The Challenge

Caring for the Land In a Time of Change

Aerial view of Plymouth MA Credit: Derek Wiebenson
Credit: Derek Wiebenson

After two hundred years of regrowth, forest cover is declining in all six New England states. The incremental chipping away of open space seems imperceptible on a daily basis. Yet, land use is altering forests and other natural lands faster than climate change in the northeastern U.S.

The consequences of this double whammy and its feedbacks to climate change are profound. However, few organizations are incorporating both land use and climate change into greenhouse gas inventories, climate mitigation and adaptation plans, and land conservation priorities. Scenarios bring together stakeholder knowledge, big data, and sophisticated models to overcome these limitations and help achieve more resilient landscapes for people and nature.


Our Idea

Exploring Options for the Future

Four Massachusetts Land Cover Scenarios in 2060 and Changes in Water Runoff
Four Massachusetts Land Cover Scenarios in 2060 and Changes in Water Runoff
As part of the New England Landscape Futures project, the Science Policy Exchange is collaborating with stakeholders to build and evaluate scenarios that show how land-use choices and climate change could shape the landscape over the next 50 years. We work with teams of scientists to assess the consequences and trade-offs for ecosystem services and other benefits under each scenario. The resulting maps and data provide useful tools for exploring the impacts of different policy, planning, and conservation strategies. The project, led by the Harvard Forest, started in Massachusetts and now extends to the entire New England region.


Our Impact

Gaining Ground with Scenario Science

Boston Globe Editorial
Boston Globe editorial

The Science Policy Exchange with Harvard Forest is engaging policymakers, conservation groups, and resource managers to communicate and apply the landscape and climate change scenarios in Massachusetts.

  • Communication: we released “Changes to the Land” in 2014, received coverage in 60 media outlets, and shared the findings at dozens of conferences and briefings with decision-makers.
  • Policy: legislators and citizen groups used the scenarios to advance a strong environmental bond and proposed zoning reforms in Massachusetts.
  • Conservation: land trusts are using the scenarios to broaden the case for land protection and set conservation priorities.
  • Planning: regional planners and conservation groups are using the maps and results for community smart-growth training.
Meeting to discuss land conservation scenarios
Meeting to discuss land conservation scenarios

Going Regional

We’re enlisting resource managers, government officials, conservationists and other academics in a New Englandwide “Scenarios, Services, and Society” network. We’ve engaged approximately 200 stakeholders across the region in a scenario-building process. Through in-depth interviews and interactive workshops participants gain capacity for scenario planning, access data on current trends, and design scenarios relevant to their own decisions.