80% of New England Forests, Once Cleared for Farmland, Have Come Back

80% of New England Forests, Once Cleared for Farmland, Have Come Back

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National Forest public domain USDA

Trees have made a stunning comeback across New England, branching out to take over millions of acres of former farmland, and leading to a wildlife resurgence unlike anywhere else in the country.

Throughout the mid-1800s, farmers clear-cut acres of the towering trees to grow crops. Forests were left covering only about 28% of New England. Now, 160 years later, hardwoods and pines cover 80% of the horizon making the Northeast the most heavily wooded region in the U.S.


Farming, as a way to make a living, gave way to the Industrial Age, and families moved to cities and suburbs for better paying jobs. Wandering today deep into the woods, people can see the remains of stone fences that once bordered farm fields.

More woodlands give wildlife a chance at a big comeback, as well. Animals once thought hunted and trapped out of existence in the Northeast U.S. are thriving.

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Bears, beavers, seals and birds ranging from woodpeckers to eagles have re-populated the land, as forests have taken over abandoned fields. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only a few hundred deer left in Massachusetts — now there are more than 85,000 in the state.

Just 10 years ago, Vermont had no nesting bald eagles. Last year, conservationists counted 14 pairs that hatched 24 chicks in the state.

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“It feels almost like we’re entering an age of miracles,’’ John Banks, director of natural resources for the Penobscot Nation, a Native American tribe in Maine, told the Boston Globe. “New England is undoing many excesses of the industrial age. Fish are swimming freely to their ancient spawning places. Great birds are again bold in the sky.’’

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