The value of New England’s forests extends far beyond a place in our region’s history.
Our forested landscapes clean water and store carbon, contribute to the local and global economy, and benefit human well-being. We have the opportunity now to protect our forests and their important benefits for future generations and avoid losing our natural landscapes to development and fragmentation.
Ecosystem and Economic Values
New England’s forests are important to not just our region, but to the national and international communities as well. They represent the largest intact temperate broadleaf forest in the country, including almost 9 million acres in contiguous blocks of at least 2,000 acres. These forests shelter spectacular biodiversity.
New England’s carbon-rich forests help anchor national efforts to slow climate change and help our natural systems adapt to shifts already underway. The region’s 33 million acres of forest absorb and store up to 43 percent of New England’s carbon emissions from electricity and heating. As the New England Governors have stated, “Climate change has emerged as the great environmental challenge of our time; the more we learn, the clearer it becomes that forests must play a central role in our response to this challenge.”
Maintaining New England’s forests and managing them to maximize their carbon storage will be an important component of the national strategy to combat climate change. Carbon sequestration provides the opportunities for long-term job growth in fields related to developing carbon markets, including the inventory, qualification, verification, marketing, and sale of carbon credits. A growing movement to replace New England’s dependence on heating oil with wood from sustainably managed forests can create 140,000 jobs, reinvest $4.5 billion in the regional economy, and displace 1.14 billion gallons of imported fossil fuel yearly.
In addition to tackling the climate crisis, the region’s forests house the headwaters for all of the northeast’s major rivers, including the Connecticut River watershed, New England’s largest river system. These forests protect drinking water quality for millions of people.
The economic value of the benefits that forests provide — cleaning the air we breathe and the water we drink, cooling the planet, and sheltering biodiversity — are complex to calculate. The Massachusetts Audubon Society has estimated that the nonmarket value of the natural areas within the state — for flood control, climate mitigation, and water filtration — is more than $6.3 billion annually.
New England forests also support a robust forest products economy and a secure supply of local wood. Privately-owned forests in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont alone contribute more than $3 billion annually to local and regional economies, sustaining more than 80,000 jobs in the forestry, wood products, paper products, and wood furniture industries. In 2010, total production of maple syrup was valued at $50 million for more than 1.3 million gallons.
New England’s healthy fish and wildlife populations are also a backbone of the region’s economy. This includes a $3.4 billion-dollar hunting and angling economy and a $3.8 billion-dollar wildlife watching economy. Protecting important wildlife habitats and creating more public access for all wildlife-related activities will maintain this vital part of the New England economy.
Recreational and Quality-of-Life Value
Forests also provide many recreational and quality-of-life benefits to the region’s residents. The vast natural and recreational resources on private and public lands provide access to trails, rivers, and outdoor activities that offer important social, cultural, and public health benefits to our densely populated region.
Natural beauty and recreation assets draw tens of millions of visitors annually to New England. In New England overall, outdoor recreation accounts for $31.3 billion in consumer spending, $331.1 million in direct jobs, and $2.24 billion in state and local tax revenues.
In today’s technology-heavy world, characterized by increasingly sedentary lifestyles and an alarming rise in obesity, bringing children and adults alike into the natural world must be a national priority, one more easily accomplished when forests provide access to skiing, hiking, biking, boating, and camping opportunities throughout New England.
Public forestlands are scarce and precious in New England relative to other parts of the nation, and provide opportunities that private lands typically do not: backcountry recreation, deep woods habitats for shy and sensitive species, majestic old growth forests, and wilderness for extraordinary recreational experiences and quiet contemplation of undisturbed nature. A mix of conserved private and public lands is essential to sustaining the region’s recreational opportunities and high quality of life.