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Massachusetts is a leader in protecting ecologically resilient landscapes

NEW YORK, NY — August 11, 2014 — Of the nearly five million acres of land in Massachusetts, about 1.4 million acres are ecologically resilient—those most likely to enable wildlife to adapt to climate change—and about 600,000 of those acres have been conserved, according to a recent report on land use patterns in the Commonwealth between 2005 and 2013.

There remains 790,000 acres of unprotected resilient land. But significant progress was made during the study period, with 50,000 acres of critical habitat protected through a series of signature transactions in the Commonwealth, according to Mass Audubon’s Losing Ground: Planning For Resilience(Download copy) Chief among them was the conservation of Brushy Mountain, a 5,000-acre tract in the Connecticut River watershed protected with funding from the Open Space Institute. Another recent project supported by OSI, located in rural Leyden, MA, illustrates that places that will enable wildlife to cope with climate stress are also lands that people value as farms and productive forests.

Losing Ground, with support from OSI’s Catalyst Program, utilized science developed by The Nature Conservancy to map resilience factors across the state, including land that has been protected, developed and remains a priority for conservation. The resilience science identifies landscapes that are likely to retain and attract biodiversity even as the climate changes. 

Losing Ground provides a critical snapshot of the role of ecological resilience in Massachusetts,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “Because the Commonwealth’s leaders have made land preservation a priority, land trusts and state agencies are now integrating climate resilience into their plans. This will have a significant long-term impact as the science becomes embedded in the state’s conservation priorities.”

The report is the fifth iteration in the Losing Ground series that has spotlighted Massachusetts’ development and conservation trends for 30 years. For the first time, the challenges of climate change thread through this year’s Losing Ground document, most notably in its call for the identification and protection of climate-resilient landscapes.

The report also shows that while development has slowed in the Bay State, 13 acres every day are being lost and developers are gearing up as the economy recovers, putting more land at risk.

Approximately 38,000 acres of forest or other undeveloped land were converted to development in the Bay State from 2005-2013. Today, 22 percent of the Commonwealth—the third-most densely populated state in the nation—is developed; a quarter is protected; and more than half is up for grabs. 

Further progress on smart growth and targeted land protection is essential to sustaining Massachusetts’ environment and strong economy, the report suggests. Audubon calls on the conservation community to conserve an additional 1.5 million acres—30 percent of the state—to ensure protection of its natural resource values, major contributors to Massachusetts residents’ quality of life.

“We should be proud to live in a Commonwealth in which the state and local governments, not-for-profit organizations and citizens have come to together with the common interest of protecting what is truly special about Massachusetts,” said Mass Audubon President Henry Tepper. "However, our work is far from over, as we must now work with state residents, fellow land trusts, the legislature, and next governor to protect the next 1.5 million acres of land critical to the nature of Massachusetts.”

Losing Ground received support through the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which was made possible with a lead grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and funding from Jane’s Trust. OSI’s Initiative builds the capacity of land trusts to respond to climate change and supports land conservation projects that will provide refuge for plants and animals in an uncertain climate.

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