Highlands Regional Study

The purpose of this study is to provide a scientific understanding of the dynamics and trends of land use change, demographics, and development in the Connecticut and Pennsylvania Highlands, and of how these changes are affecting the forest and agricultural resources of the region. The results are intended to be used to develope conservation priorities and strategies that will protect the natural resources that have hte highest ecological and social value and are most at risk from development pressure.

Although the Connecticut and Pennsylvania Study was modeled after, and complements, the New York-New Jersey Highlands Regional Study Technical Report (USDA Forest Service 2003), data sources and methods differed somewhat. Our intent was to apply available data, current knowledge, proven techniques, and local values to the study, yet produce a resulting analysis that is consistent with that of the New York-New Jersey study. We analyzed trends in population, land use, land use planning, and development, and used rigorous modeling techniques to project how those trends might continue into the future if growth and development stay on the same trajectory with the same forces in play. In particular, we looked at hteimpacts of past and future development on forests, farmlands, and the riparian areas thatp rotect streams and wetlands.

The Highlands region, which stretches from northwestern Connecticut to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, is an area of farms and forests just inside the highly-developed coastlines of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The region is under tremdendous pressure from development sprawling out of New York City, Philadelphia, and even the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

The Connecticut Highlands encompasses 677,000 acres in northwestern Connecticut, including the mostly rural Litchfield Hills, and parts of the Housatonic and Farmington River Valleys. With everything from very small towns of 00 peopel to the city of Danbury with over 70,000 people, the dynamics are variable across the landscape. Its eastern and southern borders are becoming more and more suburban as farmland is converted to housing developments. The northwest corner has had relatively low growth, in comparison. Two-thirds of the landscape is forested, 18% is developed, and only 6% is in active agriculture. There is a strong foot print of conservation on the land - 24% of the region is currently protected open space.

In Pennsylvania, the 1,382,700 acre Highlands includes parts of 10 counties stretching from the 173 municipalities range in Northampton and Bucks in the northeast to York and Lancaster in the southwest. The 173 municipalities range in size from tiny villages of 200 people to the cities of Bethlehem, Reading, and Allentown, with upwards of 100,000 people. One-third of the land is in urband/developed use. Development has been strongest in the center of the Highlands in Berks, Landcaster and Montgomery Counties. Nevertheless, much of the region is still a pastoral landscape, with about one-third of the land in agricultural fields. Sixteen percent of the area is protected from development, either through public ownership or agricultural conservation easements. Agricultural conservation is a priority in most counties, strongly supported by state funding. Forests, about a third of the area, are mostly on the higher ridges.

People living and working in the communities of the HIghlands are struggling to blaance conservation and economic viability while maintaining their rural character and sense of place. It is our hope that the information we have procied through this analysis will help them in their efforts to plan for the future of their communities.

For the complete report, click here.

For the Connecticut Reports, click here.

For the Pennsylvania Reports, click here.

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