From watersheds to working farms, western Massachusetts is the place for trout-filled streams, thriving farmer’s markets and expansive opportunities for leaf-peeping come each fall, but development threatens the environmental integrity of a landscape that has been evolving for millions of years.
Western Massachusetts, spanning the2.8 million-acre region west of Worcester, encompasses intact forests and productive farms, representing a diverse but vanishing landscape. The most significant forestland and large landscapes of Western Massachusetts include the popular Berkshires, the Westfield watershed that collects the water running off the Berkshire Highlands down to the Connecticut River Valley, and the Quabbin region. The forests of white pine, red maple, northern red oak, and hemlock offer habitat for numerous rare and endangered species including Atlantic salmon that travels along its rivers. People come for recreation and relaxation and the region’s abundant watersheds provide drinking water for millions.
The Berkshire Taconic landscape that straddles the borders of Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut was once a land of mile-high glaciers, swampy forests, and beaches. Now the area has been worn down over eons but remains a core of biodiversity that contributed to The Nature Conservancy declaring it as one of the “Last Great Places.”
In addition to its rich geologic history, Massachusetts has a long story of people living in quiet collaboration with the land. 520,000 acres of farmland and 6,100 farms support local jobs and sustain a rural way of life. More than 80 percent of the state’s farms are family-owned and over 93 percent qualify as “small farms” based on sales. Massachusetts farmers and foresters protect and take care of more than 750,000 acres of orchards, fields, and forests, providing a variety of locally grown products to neighbors and the residents of nearby cities and towns, and saving those thousands of acres of land from development
- In some areas, forests cover as much as 80 percent of the land. In the last 50 years, however, more than twice as much land has been developed in the state than in the previous 300 years.
- According to a 2003 report by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the state lost more than 202,000 acres, - or nearly 40 acres a day - of forest, farmland, and open space between 1985 and 1999. Of this, 90 percent was lost to residential development.
- As in other parts of the United States, subdivision and road building threatens wildlife habitat and the local ecosystem, and removes land from productive uses, such as forestry and farming.
The American Planning Association listed Massachusetts as one of the states having the most outdated land use planning laws, which can further undermine attempts at conservation and sustainable development.
OSI At Work
Through its Western Massachusetts Loan Fund, OSI has been working in the region since 2004. See completed project list.
Recreational Resources in Western Massachusetts