New England forests are at a turning point. Following a 200-year resurgence, forest cover has begun to decline in every New England state. Public funding and the rate of conservation have followed suit in recent years, even as landowner interest in protecting land increases. What will we do with this challenge and opportunity?
The New England Vision at a Glance
The Wildlands and Woodlands (W&W) vision calls for a 50-year effort to conserve 70 percent of New England as forest permanently free from development, plus at least 7 percent of New England as farmland. Through the leadership and commitment of landowners, these conserved lands will continue to power the region’s traditional land-based economy and provide irreplaceable environmental and social benefits for current and future generations.
W&W recommends that voluntary, community-driven conservation result in approximately 90 percent of the forest conserved as woodlands sustainably managed for timber harvesting and other values, and 10 percent conserved as wildlands to protect biodiversity and wilderness. W&W further envisions an expanding amount of acreage devoted to local, sustainable agriculture, compact development, and local communities that adopt sustainable transportation, energy and land use policies.
Achieving the New England Vision
Achieving the W&W vision will require a tripling of current rates of conservation. This cannot be accomplished by sweeping public acquisition or regulatory fiat. It will require helping thousands of willing private landowners who are interested in securing the future of their land through conservation easements and other means; it will require innovative new approaches and diverse partnerships of economic, environmental, and community interests. And it will take a redoubled commitment from all of us in New England to get the job done.
Fortunately, New Englanders have a long history of conservation innovation and a deep devotion to the natural landscapes that sustain us. Through both individual efforts and new collaborations, W&W partners are working to triple the pace of conservation in New England, from efforts as diverse as the RCP Network, the New England Forest Policy Group, and Academics for Land Protection in New England, to a number of innovative conservation finance projects and science initiatives.
Today, W&W is both an inspirational vision and a rapidly growing regional initiative to achieve it. Please get involved today!
The 2017 Broadened Vision for New England
The 2017 report was co-authored by 31 scientists, conservationists, urban planning experts, and environmental historians from around New England. The report broadens the perspective of the 2010 report to connect both forests and farms to climate resilience and economic sustainability, and it honors the region’s diverse conservation needs across cities, suburbs, and rural areas in both northern and southern New England. Its specific findings report that New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day, and that public funding for land protection has also been steadily declining in all six New England states (down 50% since its peak in 2008), with land conservation trends following suit. The authors end by identifying emerging opportunities for gaining ground, based on New England’s remarkable conservation capacity, and assert that the targets outlined in the 2010 vision for the New England landscape are still attainable.
The 2010 Vision for New England
The 2010 report, written by 20 scholars from institutions across New England, scaled up the Wildlands and Woodlands vision from Massachusetts to the entire region. The authors reported that forest cover was now being lost in every New England state, and set a regional target by calling for a doubling of the pace of conservation to permanently protect 70% of New England in managed forests (90% of forest base) and wildlands (10% of forest base) by 2060. This scale of conservation, according to authors, would retain and enhance the many benefits that forests currently provide, including clean air and water, tourism and recreation, and an array of forest products.
The 2005 Vision for Massachusetts
In 2005, the first Wildlands and Woodlands vision recommended protecting 50 percent of Massachusetts (2.5 million acres) in forest.
The Massachusetts vision called for the permanent protection of: (1) 2.25 million acres of woodlands, mostly privately owned and managed for multiple goods and services, and (2) 250,000 acres of wildland reserves, mostly publicly owned and allowed to grow naturally.