Newest "Losing Ground" Land Use Report Notes Both Progress and Concerns in Climate Era

Release Date:
February 18, 2020

LINCOLN, MA.—The state continues to conserve land at an encouraging rate, but development is also increasing in a time of climate crisis when every acre lost is worrisome, according to Mass Audubon’s Losing Ground: Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate.

The study is the sixth in a series by the state’s largest nature conservation nonprofit, documenting changes in land use across the Commonwealth over four decades.

Losing Ground 6, which uses data collected from 2012-2017, shows that 55 acres per day were conserved in that time frame, totaling 100,000 acres, an increase of 37 percent over land protection figures documented in 2014’s fifth edition. But conversion of natural land for residential and commercial use over that same period—almost 25,000 acres—also reflected a modest increase, from 13 acres per day to 13.5 acres.

The report also reveals a land use development that concerns those who support both renewable energy and conservation of carbon-sequestering habitats as crucial climate action strategies: Ground-mounted solar photovoltaic arrays—most installed on cleared forestlands and farms—account for as much as a quarter of total new development in recent years.

Mass Audubon, along with environmental and sustainable-development partners, support policies at the community and state levels that will “help get solar off the ground” by promoting more solar arrays on rooftops, parking lots, and other existing infrastructure.

Of the state’s more than 6.7 million acres, approximately 1.1 million acres have been developed, or 21% of the state’s land area. More than 1.3 million acres (approximately 27 percent) are protected, leaving about 2.7 million acres, or 52 percent, of the Commonwealth neither developed nor protected. 

The report provides a “Green Infrastructure” map, prioritizing lands most important to protect to support both people and nature.

And given that climate change is the existential threat now facing the planet, the new study reiterates the strong position that—echoing the “Half Earth” clarion call of eminent biologist and author E. O. Wilson—Massachusetts should strive to conserve 50 percent of its land by 2050, to do our part in safeguarding a livable planet for humans and wildlife.  

 “This latest edition in our Losing Ground series reveals challenges we all face in this time of climate crisis while also presenting opportunities to take meaningful actions that will make a difference,” Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton said.

“What this report shows,” Clayton added, “is that aligning sustainable development with accelerated, strategic land conservation will put the Commonwealth on a much firmer climate footing well into the 21st century.”

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Mass Audubon protects more than 38,000 acres of land throughout Massachusetts, saving birds and other wildlife, and making nature accessible to all. As Massachusetts' largest nature conservation nonprofit, we welcome more than a half million visitors a year to our wildlife sanctuaries and 20 nature centers. From inspiring hilltop views to breathtaking coastal landscapes, serene woods, and working farms, we believe in protecting our state's natural treasures for wildlife and for all people's vision shared in 1896 by our founders, two extraordinary Boston women.

Today, Mass Audubon is a nationally recognized environmental education leader, offering thousands of camp, school, and adult programs that get over 225,000 kids and adults outdoors every year. With more than 135,000 members and supporters, we advocate on Beacon Hill and beyond, and conduct conservation research to preserve the natural heritage of our beautiful state for today's and future generations. We welcome you to explore a nearby sanctuary, find inspiration, and get involved. Learn how at www.massaudubon.org.