Massachusetts Climate Report Card - Natural & Working Lands

The Natural and Working Lands sector is currently on track for 2025. Interventions are needed – including the ability to balance competing land-use needs and secure funding for conservation – to slow, stop, and reverse the loss of natural and working lands.

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Massachusetts’ natural and workings lands (NWL) are currently absorbing more carbon than they emit, and their protection from permanent conversion to non-NWL uses is crucial to the administration’s climate strategy. Massachusetts is losing several thousand acres of NWL, particularly forests, each year, threatening the essential role of these lands as a net carbon sink and provider of key ecosystem services. Finding a pathway for NWL and other key land uses – such as housing or energy and transportation infrastructure – to be more mutually compatible will be critical for the Commonwealth. The deployment of climate-smart land management practices and widescale restoration efforts are also essential. While progress is being made to significantly ramp up land conservation and expand climate-oriented land management and restoration, achieving CECP goals and reducing NWL losses will require substantially more and consistent long-term funding and the implementation of new or updated policies and regulatory actions.




Natural and working lands conserved, expressed as area and percent of MA 

27% of the state (1.395 million acres) was permanently protected in 2022.

The CECPs set goals to increase permanent conservation to at least 28% by 2025, at least 30% by 2030, and at least 40% by 2050.

Natural and working land area and forest land area

NWL accounted for 88% of the state (or 4.576 million acres) in 2021. Forest area, the largest component of NWL and a primary indicator of the state’s carbon storage and sequestration capacity, accounted for 56% (or 2.899 million acres).

There is currently no target for this metric, but minimizing the loss of NWL is a goal of the CECPs and Resilient Land Initiative, and a goal for reducing forest loss will be an outcome of the Forests as Climate Solutions Initiative.


  • Land use for conservation, housing, energy infrastructure, and transportation infrastructure can sometimes conflict.  Massachusetts lost several thousand acres of NWL annually between 2016 and 2021, with most of these losses coming from the permanent conversion of forests to non-NWL uses, particularly development.  Permanent conversion of forests leads to carbon emissions as well as a loss of future carbon sequestration, biodiversity and other benefits.
  • EEA and its agencies have been permanently conserving an average of about 10,000 acres annually over the past five years, but the Commonwealth needs to double the pace of conservation to achieve the conservation goals in the CECPs. Doubling the pace of conservation will require consistent long-term funding for land acquisition, incentives for more privately-owned forests and farms to be protected with conservation easements, and full and equitable compensation to hosts of conserved land.
  • Climate change effects, such as extreme weather, sea level rise, and other disturbances and stressors, can negatively impact NWL and may reduce their carbon sequestration capacity. Some of these events are likely to intensify, threatening to release stored carbon in forests and wetlands as well as affecting the ecological health and biodiversity of NWL.
  • Invasive insect pests and diseases are slowly killing impacted native trees, causing a decline in carbon sequestration and storage as well as an increase in GHG emissions from increasing tree mortality.

How we are meeting the moment

  • EEA launched its “Forests as Climate Solutions” Initiative, which commits to expanding forest reserves and ensures Massachusetts’ forests are managed to optimize carbon sequestration and resilience to climate change.

  • EEA has an annual budget of approximately $25 million for land conservation and will expend more than $50 million in one-time American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for land conservation.  Additionally, EEA will provide up to $6 million of ARPA funding for grants to promote healthy soil practices. 

  • Governor Healey issued an Executive Order to develop biodiversity goals for 2030, 2040, and 2050, including taking actions regarding NWLs. 

  • The state is ramping up tree planting through the Greening the Gateways Cities program, which has planted about 37,000 urban trees to date.  With an expanded annual budget of $8.3 million for the next couple of years, EEA and DCR will increase urban tree planting for carbon, cooling, and other ecosystem and cultural benefits. 

  • EEA is exploring ways to further limit NWL loss to development through incentives and regulatory actions.  Over $8 million in planning assistance grants have been invested into more than 150 local projects throughout the Commonwealth to improve land use practices, as well as conserve and sustainably develop land, mitigate and prepare for climate change impacts, and diversify housing choices. 

  • The MEPA Office is assessing adding a review threshold to the MEPA regulation that would require projects engaging in a certain level of forest clearing to undergo an environmental review process.  It is also looking into lowering the land alteration threshold for requiring GHG analysis of projects undergoing the environmental review process. 

  • MassDEP’s Wetlands Protection Act regulation has helped the Commonwealth to have a no net loss of wetlands acreage.  MassDEP is now assessing options to achieve a no net loss of carbon storage in wetlands and will pursue policy and/or regulatory updates following conclusion of assessment.   

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