry best practices and intentional forest management strategies, we could up that number to 30 or 40%.”

As the first program of its kind, the FCCP offers educational options for interested parties at all stages of their careers. Led by several faculty in the Department of Forestry, these learning opportunities provide various opportunities to engage with some of the leading minds in forestry management and policy, including:

Cooper has been passionate about sustainability throughout her professional journey. She’s well-versed in the science of forest management and the policy issues that surround it, both in the U.S. and abroad. She’s worked in Washington D.C. on forest policy at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and in Latin America, where she’s collaborated with communities on the social and economic aspects of carbon cycling, as well as conservation incentives and carbon storage.

After joining the Department of Forestry in 2014 to lead a graduate certificate program in forest policy management, she quickly discovered a burgeoning need for forestry knowledge in the face of climate change.

“I saw a significant gap between the interest in this topic and the actual number of people working in the field,” Cooper said. “Once we launched the FCCP, we had hundreds of inquiries from a variety of people about how they could get involved.”

But forestry isn’t the only field represented in FCCP participation. Many from the energy and building sectors see the immense contributions forests can make toward sustainability. Cooper cited the mass timber building on the MSU campus as an example of using forest products as long-term carbon storage mechanisms.

“Forests can be one of the most cost-effective climate change mitigation tools we have,” Cooper said. “In addition to carbon storage naturally in forests and in building materials, they provide wildlife habitat and clean water. This is really important as we try to deliver education to professionals who will inform policy and management for years to come.”

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