Harvard report details the threats faced by New England forests

Researchers say, local, state and federal governments and agencies must do more to protect and grow conservation funding.
By Brooks Hays  |  Sept. 19, 2017 at 12:58 PM
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Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Every day, New England loses an average of 65 acres of forest to development.

The statistic is one of several worrying trends detailed in the newest Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities report, published periodically by Harvard Forest, a research institute at Harvard University.

"The incremental chipping away of forest and farmland by scattered development is hard to see day-to-day but it adds up over time and represents a significant threat to the region," David Foster, director of Harvard Forest, said in a news release. "If we stay on the current path, we'll lose another 1.2 million acres of open land by 2060."

Researchers warn development and deforestation are greater threats to New England's iconic trees than global warming.

"When we look specifically at forests in New England, it is clear that the impacts of land use will be far greater than those of climate change over the next 50 years," said Jonathan Thompson, a senior ecologist at the research institute.

The latest publication is the third edition of the report. Previous iterations have called for the protection of 30 million acres of forest across New England's six states -- 70 percent of the region's land area. The newest edition weighs in on the progress being made toward such a goal.

Some 90 percent of the preserved land would be sustainably managed for timber, wood products and other benefits, while the remaining 10 percent would be conserved as wilderness.

To achieve this goal, researchers say more conservation efforts are necessary. Funding for forest conservation has been cut in half over the last decade. But with increases in conservation, researchers say the goals set forth in the first Harvard Forest report are still achievable.

Authors of the newest report argue public policy officials, forest managers and conservationists must do more to encourage sustainable farming and forestry. The team of Harvard ecologists also argue forest and land conservation needs to be better integrated into urban, suburban and rural planning, as well as economic development projects.

Above all, researchers say, local, state and federal governments and agencies must do more to protect and grow conservation funding.

Topics: David Foster
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