The New England study area covers most of the Thames River Watershed, over 1900 square miles of rural and forested land in northeastern Connecticut and south-central Massachusetts. Included in this area is the Quinebaug and Shetucket Natural Heritage Corridor, also known as the "Last Green Valley" because it is one of the last large rural areas remaining in the highly-developed section of the East Coast between Boston and Washington, D.C. Within this corridor lies the Quinebaug Highlands, a 269 square mile region of mostly privately-owned forestland in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts, and the Pawcatuck Borderlands, a 200 square mile area of largely contiguous forest along the Connecticut-Rhode Island border. The region is rich with wildlife and healthy hardwood and coniferous forests, and encompasses all or part of seven major New England watersheds.
Now this relatively unspoiled land is under pressure from the intense development of surrounding urban and suburban areas. Bordered by Worchester to the north, New London to the south, Providence to the east, and Hartford to the west, the area has undergone significant land use changes over the past 50 years as housing and industrial development have encroached upon formerly rural and forested land. Because so much of the forestland is privately-owned, there is no guarantee that unique natural areas like the Quinebaug Highlands will remain intact or immune to development pressures, and therefore a number of conservation organizations have mobilized an effort to protect this region from development.
These factors make the area a particularly powerful region for studying land use changes, as dynamic land use models can be used to predict the landscape changes which might be brought about by different development or conservation efforts. Predictive modeling of the Quinebaug and Shetucket area can serve as a means of promoting a responsible land use strategy capable of satisfying a wide spectrum of needs and uses.