The history of central New England forests is presented in twenty-three dioramas installed at the Fisher Museum at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. These inspired dioramas, built in the 1930s, show us the history of the land from the time of Native American use, through the peak period of deforestation from 1830 to 1880, when 60 to 80 percent of the land was cleared, to 1930, heralding the re-growth of hardwood forests. In a 2010 report, forest cover across New England was found to be around 60 percent and shrinking.
Chapter 61 of the Mass. General Laws promotes conservation of woodlands by providing tax incentives to manage forests. Landowners in Massachusetts who are interested in long-term, active forest management can take advantage of a program which values their woodland based on its current use rather than its development value. Property taxes are assessed at valuations determined by the Farmland Valuation Advisory Committee. The land must include 10 or more contiguous acres, be the subject of a state-approved forest management plan developed by a licensed forester or landowner, and be actively managed. A sample plan is available from a link on the DCR web page about Massachusetts’ Current Use Forest Tax Program. A time frame for making application for certification to the state forester, applying for classification with the Board of Assessors and receiving the tax break is outlined in Chapter 61, § 2.
Conservation and Land Use Planning under Massachusetts’ Chapter 61 Laws: a Primer for Cities, Towns and Conservation Organizations, published by Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, offers help for municipalities and conservation organizations using Chapter 61 laws to protect natural resources in their communities. The publication also includes information about Chapter 61A, “Assessment and Taxation of the Agricultural and Horticultural Land”, and Chapter 61B, “Classification and Taxation of Recreational Land”.