What’s better than protecting not one Massachusetts forest, but two? Protecting them and the 20-mile corridor in between.
That’s the case in central Massachusetts as of fall 2018, thanks to the Quabbin to Wachusett (Q2W) Forest Legacy Initiative, which conserves the crucial greenway between Quabbin Reservoir and Wachusett Mountain. Situated in close proximity to 7 million residents, this now permanently preserved swath of woodland provides benefits on local, regional, and global scales.
Approved by the Obama administration in 2013, Q2W received the largest Forest Legacy grant awarded in Massachusetts to date. Over the past five years, 32 tracts totaling more than 3,200 acres have been protected. Under the leadership of the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership (NQRLP), many collaborators—including four land trusts, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Nashua River Watershed Association, seven towns, and 23 landowners—worked together to coordinate conservation restrictions and land purchases.
Q2W planners used GIS mapping, among other resources, to strategically identify areas offering multiple benefits. “We prioritized tracts that linked or added to conserved land, protected water supplies, secured habitat for threatened species, and allowed public access, while maintaining working forests,” says Sarah Wells, the NQRLP coordinator.
One of Q2W’s key regional benefits is enhanced protection of the Quabbin Reservoir, the Ware River, and the Wachusett Reservoir watersheds—the water supply for the greater Boston area. Creating an extensive forest buffer helps ensure high-quality, unfiltered drinking water for the region’s more than 2.5 million residents.
On the local level, preserving these working forests, part of a crucial area for the Massachusetts wood products industry, helps sustain the area’s rural economy and character. Businesses also benefit from tourism, as visitors take advantage of recreational opportunities.
And then there’s the global impact. Large, contiguous tracts of forest, which are increasingly threatened by development and fragmentation, play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change. In addition to reducing greenhouse gases and sequestering carbon emissions, greenways such as the Q2W corridor provide migratory routes and habitats for plants and animals adapting to the rapidly changing environment.
Q2W follows several other Forest Legacy projects in the region, including an AMC easement on the New England National Scenic Trail and the Southern Monadnock Plateau and Quabbin Corridor Connections initiatives. Administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the program has preserved more than 2.6 million acres since 1990, but future projects face uncertainty. Forest Legacy financial support depends on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which expired in September. Bills to reauthorize LWCF are pending in Congress with strong bipartisan support.