Fast Facts

Losing Ground: Planning for Resilience (Fifth Edition)

Patterns of Development and Their Impact on the Nature of Massachusetts

2005 – 2013

  • From April 2005 to April 2013, approximately 38,000 acres of forest or other undeveloped land were converted to development in Massachusetts, translating to a pace of 13 acres per day through this 8-year period. Nearly 50,000 acres of forest were lost during this time period, some developed and some cleared. Open land, including bare land, low vegetation, and agriculture, increased by approximately 10,000 acres.
  • The rate of development is down from the rate of 20 acres/day reported in the fourth edition of Losing Ground (1999-2005), and 40 acres/day reported in the third edition (1985-1999).  However the current period of analysis includes the years of the Great Recession when development slowed dramatically.  New housing permit data suggest that development will be trending back up towards previous rates.
  • Nearly 41 acres/day were protected in the same time frame, totaling 120,389 acres or nearly 10% of all land that has ever been protected in MA.
  • More than 3 acres of land were protected for every acre developed between 2005 and 2013.  This is up from a 2:1 ratio from 1999-2005.
  • 1.1 million acres of the state are now developed, or roughly 22% of the state. Over 1,250,000 acres are now permanently protected in MA, or just over 25% of the land area of the state. More than 2.8 million acres, or 53% of the land in the state, is neither developed nor protected.  Of this, over 1.5 million acres (30% of the state) have been identified as being of high conservation value in BioMap2.

Overview of Massachusetts Land

Total land area: 4,989,071, or nearly 5 million acres
Permanently protected land: 25.2%, as of April 2013
Total acres of developed land: 21.8%, as of April 2013 (the latest information available)
Percentage of Massachusetts land area still available: 53%

Massachusetts Land Protected

From 2005 - 2013

  • the rate of land protected compared to land developed was over 3 to 1.
  • Massachusetts state government agencies, municipalities, private landowners, and conservation groups protected 41 acres per day.
  • a total of 120,389 acres of land were protected, an additional 2.4% of the state's total land area.

Permanently Protected Land in Massachusetts

1987: 10%
1997: 17.3%

2009:

2013:

20.6%

25.2%

Massachusetts Land Developed

From 2005 - 2013, Massachusetts lost an average of 13 acres of land to development each day.

  • 38,000 acres of land was developed
  • 50,000 acres of forest loss
  • 10,000 acres of open land gained

The fourth edition of Losing Ground concluded that for every visible acre lost to development, an additional three acres loses its ecological function; in more rural locales, the less visible impact increases up to eight times that of direct construction impacts.

Towns with Highest Rates of Development: 2005 - 2013

Top Ten

Ayer

Carver

Dracut

Hudson

Lynnfield

Methuen

Northborough

Plainville

Plympton

Wareham

11 to 20

Abington

Grafton

Hanover

Middleton

Milford

Norfolk

Plymouth

Tyngsborough

Walpole

Wilbraham

Land Use Statistics

Explore Massachusetts land protection statistics by town, county, watershed, Regional Planning Agency (RPA), or eco-region, including data on land use, development, amount of land protected, ecological integrity, as well as changes over time.

Interactive Land Use Maps

View maps showing land use, recent development, protection, and ecological impact are available by town, county, ecoregion, watershed, and regional planning association (RPA).

Losing Ground Quick Guide

Check out A Quick Guide to Land Use in Massachusetts and help spread the word by sharing it!