Climate Action Home Page

Land Use: Wildlands

Key Steps to Curb Carbon:

  • Protect and expand Kentucky’s remaining forested areas to increase carbon sequestration, climate mitigation and forest resilience.
  • Provide tax incentives for private land preservation.
  • Limit forest fragmentation and develop forested corridors to improve species preservation, improve wildlife habitat and ecological function.
  • Increase reforestation of abandoned and mined lands.
  • Update guidance on woody biomass as a fuel source, to address climate impacts and reduction targets.

Protecting Kentucky’s Remaining Forested Areas

According to the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, 47% of Kentucky’s acreage is forested. However, the loss of forests to development is one of the most serious threats to our forests.  And invasive species, the Emerald Ash Borer and Woolly Adelgid, are killing the state’s Ash and Hemlock trees.

The world’s 1.9 billion acres of temperate forests are a net-carbon sink. According to the World Resources Institute, more than 1.4 billion additional acres are candidates for restoration—as large-scale forests or mosaics of forests, more sparsely growing trees and land uses such as agriculture. With restoration comes additional carbon sequestration.

Article: “Limits to Growth of Forest Biomass Carbon Sink Under Climate Change” from

While Kentucky’s forests are not threatened by the large-scale deforestation altering the tropics, they suffer costly impacts of climate change:  hotter, more frequent droughts, longer heat waves, more severe wildfires and worsening insect and disease damage.  Left unchecked, these disturbances will push our forests beyond their coping capacity.  Protection and restoration efforts will need to evolve in response to these threats.

Limit Forest Fragmentation and Develop Wildlife Corridors

The fragmentation of land increases stress on wildlife populations and ecosystems. Contiguous land contributes to healthy soils and clean waterways. These contiguous land parcels are also critical for climate resilience.

Land Corridors are a frequently recommended conservation strategy to protect biodiversity and stand as a mitigation strategy for climate change. Where ranges need to shift, it is important to ensure that individual plants and animals are able to move through landscapes so they can make it to new climates that are now suitable, and corridors can provide a path to those new places. Recent studies across all plants and animals have shown that the average species has moved nearly 12.5 miles per decade poleward, and over 10 meters per decade up in elevation, based on historical climate changes.

Projects such as The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust’s Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor is an example of large landscape conservation and is an effort to create a contiguous migratory wildlife corridor from Virginia through southeastern Kentucky to Tennessee that can provide both suitable migration corridors and carbon sinks through forest preservation. This project is the largest conservation project in Kentucky’s history, and is built on the cooperation of conservation federal, state and nonprofit partners, as well as landowners who want to protect the mountain’s mixed mesophytic forest in perpetuity. The mountain supports the mixed mesophytic forest, one of the most diverse temperate zone forests in the world, and an essential tract for providing a contiguous carbon sink.

KCC recommends policies that promote land conservation with a priority on preserving contiguous tracts and corridors in order to improve climate resiliency and species preservation. We also recommend policies that create tax incentives for land conservation with a priority on contiguous tracts.

  • Identify critical habitat corridors
  • Promote management practices that promote wildlife movement and corridor connectivity
  • Prioritize stream protection and buffer zones.

According to a study by the University of California, Researchers have calculated the capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon in a detailed analysis that for the first time integrates the effects of two key factors where climate changes are likely to alter the growth process over the next 60 years: Natural process of forest growth, and Regeneration.

According to the Kentucky Division of Forestry, approximately 47% of Kentucky is forested, with some of the largest areas contained within the Daniel Boone National Forest (over 707,000 acres). It is estimated that only 0.5% of our native forest land remains as pre-settlement condition and about 5,000 acres of old-growth.

Kentucky has one of the most diverse hardwood species mix in the nation, second only to Florida. Recent estimates include 12.4 million acres of forests. An important point is that while Kentucky has significant tracts of public forested land, eighty-eight percent of Kentucky’s forestland is owned by private landowners. So our recommendations include both private and public land issues.

The Kentucky Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has active projects involving climate change and wild lands. (Read the organization’s report on Natural Climate Solutions). According to TNC, these nature-based solutions – such as stopping deforestation and restoration of ecosystems – can get us more than a third of the way to the emission reductions needed by 2030. While most efforts toward this goal have been focused on reducing fossil fuel use, new science shows that natural climate solutions—based on the conservation, restoration and management of forests, grasslands and wetlands—can deliver up to 37 percent of the emission reductions needed.

Forest industries contribute nearly $12.8 billion of revenue to the state’s economy. There are more than 3,500 forest industries in the state, employing more than 51,000 Kentuckians.

Increase Reforestation

Reforestation Over 800,000 acres have been surface-mined in Kentucky, with very little of it fully restored to its original use. Many former surface mines are near prime forests and wildlands, interrupting the carbon sink and species resilience benefits of contiguous forests.

Among those restoring such lands into viable forest area is Green Forest Work, which is a project that is part of the Appalachian  Regional Reforestation Initiative.

By converting mined, non-native grasslands and shrublands into healthy, productive forestland, nonprofits such as Green Forest Work are providing jobs for equipment operators, nursery workers and tree planters, and improve the environment by eradicating non-native species and restoring ecosystem services, along with the added benefit of providing more carbon sinks.

The state’s land management agencies should explore ways to accelerate the reforestation of abandoned mine lands and similar vacant lands to increase carbon sequestration and job creation within mining communities.


  • KCC Recommends that the state’s land management agencies explore ways to accelerate the reforestation of abandoned mine lands and vacant lands in both rural and urban regions as a method of increasing the sequestration of carbon and increase job creation in mining communities.
  • Reference Paper: Reforestation Guidelines for Unused Surface Mine Lands, Southern Appalachian Mixed-Mesophytic Initiative

Set Guidance on Woody Biomass as a Fuel Source 

Biomass is a term to describe plant materials, especially those that can be converted to some form of energy or fuel.  Woody biomass includes cordwood, limbwood, wood chips, bark, sawdust, forest residues and charcoal.

One policy debate is the concept that ‘woody biomass’ is viewed as ‘carbon-neutral,’ thereby encouraging the growth of woody biomass to produce energy as a way to reduce carbon. However this 2018 article by Scientific American challenges this theory and concludes that extensive use of woody biomass can actually increase CO2 emissions. There is political pressure at the federal level to adopt policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”

Many experts suggest that declaring wood burning a carbon-neutral form of energy is not only inaccurate, but a potential step backward for global climate change mitigation efforts. Burning biomass for energy releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere all at once. But depending on the type of tree, forests may take decades or even a century to draw the same amount of carbon back out of the air.

  • KCC recommends that biomass energy should only be seen as a true solution only if it uses appropriate feedstock, which we would specify as true waste from mills and agriculture or sustainably-grown perennial crops. Due to the urgency of climate-change mitigation, we do not find that a policy of declaring the growing of woody biomass for the purposes of burning for energy (‘energy farms’) to be sensible climate policy for Kentucky. And when considering the research from the University of California on the impacts of climate change on forest recovery, this reduces the net benefits even further.

Currently, the Kentucky’s Division of Forestry provides recommendations for the harvest of woody biomass that addresses the protection of water quality, wildlife habitat, native species and site productivity while harvesting, but has little or outdated information to address carbon sequestration or other forestry impacts to greenhouse gasses.

  • KCC Recommends that the Kentucky Division of Forestry update their information on biomass and carbon sequestration to provide Kentucky private forest landowners with the best current science and updated resources for managing their forest land in a way that increases the production of carbon credits. Other entities, such as the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association could also be seen as a resource for proper forest management towards carbon reduction.

Additional Recommendations for Action on Wildlands:

  • Support land conservation initiatives, particularly those that encourage contiguous forest land and migration corridors.
  • Continue to incentivize and leverage carbon sequestration credits and aggregators for private forests.
  • Utilize biomass that is truly waste material, such as corn stalks and similar.
  • Discourage forestation that is solely for energy farms.
  • Ramp up initiatives and incentives to reforest reclaimed and partially reclaimed mine sites.

Wildlands Links:

Link to the following sites for additional information about carbon sequestration and carbon aggregators in Kentucky: – AgraGate Climate Credits Corporation – Kentucky Corn Grower’s Association – Forecon Ecomarket Solutions, LLC
Kentucky Division of Forestry: Biomass and Carbon Sequestration
Kentucky Division of Forestry: Carbon Sequestration FAQs
Kentucky Forum on Carbon Sequestration through Agriculture and Forestry Management

Sprawl and Land Use

Urban sprawl or suburban sprawl describes the expansion of human populations away from central urban areas into low-density, mono-functional and usually car-dependent communities.

Kentucky is fortunate to have one of the best examples of incentives and controls designed to curb the conversion of core farmland and high-quality soils and constrain urban development.

Lexington, located in central Kentucky, is one of the few prominent cities in America that is not located on a major waterway. Much of their early development was due to the prominence of the equine industry, a major industry for much of Lexington’s history. Pioneers settled the Kentucky frontier in the late 18th century from Virginia, which already had a notable horse culture. By 1800, 92 percent of taxpayers in the state owned a horse, and the average owner had 3.2 horses.

Post-WWII, Lexington began to evolve into more of a manufacturing center in addition to the equine economy.  Seeing the boom, in 1958 city leaders established an Urban Service Growth Boundary — the first such boundary in the nation – to deliberately manage growth in the famous farmlands surrounding the city. In 1974 the city of Lexington and Fayette County merged to form the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, one body guiding the protected rural farmlands and urban area.

The concept of an urban services boundary has been adopted in many major cities since that time (Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado being well-known and heralded examples). Using this concept, encouraging redevelopment and infill development in the city core relieves pressure on the outer boundaries, and offers incentives to those outside the boundary to limit development.

In addition to the establishment of the Urban Services Boundary, the city has also engaged in a concept leveraging the Purchase of Development Rights, which are incentives to permanently protect farmland that can be threatened by any expansion of the urban core by permanently constraining the right to develop the land through a purchasing incentive. There are over 260 preserved farms in the greater Lexington area using this incentive.

The end result is that development in the city core remains compact and efficient, and prime agricultural land is preserved for its most appropriate use. This preserves both a ‘carbon sink’ through pasture and forested land, and results in compact cities that are more adaptable to efficient transportation planning.

More information from Smartcities on constraining urban sprawl using these tools.