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SU professor contributes to call for accelerated conservation in New England

May 19, 2010

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New England forests are at a turning point. A new study released today by the Harvard Forest reports that, following almost 200 years of natural reforestation, forest cover is declining in all six New England states. This trend and the report’s solutions provide a model for other states on the East Coast. The authors of the Wildlands and Woodlands report call for conserving 70 percent of New England as forestland, a target that they say is critical to protecting vital natural benefits that would be costly, and in some cases impossible, to replace.

“We’ve been given a second chance to determine the future of the region’s forests. This report calls attention to the pressing need to couple New England’s existing conservation capacity and shared land ethic with a vision for the next century in which forests remain an integral part of our livelihoods,” said David Foster, lead author of the report and director of the Harvard Forest. Foster points to clean water, climate protection and renewable wood supply as examples of the forest’s many benefits to society.

Charles T. Driscoll, University Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering at Syracuse University and a contributor to the report, says there are impacts for New York state as well. “The Wildlands and Woodlands started as an analysis and proposal for forest conservation in Massachusetts. In the current report, this analysis has expanded to all of New England, but the research has important implications for the entire Northeast, including New York,” he says.

“Wildlands and Woodlands is a conservation program with the goals of protecting 70 percent of forest cover and maintenance of local farmlands. This program is important because forests provide valuable services and are a critical to the long-term economic development of the region. Forests serve as the origin for most of the public water supplies for the Northeast. Wood from our forests is a valuable and renewable source of energy and fiber. Northeast forests sequester up to three times more carbon per acre then developed land. Finally forests are an economic driver for the region through tourism and forest-related jobs,” Driscoll says. “The Wildlands and Woodlands initiative is closely aligned with a local-scale carbon management program being developed for the Northeast, by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation. This carbon management program is aimed to give guidance to local (county-level) organizations on how to cost–effectively manage energy and associated carbon emissions.”

The report, Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape, was produced by the Harvard Forest of Harvard University, and authored by 20 scholars in forest science, policy and finance from across the Northeast. The report examines forest trends and promotes strategies for permanently retaining 70 percent of the New England landscape in forest over the next 50 years. The vision would triple the amount of conserved land in New England while still leaving ample room for future development. It calls for conserving most of the landscape (63 percent) as working woodlands owned and managed by private landowners, and protecting a smaller portion (7 percent) as wildland reserves.

The Wildlands and Woodlands report cites development and changing forest ownership patterns as two major drivers of forest loss and instability in the region. It points to the need to support the interests of the many private land owners who have stewarded the majority of the region’s forests for decades and seek to keep their forestland intact. Rob Lilieholm, co-author and professor of Forest Policy at the University of Maine, Orono, points out that a vision for conserving forests at this scale holds many benefits for the people of the region. “I think it’s clear that we all stand to gain from the Wildlands and Woodlands vision. Landowners will have more options in how they choose to manage their lands. The region’s forest products sector, vital to the economic health of countless rural communities, will benefit from a secure source of timber. And residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy these working landscapes and the wide range of services they provide now and in the future.”

The Wildlands and Woodlands report outlines a suite of collaborative, voluntary approaches to accelerate conservation. James Levitt, co-author of the report and director of the Harvard Forest Program on Conservation Innovation, notes “New England has, for nearly four centuries, been a leader in conservation. With the groundswell of regional interest in Wildlands and Woodlands specifically and in landscape-scale conservation generally, New Englanders are well-positioned to provide leadership in the practice of innovative conservation, this time in the 21st century.”

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