Skip to main content

Beyond the Illusion of Preservation: A New Vision for New England Forests

Monday, April 29, 2024

Despite covering 80% of the region, only a quarter of New England’s forests are formally protected today, leaving the remainder vulnerable to fragmentation and development. Moreover, even as the region touts a strong conservation ethic, it suffers from a considerable shortfall in production compared to its enormously high rates of consumption and its capacity for sustainable production. 

A major new report authored by a research team including NE CASC Principal Investigator Anthony D’Amato and former NE CASC Fellow Caitlin Littlefield addresses these contradictions–what the report describes as “the illusion of preservation”–by presenting an ambitious vision that would not only remedy production and consumption imbalances but also dramatically enhance protection of New England forests and help it meet urgent climate and biodiversity goals. 

The report finds that New England produces about three-quarters of the wood it consumes. The region meets some of its consumption demand with wood drawn from distant places with weaker environmental and social oversight than exists in much of New England. These hidden costs, it argues, are easy to ignore and will only be exacerbated if harvesting is reduced in New England while the region maintains its present rate of consumption. A similar imbalance exists within New England, where overly restrained harvesting in the south contrasts with, in many cases, overly heavy cutting in the north.  Overall, 70% of New England’s production comes from Maine while 70% of the region’s consumption occurs in southern New England. 

To address this imbalance in production and consumption while ensuring that the region continues to receive the ecological, social, and economic benefits forests provide, the report advocates for three measures: 

  • Protect Forests: We must permanently protect New England’s forest in a mosaic of passively managed Wildlands (at least 10% of the entire landscape) surrounded by actively, ecologically managed Woodlands, covering at least 70% of the entire landscape in protected forest. 
  • Reduce Consumption: We must reduce our consumption of lumber and paper by 25% while meeting our urgent housing needs, reorienting consumption to more durable products, and enhancing recycling and reclamation. 
  • Expand Ecological Forestry: We must increase the acreage in ecological forest management and reorient production toward lumber and sustaining ecological values. 

Although these measures are sweeping in scope, the authors argue that they are necessary to harmonize the varied functions forests serve in our society while ensuring their sustainability.