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Sustainable Working Landscapes Program

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The Sustainable Working Landscapes program promotes community-based research in support of a bold vision for the future of forest and farm lands in New England.  This vision has been articulated in three reports: Wildlands & Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape (Harvard Forest, 2010), New England Forests: The Path to Sustainability (New England Forestry Foundation, 2014), and A New England Food Vision (Food Solutions New England, 2014). Taken together, these reports propose that over the next half century a remarkable 85% of the region should remain in forests and farms, while at the same time doubling sustainable wood production and tripling sustainable food production.

Tractor in Field

This vision endorses active stewardship and productive use of most of the region’s landscape alongside expansive wild reserves, engaging as many people as possible with the land.  Sustainable harvesting of food and wood on both private and public conserved land raises exciting opportunities to integrate a broad range of ecological and social values, but also a host of challenges.  Can landowners harvest timber and expand pastures in ways that protect biodiversity, water quality, and carbon sequestration?  Can we farm, log, and hunt on lands that are often closely intermixed with residential development and used for recreation in ways community members find attractive?

In support of this vision, the Sustainable Working Landscapes program is developing a research “tool kit” for landowners who are part of a network across New England; and exploring and promoting this conservation philosophy and practice through workshops, conferences, and publications. 

The Sustainable Working Landscapes program works at the community level, helping conservation landowners to guide their own management decisions and engage local residents. The SWL program has established model research projects on conservation lands in Weston, Massachusetts, and in Walden Woods in Concord and Lincoln, MA.  We are collaborating on research at Highstead in Redding, CT; Merck Family Forest in Rupert, VT; Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA; Blue Hills Foundation in Strafford, NH; and Appleton Farm in Ipswich, MA. Current research projects at these sites include:

  • Establishing “Wildlands and Woodlands” long-term inventory plots to follow changes in ecological structure and species composition in managed woodlands compared to unmanaged wildlands
  • Tracking the impact of hemlock woolly adelgid in treated and untreated stands
  • Monitoring the impact of white-tailed deer with exclosures and lady’s slipper censuses
  • Tracking changes in vegetation and populations of grassland birds and other open land species under various grazing and haying regimes

            These projects are aimed squarely at informing the most difficult and sometimes contentious stewardship decisions that conservation landowners have to make: whether or not to conduct sustainable forestry, how to expand agricultural production without sacrificing wildlife values, whether to allow bow hunting of deer, and whether and how to combat invasive pests. 

            In the past year we have held two conferences on grazing and conservation, one at Harvard Forest and another on Martha’s Vineyard.  In the coming year we plan to organize a broader meeting on integrating wildlands, sustainable forestry and farming, and rural community development in a unified approach to conservation, and follow with publications in popular media.