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Land Use Decisions Impact Forest Benefits

A new study by Harvard Universitys Harvard Forest and the Smithsonian Institution reveals that, if left unchecked, recent trends in the loss of forests to development will undermine significant land conservation gains in Massachusetts, jeopardize water quality and limit the natural landscapes ability to protect against climate change.

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LandScientists researched and analyzed four plausible scenarios for what Massachusetts could look like in the future. The scenarios were developed by a group of forestry professionals, land-use planning and water policy experts, and conservation groups. The scenarios reflect contrasting patterns and intensities of land development, wood harvesting, conservation and agriculture.

The two-year study entitled Changes to the Land is distinctive in its forward-looking approach and its use of sophisticated computer models to conduct a detailed acre-by-acre analysis of the entire forested landscape of Massachusetts over 50 years.

What we found is that land-use decisions have immediate and dramatic impacts on many of the forest benefits people depend on, said Jonathan Thompson, senior ecologist at Harvard Forest and lead author of the study.

Land2Massachusetts is an important place to study land-use because it is densely populated, heavily forested, and experiencing rapid change much like the broader forested landscape of the eastern U.S. The results of the study show that sprawl, coupled with a permanent loss of forest cover in Massachusetts, create an urgent need to address land-use choices.

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