Harvard scientists call for keeping half the state as forest

Petersham, Masssachusetts, Posted May 12, 2005: In a new scientific report entitled Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the Forests of Massachusetts, Dr. David Foster the Director of Harvard University's Harvard Forest along with his colleagues is calling for a bold new land protection effort to stave-off accelerating forest fragmentation in Massachusetts. "The time has come to step-up to the challenge of protecting the Commonwealth's forest infrastructure," said Dr. Foster.

The scientists cite forest loss statistics such as the fact that Massachusetts is losing open space to development at a rate of 40 acres each day, and call for:

  1. Establishing 250,000 acres of large Wildland reserves predominantly on existing public land, where nature is left to follow its own course without human intervention. This would encompass 50 percent of state-owned lands whereas state government is currently considering 10-20 percent;
  2. Protecting 2.25 million acres (nearly half of the state) as well-managed Woodlands to support sustainable timber harvesting, extensive wildlife habitat and human recreation and enjoyment; and
  3. Forming Woodland Councils to provide a mechanism for focusing energy, funding and public participation to achieve broad-scale land protection in a state where more than three-fourths of all forest is privately owned.

The Wildlands and Woodlands approach is consistent with other initiatives in Massachusetts such as the 2003 Statewide Land Conservation Plan, which has all but disappeared from public discourse. It also applies beyond Massachusetts to many states in New England and the Eastern U.S. with expanses of forest similarly dominated by private ownership.

The authors point to several large areas of state-owned land that could be readily designated as Wildland reserves in the Northern Berkshires, Southern Taconics, northern Worcester County, and southeastern Massachusetts. According to Dr. Foster, "We strongly support timber harvesting and management on state-owned land. But we also believe it is time to evaluate which state lands should be set-aside as large reserves, and we think 50 percent (250,000 acres) is achievable. No state east of the Mississippi would have a comparable network of wild, naturally functioning forest ecosystems."

Co-author and State Extension Forester Dr. David Kittredge points to the need for greater attention to the management and conservation of private forestland. "Our current system for informing and supporting private forest landowners in Massachusetts is woefully inadequate. The Woodland Councils we've proposed would help fill the current void in private forest management," said Dr. Kittredge.

"We have to realize that we rely on our forests for clean air, clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat and wood. The nature of forest loss in the 21st century is different than anything we have seen in the past. Pavement is almost always permanent," adds Dr. Foster.

Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the Forests of Massachusetts was funded by the Conservation Research Foundation, the Fine Family Foundation, Friends of the Harvard Forest and Sweet Water Trust.

The report will be available on the Harvard Forest website on May 5, 9:00 AM EST: http://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/wandw