Forests, Freshwater and Marine

A view of blue water through a tangle of branches with
Foliage along a river in Massachusetts © Cheryl Rose

These natural habitats provide the foundation of life for plants, animals and people.

Our coastal lands, bays and the Atlantic provide residents with food, jobs & protection from storms.

Salt water and sun. Crabbing, clamming and swimming. From Cape Cod to the North Shore, our way of life is tied to the ocean. Our coast still has remnants of tangled forest, grass-covered dunes and coastal creeks teeming with a universe of creatures. Whales, sea turtles and shorebirds travel thousands of miles to feed in our waters. This is where we sail, swim and comb the beaches.

Once, the Massachusetts coastline was crawling with shellfish. One could hardly set foot in the shallows without crushing dinner. Deeper waters held riches of flounder, haddock and cod, sparking a fishing industry that would become one of the busiest in the world.

Our marine lands and waters still provide Bay State residents with food, jobs and protection against storms. But their historic abundance is threatened like never before as climate change, unplanned development and unsustainable harvests take a toll.

We can keep Massachusetts’ oceans and coastal communities healthy, beautiful and productive. But we need your support to make it happen.

Our Marine Conservation Solutions

The Conservancy is working in partnership with local communities, businesses, government and partner organizations to find solutions that help our marine ecosystems as well as the people, plants and animals that rely on them.

  1. Supporting Sustainable Harvests
    New England’s fisheries define our coastal way of life and provide millions of dollars in economic benefits. We partner with fishing communities to identify and promote new, more sustainable fishing practices that promise to boost the fishermen’s bottom lines while supporting our goal of ecological health in the sea.
  2. Restoring Coastal Habitats 
    Oyster reefs, seagrass beds, salt marshes and estuaries offer habitat to myriad species, protection for our coasts and nurseries that support the entire marine food web. We apply field-tested science to restore and preserve these ecological treasures , creating a resilient coastline that will provide for people today and for centuries to come. 
  3. Connecting Land, River and Sea 
    Salmon, shad and sturgeon move thousands of miles through our rivers to the ocean. Forests, wetlands and rivers work together to filter pollution before it reaches the sea. We work to restore connectivity and protect water quality for all creatures. Our “whole watershed” approach includes land protection, dam removal and science and policy work that produce dramatic benefits across vast landscapes. 
  4. Balancing Nature and Commerce
    From liquefied natural gas terminals to desalinization plants and gas pipelines, the push to develop infrastructure offshore puts escalating pressure on Massachusetts’ waters. We conduct research and advocacy work in support of Marine Spatial Planning —sensible, science-based ocean planning that supports economic development as well as ecological sustainability.
  5. Reaching Beyond Borders 
    For the humpback whale that summers in our waters but travels to the Caribbean to breed, or the red knot whose migratory journey depends on habitats along the entire Atlantic coast, Massachusetts is intimately connected to distant places.

The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts strives to protect ocean ecosystems in ways that benefit marine life, local communities and coastal economies. Just as ocean species are dynamic and wide-ranging, so are we in our approach.

Please be a part of our work by donating today.

Freshwater provides the foundation of life for plants, animals and people.

Massachusetts’ intricate network of rivers and streams delivers the lifeblood of fresh water to cities and towns across the state. They give us drinking water and absorb floodwaters, provide nutrients to the sea and to our farmlands, generate energy and offer scenic spots to fish, boat and swim—all while sustaining myriad natural communities.

In our efforts over time to grow crops, expand cities, generate electricity and keep floods at bay, we have thrown many of these systems out of balance, disrupting connections and impairing the ability of our waters and lands to support life and livelihoods.

The Nature Conservancy has a vision to restore and sustain fresh waters in Massachusetts and ensure that they will continue to support the people, plants and animals that depend on them. With your help, we can turn that vision into reality and use science to create alternatives to destructive and wasteful ways of using water.

Our Freshwater Conservation Solutions

  1. Protecting Healthy Headwaters
    Healthy freshwater systems —from the majestic Connecticut River to the streams and rivers that feed the Quabbin Reservoir — literally start with healthy headwaters. That’s where our approach begins, as well. With your help we can double the amount of headwater areas protected in Massachusetts, by conserving an additional 400,000 acres in the rural areas where rivers are born.
  2. Restoring Floodplains and Preserving River Shorelands
    River floodplains and natural areas along river banks are home to native plants that help absorb floodwaters and filter pollutants. Our goal: double the amount of floodplains and streamside land protected by conserving an additional 150,000 acres.
  3. Protecting Clean Drinking Water
    Forests support our drinking water supply by filtering water as it travels and by securing the soil along rivers and streams to reduce sedimentation in our reservoirs. These same lands also provide vibrant habitat for wildlife. You can help us protect 50 percent — 190,000 acres — of the state’s remaining water-supply lands.
  4. Connecting River Networks
    Our rivers and streams should be superhighways for migrating fish, but dams and poorly-built road crossings create dead ends that keep nature from functioning at its best. Restoring access for fish and other species can bring vitality to our river systems and sustain important fisheries at sea. Your support can help us reconnect 1,000 miles of streams by removing dams and connecting habitats throughout Massachusetts.
  5. Letting Waters Flow
    The seasonal flow of our rivers, from spring’s torrents to fall’s quiet currents, offer signals and opportunities for freshwater species to migrate and spawn. We are working with state and municipal partners to ensure that natural flow patterns and water levels are maintained in Massachusetts’ rivers, to sustain critical river processes and diverse aquatic life.

Because headwater streams, river corridors and water-supply lands sometimes overlap, the Conservancy estimates that we, our conservation partners, the state and private landowners can achieve these goals by protecting 750,000 acres of land, reconnecting 5,000 miles of stream, protecting and restoring flows and minimizing the impact of future development.

But we can’t do it alone. Please support this unprecedented initiative to conserve Massachusetts’ precious water resources, for now and for future generations.

Go Deeper

Water 2020: A Shared Vision for Massachusetts
The Nature Conservancy has collaborated with more than 50 watershed groups to create a shared plan for achieving sustainable water management in Massachusetts by the year 2020. Explore the actions that will secure a healthy future for our waters. (pdf, 1 MB)

Our forests provide services - like clean air and water - that we can't live without.

From the windswept sandplains of southeastern Massachusetts to the vast rolling forests of the Berkshires, from our fertile farmlands to cities built along mighty rivers, the Massachusetts way of life is tied to our diverse lands.

Massachusetts forests provide an estimated $2.9 billion per year in life-essential services — filtering our air and water and absorbing carbon from our atmosphere. The natural beauty of the Commonwealth provides the cornerstone of a $24 billion-a-year tourism industry. And the quality of life and economic security supported by nature make Massachusetts an ideal place to live and do business.

Of course, these lands offer critical habitat for natural communities as well.

Our forests have experienced a remarkable comeback since being cleared for pasture and farm fields and are a critical link in the vast, green ecological highway we call the Appalachians. And our coasts are internationally recognized as biodiversity hotspots, offering habitat to rare plants and animals, and migratory stopovers for myriad bird species.

Now these critical lands face threats from unsustainable development and climate change that could be more permanent — and more devastating — than anything they’ve had to face in the past.

But together, we can meet these challenges.

Our Land Conservation Solutions

The Nature Conservancy has a vision to protect the forests, coasts and special lands that support people’s lives and livelihoods in Massachusetts and create a vibrant quilt of healthy communities throughout the Commonwealth.

  1. Securing Wild Forest Cores
    Securing large “core” areas, where the forest is fully protected and managed only by nature helps maintain habitat for forest species from salamanders to songbirds. Large, intact forests with a range of tree ages and species can also better withstand disturbances like storms, invasive species and forest diseases. We are working to set aside 150,000 acres in forest reserves in Massachusetts.
  2. Conserving Forests with Sustainable Forestry
    These forest cores must be surrounded by larger swaths of conserved lands to stay resilient and allow wide-ranging species like black bears and bobcats to roam. This is where sustainable forestry can work hand in glove with conservation, maintaining forested landscapes while providing private landowners with income that provides a disincentive for clearing and developing forest lands. We are working with partners to create a 1-million acre network of sustainably-managed working forests around the forest core reserves.
  3. Preserving Coastal Treasures
    The glacial soils and weather patterns of our coasts combine to create magnificent landscapes and rare habitats. The Conservancy is working to preserve 40,000 acres of unique coastal habitats in southeast Massachusetts and the Islands . Our focus: the iconic sandplain grasslands, pitch pine barrens and oak barrens that define our coasts for residents and visitors.
  4. Fixing Forest Fragmentation
    Forests in our region are dissected by roads, rivers are clogged by dams and few lakes are more than a mile from a road. A focus on stitching together lands and waters across borders can bring back valuable natural services. Connecting forests and other protected lands will help them stay resilient in a changing climate. 
  5. Working with People to Protect Productive Lands
    While conservation has made great progress in high elevations, we’ve fallen short in protecting areas like floodplains and rich soils where people love to live, work and grow things. Working with people on sustainable fishing, forestry and farming will allow conservation to gain traction in these flat, crowded lands.

Putting this plan into action now will help Massachusetts weather the changes ahead and ensure that our lands continue to support a magnificent network of life.

Please be a part of our work by donating today.