Harvard Forest, Harvard University / The Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative

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Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

The Wildlands and Woodlands (W&W) Initiative is focused on an issue the Harvard Forest knows well from studying the forests of Massachusetts and New England since 1907:  New England forests are at a turning point. Following a 200-year resurgence after agricultural deforestation, forest cover has begun to decline in every New England state. What will we do with this challenge and opportunity?

The 2010 Wildlands and Woodlands report documented the history of forest regrowth and reasons for and current trends in forest loss. The report and initiative call for a 50-year conservation effort to retain at least 70 percent of New England in forestland, permanently free from development.

• 90% of all forests would be “Woodlands,” conserved by willing landowners and sustainably managed for multiple uses, from recreation to wood products.

• 10% of all forests would be “Wildland” reserves, identified by local communities and shaped only by the natural environment.

Achieving the vision will require a doubling of current rates of conservation. This cannot be accomplished by sweeping public acquisition or regulatory fiat. Given the high percentage of private lands in the region, it will require working with thousands of willing private landowners who are interested in securing the future of their land through conservation easements and other approaches.

The 2010 report had a significant policy and media roll-out and has gained significant traction as a guiding vision for forest conservation in New England.

Key Academic Disciplines 

The 2010 report, “Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for New England,” followed up a similar MA-based report by Harvard Forest scientists and included 20 authors from academic institutions across the region, representing a broad array of disciplines including scientists, economists, and environmental historians. http://www.wildlandsandwoodlands.org/vision/authors

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

Harvard Forest convened 20 authors to write the W&W report, including more than 10 from other institutions.  These authors are key to the initiative and continue in different ways to advance W&W, such as the ongoing effort led by the Harvard Forest and the Smithsonian Institution on the Future Scenarios of Forest Cover. Harvard Forest has also successfully partnered with outside organizations, most notably the nonprofit organization Highstead, who are well-suited to help build the W&W initiative more broadly and to work with partners to craft effective policy, finance, and other strategies to achieve the W&W objectives.

Highstead and Harvard Forest lead the communications and outreach effort necessary to sustain and continue to build the W&W vision. Harvard Forest and Highstead also built, and Highstead now leads, a broad-based New England Forest Policy Group of major conservation organizations focused on making the case for regional forest conservation and working with Congress and the Obama administration to bring more conservation monies to the region. 85 organizations signed on to this group’s most recent report on FY13 funding recommendations. Highstead convenes the W&W leadership group, and also has a staff member devoted to working on the ground to increase regional conservation. Highstead regularly convenes the almost 30 “regional conservation partnerships” (RCPs) working across community- and often state boundaries-  to achieve conservation at a larger landscape level within New England. Highstead’s goal is to foster peer exchange and to develop new ways to bring attention to and accelerate their conservation efforts.

Other groups are also taking the lead in formal and informal ways.  Jim Levitt of the Program on Conservation Innovation at Harvard Forest has worked with a number of agencies and other experts on innovative conservation finance mechanisms, and groups like the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), with the help of consultant, Keith Ross, are using the W&W vision to spearhead new initiatives focused on doubling the pace of conservation on the ground.

Initiative History and Champions 

The 2005 W&W vision for Massachusetts was well received at both the nonprofit and agency levels, and inspired some new funding mechanisms and larger-scale conservation thinking in the Commonwealth.  Many of W&W’s early champions are now leading partners, as set out above.  Expanding the Massachusetts vision to all of New England was a critical – and necessary – point in the initiative’s history.  New England has had a cohesive cultural identity for more than 250 years.  It is a vital and strategic landscape in which to advocate for large landscape-scale conservation. It builds on other important work, including by Northern Forest Council, the Northern Forest Alliance, and the New England Governors’ Council with their recent initiative, “Keeping Forests as Forests.”

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

New England is the cradle of U.S. conservation.  We have the oldest conservation organizations, the oldest public land, and it is the birthplace of the land trust movement.  Conservation organizations across New England have been working hard on conservation for a long time, including during the last 20 years, as much of Northern New England and New York (the “Northern Forest”) changed hands as the economics of the timber industry changed. 

What made W&W different, and attractive, was the careful documentation of escalating forest loss and future threats by a group of respected scientists, packaged simultaneously with a bold but achievable vision of what New England can look like in 50 years – if we pay attention and take action today.  Many conservation organizations are down in the trenches, trying to get the deals done. Harvard Forest and the many partner academics could take the longer view and put that day-to-day work in perspective with a vision that inspires stakeholders across geographic boundaries and across the conservation spectrum to grasp that  New England relies on its forests for myriad economic, ecologic and cultural reasons, and – remarkably - New England has a second chance to save this invaluable forested landscape.

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

A key strategy is to ensure that the 2010 W&W report is transformed into an ongoing, expanding, and effective initiative composed of many partners and on-the-ground results.  Measures of effectiveness to date:

• Number of W&W partners (in the hundreds) that want to be officially associated with the initiative; number of groups that are involved in our regional conservation meetings/updates (more than 300) and sign onto our Congressional policy reports (more than 85)

• Number of groups like the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) that affirmatively use the W&W vision as a framework to accelerate their ongoing conservation

• Number of reports distributed (more than 13,000); presentations requested and done (more than 40, ranging from the national Land Trust Rally to the Library of Congress); and media coverage (more than 100 media outlets have featured W&W and a recent New York Times article on the global role of forests in climate mitigation provided a graph from the 2010 W&W report).

• Number of state and federal agencies that cite W&W as inspiration for innovative new policies (as Massachusetts did in February as they unveiled a new conservation finance report)

• Additional science and policy efforts crafted to further inform and advance W&W (e.g., Future Scenarios)

• Over time: significant increase in pace and scale of conservation, and two new graphics: one that shows no further decline of forests in the New England states, and one that shows an escalating rate of permanent forest conservation on target to achieve the 70% goal of W&W.

Transferability of the Initiative 

Key components of W&W: The combination of academic rigor and a framework of inspiring long-term vision; combining forces across academic disciplines and institutions; working with partners who could help package the scientific synthesis into a compelling vision document that spoke to a wide range of non-academic stakeholders; and working after report publication to build an enduring multi-partner initiative on the ground.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

W&W is a 50-year vision, and the focus today is to build sufficient inspiration, commitment, and broad-based support so that the initiative endures until the job is done.

Engagement Strategies 

• Presentations and report distribution

• Partner engagement, extensive networking across a wide range of stakeholders

• Building associated initiatives/working groups (the policy group and the RCP network)

• Working in the science community to craft related science initiatives