The Harvard Forest, Highstead, and authors from around New England have released a new report called “Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities,” which broadens a 2010 Harvard Forest vision for conservation to permanently protect forests and farmlands as natural infrastructure that sustains both people and nature in the region. 

The report was released to the public on Sept. 19 at a major event at the Harvard Center for Government and International Studies, co-sponsored by the Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership. Speakers included HF Director and report lead author David Foster; Rand Wentworth, Louis Bacon Senior Fellow in Environmental Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and President Emeritus of the Land Trust Alliance; Jane Difley, President of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests; Jocelyn Forbush, Chief of Operations and Programs for The Trustees of Reservations; and Matt Polstein, Founder of the New England Outdoor Center; with a keynote by Terry Tempest Williams, acclaimed author and writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School.

The report highlights recent trends in land-cover change and conservation funding, connects New England’s forests and farms to climate resilience and economic sustainability, and recognizes the region’s diverse conservation needs across cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

The report – led by HF Director David Foster; HF Director of Science and Policy Integration Kathy Fallon Lambert; and HF Senior Ecologist Jonathan Thompson; along with many additional HF scientists – notes that New England is losing an average of 24,000 acres of forest to development each year. Land-use change, says the report, is likely to exert even greater pressure on New England forest ecosystems than climate change over the next half-century. The report also highlights trends in public funding for conservation, which has dropped 50% from its peak in 2008, to a figure slightly below 2004 levels. The pace of regional land conservation also slowed substantially during that timeframe, from an average of 333,000 acres per year in the early 2000s to about 50,000 acres per year since 2010, even though landowners’ interest in conserving their land remains high.

Despite these trends, the report shows that the original Wildlands and Woodlands vision is still achievable. It calls for tripling the current pace of conservation, reversing public funding trends, and putting more land to work for sustainable forestry and farming.

The report ends with hopeful signs such as a history of long-standing public support for land protection, a growing network of community-based regional conservation partnerships (including networks convened by or including the Harvard Forest – such as Academics for Land Protection in New England), and recommendations for preserving the distinct flavor of conservation in New England that explicitly recognizes the value of private landowner decision-making, working lands, and innovative policy and finance.

The science background for the report is based substantially on studies from the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research, Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), and Research Coordination Network programs, funded by the National Science Foundation.

The report will be released to the public in an invitation-only, New England-wide event co-sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.