New England Forests Thrive, But For How Long?

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Forests cover nearly 80 percent of New England. (Stephen Rose/AP)
Today, forests cover nearly 80 percent of New England. (Stephen Rose/AP)

In the mid-19th century, the writer Henry David Thoreau, one of the country's first and most famous environmentalists, was living in Concord, and writing about the region's fragile wilderness. He wrote: “The bear, wolf, lynx, wildcat, deer, beaver, and marten, have disappeared. The otter is rarely if ever seen at present; and the mink is less common than formerly.”

It might be surprising to many that this great explorer of the natural world, and New England in particular, lived at a time when the region's forests and animals were at their lowest point in history, decimated by farming, logging, and hunting.

But if Thoreau were to return to New England today, he'd find an astonishingly different picture. The forests are back — and now cover 80 percent of the region. Previously rare animals roam and prowl through the woods and across backyards, and much of the landscape resembles that of 400 years ago, before European settlers arrived here.

As the Boston Globe recently reported, "New England is now the most heavily forested region in the country — a recovery that Thoreau once thought impossible."

That's the good news. And there's a great story behind that recovery. But the region's forests now face new threats — including housing construction and urban sprawl.


David Foster, Director of the Harvard Forest, a 3,500 acre environmental research center in Petersham, Massachusetts.


The Boston Globe: "Native animals, such as beaver and moose — which the settlers shot out, trapped out, or drove to impenetrable thickets on the far fringes — are thriving again. Deer were down to several hundred in Massachusetts at the outset of the 20th century; today, the white-tailed population in the state tops 85,000."

This segment aired on September 10, 2013.


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