The Harvard Forest, Highstead Foundation, and co-authors from around New England released a new report called “Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities” on September 19. The report articulates a broad view of conservation that fully embraces farmlands and the built environment and recognizes the region’s diverse conservation needs and challenges. The report shows that New England lost an average of 24,000 acres of forest and farmland per year between 1990 and 2010. It reports that public funding for conservation dropped by 50% from the peak in 2008 to 2010 and is now slightly below 2004 levels. The authors also calculate that, at the 2010 rate, we would lose another 1.2 million acres of forest and farmland over the next 50 years. With that in mind, they argue that the threat of land use to forests is greater than the threat of climate change to forests.
On a positive note, the report shows that the original Wildlands and Woodlands vision is still achievable and calls for tripling of the current pace of conservation, reversing public funding trends, and putting more land to work for sustainable forestry and farming. The original vision called for the permanent protection of existing farmland and 30 million acres of forest (70% of the region’s land area), with most of the forestland managed for wood products and other benefits (27 million acres) and 10 percent set aside as wildland reserves (3 million acres). The authors point to hopeful signs such as the long-standing public support for land protection, the growing network of community based regional conservation partnerships, the distinct flavor of conservation in New England that explicitly recognizes the value of working lands, and highlight policy and finance opportunities including state-level infrastructure and climate action plans and the upcoming reauthorization of conservation funding programs in the federal Farm Bill. The new report, a video about the report, and supporting material can be viewed or downloaded free at http://wildlandsandwoodlands.org/vision/ww-vision-reports