About the Report

Wildlands in New England is the first U.S. study to map and characterize all permanently conserved lands in one region that are managed to be forever wild. The findings from this study are significant because they provide a baseline for advancing conservation initiatives and create an urgent call to action to secure more land as Wildlands. 

The report answers these three important questions:

  • Where are Wildlands located in New England? 
  • What are the characteristics of these Wildlands?
  • What is their current protection status?

The answers to these questions, and many others contained within the report, provide a critical baseline for advancing policies and securing funding to accelerate Wildlands conservation in New England.

Research was conducted by Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities partners Harvard Forest, Highstead Foundation, and Northeast Wilderness Trust, in collaboration with over one hundred conservation organizations and municipal, state, and federal agencies.

Definition of Wildlands

From Wildlands in New England report
Wildlands are tracts of any size and current condition, permanently protected from development, in which management is explicitly intended to allow natural processes to prevail with “free will” and minimal human interference. Humans have been part of nature for millennia and can coexist within and with Wildlands without intentionally altering their structure, composition, or function.

Why This Report? Why Now?

Today, only 3.3% of New England is considered Wildlands. Knowing precisely where Wildlands are located, their characteristics, and their protection status is the starting point for advancing conservation initiatives, identifying important unprotected tracts, and assuring greater connectivity between tracts. 

These facts not only create an urgent call to action, they provide a clear direction for policy makers, public and private funders, conservation organizations, landowners, and citizens. This knowledge provides the context, data, information, and recommendations needed to make land protection decisions at the local, state, and regional levels.

Integrated Approach

Wildlands play a unique role in the integrated approach to conservation and land planning advanced by the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities (WWF&C) initiative, which calls for at least 70% of the region to be forestland protected from development, Wildlands to occupy at least 10% of the land, and all existing farmland to be permanently conserved.

The report’s findings coupled with the international goals for Wildland conservation urges us to push beyond these protection targets, elevating the goal for Wildlands in the region to 20 percent or more.

Goals of the Study

  1. Establish a definition of Wildlands applicable to the land ownership of New England, and of the United States.
  2. Identify all lands fitting this definition from over 650 areas recommended by hundreds of groups.
  3. Develop and maintain an open-source database and online, interactive web map showing all Wildlands and protected conservation lands in New England, adding to and complementing existing databases of conserved lands.
  4. Disseminate the results and recommendations to landowners, practitioners, and policy makers to increase the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of Wildlands as a critical part of an integrated approach to land planning, both regionally and worldwide.
  5. Initiate further research on and tracking of Wildland conservation as part of the WWF&C initiative.

Where to Start

Read the Executive Summary

State Summary Reports

Wildlands in Connecticut

Wildlands in Maine

Wildlands in Massachusetts

Visit the Interactive Webmap

Browse the Figures & Tables

Our Approach

Research for this report progressed through several iterative phases: (1) establishment of the study’s scope and approach to identify and evaluate potential Wildlands; (2) region-wide outreach to public agencies and conservation organizations for inventory of existing Wildlands, collection of supporting information for each potential property, and refinement of evaluation methods; (3) systematic review of properties according to the established criteria, review of the emerging database with all external collaborators, data correction, and final review of challenging and newly uncovered parcels; and (4) analysis, interpretation, and product development.

Report Authors

David Foster, Emily E. Johnson, Brian R. Hall, Jonathan Leibowitz, Elizabeth H. Thompson, Brian Donahue, Edward K. Faison, Jamie Sayen, David Publicover, Nancy Sferra, Lloyd C. Irland, Jonathan R. Thompson, Robert Perschel, David A. Orwig, William S. Keeton, Malcolm L. Hunter Jr., Susan A. Masino, and Lillian Howell

Contributing Organizations

Bibliography with Links to Select Sources

Citation for the Full Report

Foster, D., E. E. Johnson, B. R. Hall, J. Leibowitz, E. H. Thompson, B. Donahue, E K. Faison, J. Sayen, D. Publicover, N. Sferra, L. C. Irland, J. R. Thompson, R. Perschel, D. A. Orwig, William S. Keeton, M. C. Hunter Jr., S. A. Masino, and L. Howell. 2023. Wildlands of New England. Past, Present, and Future. Harvard Forest Paper 36. Harvard University.