Changes to the Land: W&W Partner releases anticipated land-use scenarios report

W&W Partner Harvard Forest and the Smithsonian Institution have just released a groundbreaking study called Changes to the Land: Four Scenarios for the Future of the Massachusetts Landscape indicating that recent trends in Massachusetts forest loss, if they continue on their present course, will undermine previous conservation gains, harm water quality, and limit landscape protection against climate change. 

Using sophisticated computer modeling, the researchers analyzed the ecosystem impacts of four different land use scenarios on the future of the Massachusetts landscape over 50 years—the first time a study of this magnitude has been performed for an entire state. The scenarios were developed by Harvard Forest and Smithsonian scientists in a collaboration with professionals in several fields, including forestry, land-use planning, water policy, and conservation, and represent varying intensities of land development, forestry, conservation, and agriculture. 






The “Forests as Infrastructure” scenario that conserves the most forest, clusters development, and emphasizes sustainable forestry best protects vital ecosystem benefits for people and nature, and illustrates the value of recommitting to land conservation, redoubling smart growth efforts, and promoting sustainable forestry in Massachusetts. A short policy addendum highlights some key measures coming up in Massachusetts that can play an important role in achieving these goals, including the new Environmental Bond bill and proposed zoning reform legislation.

What we found is that land-use decisions have immediate and dramatic impacts on many of the forest benefits people depend on,” said Jonathan Thompson, Senior Ecologist at Harvard Forest and the study’s lead author. “Massachusetts is an important place to study land-use because it is densely populated, heavily forested, and experiencing rapid change—much like the broader forested landscape of the eastern U.S. The results of the study show that sprawl, coupled with a permanent loss of forest cover in Massachusetts, create an urgent need to address land-use choices.” 

W&W’s focus on protecting 70% of New England as forests dovetails with the Forests as Infrastructure scenario, which according to Thompson “shows it’s possible to protect forest benefits while also increasing local wood production and supporting economic development, by making important but achievable changes.” This scenario clusters much of the development, applies “improvement forestry techniques,” and increases conservation on priority habitat for wildlife, all goals endorsed by W&W. This scenario results in a W&W-style future. 

The results of this new study show that seemingly imperceptible changes to the land add up in ways that can significantly enhance or erode these vital benefits, depending on the choices we all make,” said David Foster, Director of the Harvard Forest, co-author of the study, and a W&W leader. Committing to current conservation policies that protect forests in Massachusetts today and redoubling our commitment to smart growth and other vital new policies will result in a stronger future for tomorrow.   

Please click here for access to the press kit, full report, executive summary with policy addendum, and report video.