Forest Service: Increasing Fragmentation a Concern
Local, state and federal officials said they are committed to working together to balance economic growth and environmental conservation after a new study found the forests along the Farmington and Housatonic rivers basins are in danger of increased fragmentation and degradation from encroaching development.
The U.S. Forest Service released its “Highlands Regional Study: Connecticut and Pennsylvania 2010 Update” during a press conference Monday at the White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield .
Mary Tyrrell, the executive director of Yale University’s Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry — one of the Forest Service’s partners in drawing up the report — said some of the study’s findings raised red flags.
The Highlands contain a wide variety of natural resources, forests, farmland and open space, as well as streams and lakes that provide drinking water for millions of people.
“It’s kind of a warning saying: ‘Don’t be complacent,' ” Tyrrell said of the Forest Service study’s findings.
The 2010 report identifies areas of high conservation value, the impact of land-use changes on natural resources, and conservation strategies for the Connecticut and Pennsylvania sections of the wider Connecticut-New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania Highlands Region. The document will be a guide for preservation and conservation efforts in the area.
The Connecticut and Pennsylvania Highlands were added to the New York/New Jersey region through the passage of the Federal Conservation Act of 2004. The Highlands of Connecticut are spread over some 677,680 acres in the Housatonic and Farmington River basins in the northwest corner of the state. The area covers 28 towns, including Canton and Simsbury. The four-state region now encompasses a total of some 3.4 million acres.
Tyrrell said the four-state region did not see dramatic changes in the landscape. Instead, she said the report showed a move toward increasing fragmentation, a shift from large blocks of open forest to smaller individual tracts throughout the region.
“So what’s happening is that the forest is being nibbled away, little by little,” Tyrrell said, adding that some 20,000 acres in the region have been developed in the four-state region since 1985. “It’s something that you don’t notice day by day.”
Of particular concern are those areas that line the edges of the Connecticut Highlands, where the towns of Granby, Simsbury and Canton are located.
“Development encroaching out from Fairfield County and the Hartford area are putting on the squeeze,” Tyrrell said.
“What we’re saying is, take a look at these outlying areas because they’re at risk,” she said.
The study contains individual reports on each of the 319 municipalities found within the four-state Highlands region.
Some of the highlights for Canton land use statistics reported in the study include:
• 72 percent of Canton is forested: 41 percent is in core forest, while 31 percent is fragmented by development and agriculture.
• 13 percent of the town is developed (2,152 acres) in small patches near roads, and most heavily along Route 179 and near the Nepaug Reservoir.
• Developed area steadily increased from 1,643 acres in 1985 to 2,152 acres in 2006, with increases of roughly 10 percent every five years.
• Most of the new development came from conversion of deciduous forestland.
• 3 percent of the town was in active agriculture (493 acres) as of 2004. Many small patches exist near roads throughout town, with a few larger fields in the center and northern half of the town
• Canton had the ninth highest rate of forest loss (down 5.7 percent) from 1985 to 2006 in the 28-town Connecticut Highlands region, yet still maintains a high percentage of forest cover at 72 percent.
• 10,000 acres were developed in the entire Highlands region from 1985 to 2006, with Canton accounting for 509 of these acres.
In addition, the U.S. Forest Service reported in the study that “assuming similar land-use trends continue over the next 20 years,” Canton is predicted to turn over some 397 acres of highlands to new development over the next 20 years, which would represent a 20 percent increase from 2002 figures. The Forest Service said only seven towns in the Connecticut Highlands regions “are expected to develop more acres during this time.”
For more information, the complete “Highlands Regional Study: Connecticut and Pennsylvania 2010 Update” is available at www.na.fs.fed.us/highlands.