What is Wildlands and Woodlands?
W&W is a vision and an initiative that seeks to double the pace conservation to protect at least 70 percent of New England as forests, permanently free from development. W&W further envisions that conserving 30 million forested acres will coincide with an expanding amount of acreage devoted to local, sustainable agriculture, thoughtfully planned compact development, and robust local communities with sustainable transportation, energy, and land-use policies.
On the ground, a wide variety of partners and players are working individually and collectively to achieve this 50-year vision, by creating and expanding conservation areas, advocating policy changes at the state and federal levels, placing conservation easements on their own properties, expanding markets for local forest products, and crafting innovative new conservation financing mechanisms. The W&W website highlights major joint initiatives of W&W partners.
W&W is a call to action to conserve the identity of New England and to ensure a vibrant future for the region we call home. Working together to double the pace of conservation, we will collectively protect the irreplaceable landscape that sustains us and safeguard the region’s economy, ecology, and culture for future generations.
Why should the average person care about Wildlands and Woodlands?
We all benefit from the generations of New England landowners who have kept large parts of the region free from development. But we cannot take for granted that existing forestland will stay that way. Anyone who has used a trail or a favorite fishing hole on private forestland should consider the value of a vision that will help maintain access to these resources in perpetuity. Those who value the connection between forests, a stable supply of clean water and air, flourishing native plants and wildlife, and regional resilience to climate change will appreciate that a concerted effort is needed to sustain the infrastructure underlying these benefits.
How will the W&W vision be achieved?
Wildlands and Woodlands seeks first to support private landowners interested in keeping their lands intact. The vision’s ambitious goals cannot be achieved by sweeping government acquisition or regulation. Given that more than 80 percent of New England forests are privately owned, achieving the W&W vision will require conserving private forests for varied uses (including timber) through a combination of conservation easements by willing landowners, enhanced tax incentives and markets, and strategic conservation acquisitions by private, public, and non-profit sectors. This work must coincide with local, state, and federal efforts to reduce sprawl and plan for more compact, energy efficient, and livable urban and suburban areas. W&W provides inspiration for the many committed people across New England already working to conserve our natural heritage, and has also launched a number of new collaborative initiatives to help double the pace of conservation.
Why conserve 70 percent of New England?
Conserving 70 percent of our region in forests will protect abundant ecological and economic forest values, while also allowing for the continuing increase of local and sustainable farming as well as significant increases in well-planned, compact development. Protecting 30 million acres of forest over the next 50 years presents a challenge, one that Wildlands and Woodlands tackles every day with varied partners and in a multitude of widespread campaigns.
What do you mean by Wildlands?
Wildlands are protected forest areas identified based on local considerations, with very little human management and no development. Ultimately, the degree of human use and activity in these areas will depend on the type of forest, its sensitivity to disturbance, and the needs and interests of the people who established the reserve. W&W envisions Wildlands as primarily free from human disturbance, where nature can take its course. Values to conserving larger undisturbed natural areas include increased regional resilience to climate change, invasive species, and other threats; provision of rare habitats for plants and animals; opportunities for the majestic old growth forest so underrepresented in eastern forests; safeguarded lands with natural, cultural, and spiritual significance; opportunities for backcountry recreation and quiet wilderness contemplation; high quality watershed protection and carbon storage; and unique scientific reference points for improving management practices elsewhere. The W&W vision anticipates that approximately 10 percent of conservation will be in Wildlands, based on traditional patterns of protecting such special places, but this number will be up to landowners, local communities, and the people of the region over time.
What do you mean by Woodlands?
Woodlands are forests managed by humans for more intensive recreational and/or economic purposes than Wildlands. Sustainable forest harvesting is important to the future of the region and central to achieving long-term conservation goals. The forest products industry can bolster New England’s economy by providing hundreds of jobs and a dependable local resource base for sustainable wood products. Additionally, sustainably managed forests provide countless other benefits to residents of New England and beyond: clean air and water, carbon sequestration, flood and erosion control, tourism opportunities, and extensive outdoor recreation including winter sports, hiking, boating, hunting, fishing, and more. The W&W vision anticipates that approximately 90 percent of conserved forests will be Woodlands, but this number will be up to landowners, local communities, and the people of the region over time.
Is there room for future economic development in the region under this vision?
The vision is not anti-growth and development. Conserving 70 percent of the landscape as forest allows for a significant increase in development, and calls for a transition towards more robust planning and zoning and adoption of sensible compact development. W&W simply recognizes that we cannot afford to lose much more forest and still have widespread access to clean, affordable water, natural carbon uptake that buffers climate change, and widespread use and enjoyment of the woods.
How does this vision relate to climate change?
No one knows exactly what the future holds regarding our rapidly changing climate. But we do know that protecting our forests will help buffer future impacts by sequestering carbon and offsetting emissions of greenhouse gases, providing large and connected habitats to help multiple species better withstand the effects of climate change, and regulating the impacts of extreme weather events. Both managed Woodlands and preserved Wildlands can help mitigate climate change. Forests also provide job opportunities in emerging fields such as inventory and verification of carbon credits through voluntary and compliance markets.
How can I get involved?
Whether you are a private landowner, a government official, a forester, a conservationist, or a concerned citizen, W&W provides many options for becoming involved with long-term land conservation in New England.
What has the W&W Initiative accomplished so far?
By outlining a bold conservation vision for the region, the Wildlands and Woodlands reports shifted the conversation from “where to conserve the best of what’s left,” to “how do we double the pace of conservation in a rapidly urbanizing landscape to sustain a viable New England?” This vision has broad-based appeal and continues to both reinvigorate ongoing conservation efforts and inspire new collaborative initiatives that are building momentum and a track record of success. The W&W website highlights an ongoing array of remarkable conservation success stories around the region, as well as a number of new collaborative initiatives launched by W&W partners to accelerate the pace of conservation, including the New England Forest Policy Group, the RCP Network, the Stewardship Science Initiative, the Land-Use Scenarios Initiative, and several precedential conservation finance projects.
What will this vision cost?
This is a broad vision, not an implementation plan. Over the long term, the cost of losing forests and the natural services they provide would be far greater than the cost of conserving forests today. The cost will ultimately depend on the methods chosen by those implementing the vision. Proactive conservation today with willing landowners, supported by effective planning, will be less expensive than rushing in later to conserve critical areas after they have been slated for development — or any land in future decades as prices continue to rise across the region over time.