Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Harvard Forest releases Wildlands & Woodlands Vision for New England…

Experts from the Harvard Forest launched Wildlands & Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape today at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The program included remarks by Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at the Kennedy School, James Levitt, director of the Program on Conservation Innovation at the Harvard Forest, Theodore Roosevelt IV, chairman of Barclays Capital Council on Climate Change, and David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest.

The story of New England’s forests is remarkable because European colonists displaced Native Americans and rapidly transformed the land to farms. The region was almost completely deforested after being an overwhelmingly forested land for more than 10,000 years. As transportation improved, New England farmers found it difficult to compete with large-scale food production from across the nation. Farms were abandoned and the landscape returned to forest through a process of natural regeneration over the past 150 years. Currently, New England is 80 percent forested while at the same time being one of the most densely populated regions of the country.

Experts from the Harvard Forest have noted, however, that these new forests are increasingly threatened by residential sprawl, commercial development, and landscape fragmentation. In response, the Wildlands & Woodlands vision calls for a 50-year conservation effort to retain at least 70 percent of New England in forestland that is free from development (30 million acres). Ninety percent of the forests would be conserved by willing landowners as sustainably managed woodlands for multiple uses and 10 percent of forests would be wildland reserves (3 million acres).

Achieving the vision will require a doubling of the current rate of land conservation in New England, noted Dr. Foster in his remarks. While this might seem like an ambitious goal, the cost of losing forests and the natural ecosystem services they provide would be much greater than the cost of conserving forests.

Since 80 percent of the forests in New England are privately owned, achieving the vision will require the support of landowners interested in protecting their forests as a legacy for future generations. Conservation tools will include easements sold or donated by willing landowners, enhanced tax incentives, and acquisitions by private, public, and non-profit organizations.

Dr. Foster pointed out that the Wildlands & Woodlands vision does not advocate for, but does allow for a doubling of the amount of developed land. At the same time, the report notes that we can’t afford to lose much more forest and still have widespread access to clean, affordable water, natural carbon sequestration that mitigates the impact of climate change, and widespread use and enjoyment of forested lands.

In his comments about the Wildlands & Woodlands vision (click here to view), Mr. Roosevelt noted that the work of David Foster and his colleagues is about ecological values, community values, and property values. In short, the Wildlands & Woodlands vision succeeds in aligning ecological values and economic values in its analysis, while acknowledging the central role of local stakeholders and social capital in the process.

Addressing the issue of conservation finance for this ambitious proposal, Mr. Roosevelt emphasized the need for a price on carbon so landowners can benefit from the carbon sequestration provided by the sustainable management of their forest lands. Mr. Roosevelt, who is chairman of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, concluded that the Wildlands & Woodlands approach will provide the kind of resiliency required at the landscape-scale for biodiversity to adapt to the anticipated impacts of climate change.