University of Vermont

University Communications

New England Losing Forest Cover, Report Shows

Release Date: 05-19-2010

Author: Joshua E. Brown
Phone: 802/656-3039 Fax: (802) 656-3203

New England forests stand at a turning point. A new study released today by the Harvard Forest reports that, following almost 200 years of natural reforestation, forest cover is declining in Vermont and all the other New England states.

The authors of the Wildlands and Woodlands report, including University of Vermont forester Bill Keeton, call for conserving 70 percent of New England as forestland, a target that they say is critical to protecting vital natural benefits that would be costly, and in some cases impossible, to replace.

"This may be unprecedented," said Keeton, "it's one of the first time that forest scientists from leading institutions across the whole of New England have gotten together to share a common conservation vision for the region."

"We're making a statement that now is the time we need to act to protect our forests," Keeton said. He points to the cutting of forestland for development and changing forest ownership patterns, a warming climate, and a growing list of invasive pests as the "three critical threats" to New England's forests.

But much forest still remains. "We've been given a second chance to determine the future of the region's forests," said David Foster, lead author of the report and director of the Harvard Forest. "This report calls attention to the pressing need to couple New England's existing conservation capacity and shared land ethic with a vision for the next century in which forests remain an integral part of our livelihoods."

Foster points to clean water, climate protection and renewable wood supply as examples of the forest's many benefits to people.

"There is an important Vermont angle to this," said Keeton, professor of forest ecology in UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, "We have some things going on here that the whole region looks to and can learn from," including innovative "current use" land regulations, a robust network of land trusts, an extensive amount of former industrial timberland now in conservation, and leading development of ecological forestry practices.

Keeton's own work on understanding forest succession and emulating old-growth patterns in managed timberlands is cited in the report's section on how both ecological and economic benefits can arise from the best forest management.

The report, Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape, was produced by the Harvard Forest of Harvard University, and authored by 20 scholars in forest science, policy, and finance from across New England. It examines forest trends and promotes strategies for permanently retaining 70 percent of the New England landscape in forest over the next 50 years. The vision would triple the amount of conserved land in New England. The reports calls for conserving most of the landscape (63 percent) as working woodlands owned and managed by private landowners, and protecting a smaller portion (7 percent) as wildland reserves.

A key recommendation of the report is to support the interests of the many private landowners who own the majority of the region's forests; many of them seek to keep their forestland intact.

A conference following the release of the report will by held on June 4 in Concord, N.H., hosted by the New England Forestry Foundation. Read more about Bill Keeton's research at the University of Vermont.