There are many good reasons to conserve land in Massachusetts - protection of water resources, providing open spaces and parks for our urban communities, creating and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities statewide, preserving working farms and forests, and protecting wildlife habitat. These reasons are critical in preserving and enhancing the quality of life in Massachusetts. Conservation of these resources largely depends on how wisely we use and manage our land.

Why Protect Water Resources?

There are many important reasons to protect natural land because in doing so valuable water resources are also improved, including:

  • Canoeing on the river in Groton
    Our rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands serve as the blood supply of the natural environment and support some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the state. They are critical to the environmental quality of the Commonwealth
  • Clean, abundant, and affordable water supplies allow communities to grow and businesses to flourish and are important to the economic health of the Commonwealth
  • Water is essential to the overall quality of life our communities enjoy. From coastal communities to the Housatonic River Valley, water resources are part of the heritage and identity of our communities.

Some of the factors threatening water resources are:

  • With the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970's water resources have improved overall, but many lakes and ponds in Massachusetts still suffer from poor water quality. Algae blooms, invasive plants and bacterial pollution threaten our water resources.
  • Some rivers and streams run dry during the summer and some lakes and ponds shrink in size as water levels are lowered because of high water use nearby. Balancing water needs and environmental protection is key to maintaining our water resources
  • In summer months, many cities and towns face voluntary or mandatory water restrictions as high water demands overtax existing water systems. This can be a chronic problem in some communities, particularly those who have experienced large growth over the last decade.

What are the Benefits of Urban Parks?

Urban parks and playgrounds are welcome spots for citizens and visitors alike providing many benefits. Urban parks:

  • Brook Street Park in Lawrence
    Offer urban youth positive outdoor experiences
  • Stimulate commercial growth and attract investment
  • Are critical in bringing vitality, safety, and a sense of community to urban neighborhoods
  • Provide cleaner air, water, and personal health for urban residents
  • Encourage the reuse of underutilized sites, keeping development in our urban core, rather than consuming our greenfield sites
  • Provide more recreation opportunities in neighborhoods with limited parks and outdoor amenities

Some of the threats to the creation of more urban parks include:

  • Increased land values and competing uses make the acquisition of land for urban parks more challenging than in rural areas
  • Fewer land trusts and state acquisition staff for urban areas means less help for urban grassroots organizations and municipal officials trying to protect open space
  • General deterioration of our urban parks, gardens, and playgrounds due to excessive usage and competing usages and expanding population.

Why Protect Outdoor Recreation Sites?

Outdoor recreation sites provide access to Nature and unique experience. They also:

  • Along the beach in Plymouth
    Provide opportunities for families, visitors, and all residents to experience nature firsthand, while also allowing new generations of environmental stewards to develop.
  • Boost tourism, of which over $10 billion annually is related to outdoor recreation. Visits to historical parks, beaches, and other outdoor parks all ranked in the four reasons United States residents visit Massachusetts.
  • Have economic value. Appropriate open space preserved for recreation is more fiscally sound than unplanned development.

Some of the threats to outdoor recreation areas include:

On Cape Cod, for example, if land development rates continue as they did during the 1990s, the region could reach buildout as early as 2023. Land fragmentation has complicated protection efforts to link existing trails and parks.

Due to sprawl, many of our communities' landscapes are becoming more fragmented, thus making "large-scale" recreation trails, bike paths, and other uses more difficult to connect and preserve - these linear parks are the highest priority in the 161 communities that have completed Open Space and Recreation Plans (priorities in 112 communities).

Nearly half of the state's 351 cities and towns have completed open space plans with many parcels of land on their "critical" list to protect. For example, The City of Boston's
current open space plan lists more than 1,900 acres of unprotected land inside city limits.

Why Protect "Working" Farms and Forests?

Agriculture and forestry provide important benefits to the Commonwealth. They:

  • Cranberries being harvested
    Safeguard the future of local economies. Farming and forestry contribute $750 and $700 million respectively each year to the state's economy. In 1997, Massachusetts was one of the nation's leading agricultural producers, ranking 1st in the nation in the value of its direct sales per farm.
  • Provide fresh, local products. On the average, Massachusetts' residents eat produce that has traveled over 1,500 miles.
  • Are a popular attraction for visitors. Massachusetts' top agricultural products are fruits, nuts, and berries, all of which contribute significantly to the image of Massachusetts.
  • Preserve invaluable prime soils, landscapes, and habitats that are hard to recreate once lost to development.

Some of the threats to farming and forestry are:

  • Between 1974 and 1997, the size of the average Massachusetts farm decreased 31% from 134 acres to 93 acres.
  • Farmlands are often a magnet for development due to prime soils, level landscapes, and the lack of a new generation of farmers.
  • About 55% of farms in Massachusetts have annual sales under $10,000.
  • In 1997, the average age of the Massachusetts farmer was 55.
  • Since 1945, the number of farms declined in Massachusetts from 35,000 to 6,000, with 14% of farmland lost to development in the past three decades.
  • Massachusetts' farms have the highest development value in the nation.

Why Protect Biodiversity?

Marbled Salamander
Reasons to protect biodiversity include:

  • Plant, animal, and insect species are often a marker of the health of our environment, including humans.
  • Hunting, fishing, bird watching, among many others, are all popular activities for our residents and visitors and support our tourism economy.
  • Helps to keep populations of our rare and threatened species viable.

The two biggest threats to biodiversity in Massachusetts are the destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitats through development and the introduction of invasive non-native species. The percentage of rare or threatened species includes 13% of mammals; 15% of birds and flowering plants; 29% of amphibians; and 53% of reptiles. The regions with the most threatened species are in Cape Cod, the Islands, and the Berkshires.

EEA's BioMap and Living Waters , which are the nation's first comprehensive mapping of core habitat areas for rare and endangered plants and animals, found that the core habitat necessary for the long-term survival of 375 rare plant and animals species includes over 700,000 acres of unprotected land. The landscapes that support those species, also add up to an additional 700,000 acres of unprotected land.




This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Policy, Land and Forest.