Population Growth vs. Tree Cover: A Conservation Contradiction

December 28, 2017
tree cover
Tree cover vs. population growth reveals a key challenge of New England conservation.

A major contradiction underlies New England’s recent conservation history. For the past quarter-century, the region, at once heavily forested and densely populated, has conserved land at a record pace. At the same time, the rate of residential and commercial development also has picked up. According to “Wildlands and Woodlands: Farmlands and Communities—Broadening the Vision for New England,” a report released by Harvard Forest in September 2017, New England is now losing 65 acres of forest to development each day. After more than a century of rebounding growth, New England’s forest cover is receding for the first time since the 19th century. Beginning with 1600, when an estimated 75,000 American Indians resided in the area now defined as New England and forest covered nearly 92 percent of the land, the report charts a series of peaks and valleys in forest cover along a timeline of ever-expanding population. Read more about the Wildlands and Woodlands initiative at outdoors.org/woodlands.

Source: “Wildlands and Woodlands: Farmlands and Communities—Broadening the Vision of New England” (Harvard Forest, Harvard University, 2017), which utilized data from census.gov and the U.S. Forest Service.

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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.

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