The remarkable regrowth of New England’s forests after a century of agricultural expansion and timber exploitation is a unique environmental success story.
Writer Bill McKibben has called this reforestation an “explosion of green.” Although many parts of New England were only 20 percent forested in the 1800s, the region is now 80 percent forested. Today, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are three of the four most heavily forested states in the country.
There are signs that these trends may be reversing, however. Regional forest cover peaked in the late 1900s and today annual forest loss is a consistent trend across New England.
In this densely populated region of the country, forests face an increasing number of threats including persistent sprawl and development pressure. Parcelization and fragmentation due to development create smaller forest pockets with less habitat connectivity, diminish forest health and ecological resilience, and reduce opportunities for economically viable sustainable forestry operations.
Threats to the region’s forests also include climate change impacts, such as warming temperatures, an increase in extreme weather events, and the northward movement of invasive species and pathogens. These invaders put significant ecological and economic pressures on our landscape, including high costs for removal, decimation of native species, and interruption of traditional food webs. To what extent native species will be able to adapt to changing temperatures and habitats remains an enormous ecological unknown.
Eighty-five percent of the region’s forests are privately owned, much of it in small parcels. The single most important action that we can take today is to help those landowners maintain their forested and other natural landscapes through permanent conservation on a collective scale that allows natural and human communities to flourish for many generations.