New England Landscape Futures

Featured Resource: Intro to NELF

Learn how to navigate and interpret the NELF Explorer with this four minute video!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stay informed about NELF Explorer news and events?

Join our listserv! Email with "NELF listerv subscription" in the subject if you have trouble or questions.

NELF Explorer

Why can't I zoom in all the way?

There is a limit on how far a user can zoom in with the NELF Explorer because the NELF maps are not intended to be used at a hyper-local scale, such as your backyard. There is stochasticity (randomness) in the land use change model, and each time the model is run your backyard may or may not experience change. For this reason, the NELF maps are most appropriate for uses at the town scale or larger, where hyper-local variations average out to show broad geographical trends.

How is the NELF Explorer different from other map-based tools?

The NELF Explorer has a unique combination of characteristics that make it different from other mapping tools:

    • Data coverage across all of New England at 30-meter resolution allows for a regional, landscape-scale perspective on land use change
    • Alternative scenarios of future land use simulated at multiple timesteps, including business-as-usual land use and land use scenarios simulated according to New Englanders' ideas about the future
    • Prepackaged analyses at multiple scales that allow for easy comparison of the impacts of alternative land uses without the need for GIS software
    • Communication and storytelling value through the maps, descriptions of land use impacts to natural resources, and a companion story map

Appendix 1 contains a brief comparison of the NELF Explorer with some other mapping tools.

How do I use the NELF Explorer?

Watch the four minute "Intro to NELF" video to learn how to navigate and interpret the NELF Explorer.

How can I use the NELF Explorer to generate descriptive statistics about an area?

You can use this Google Sheets spreadsheet to accomplish this. The spreadsheet automatically generates descriptive statistics, calculates percent change, and draws charts based on the land use acres you provide. Check out the example included in the spreadsheet to see the results in action!

I'm having trouble using the NELF Explorer. How can I get help?

Please report the issue and we will look into it. We are sorry that you experienced difficulties using the NELF Explorer! Please note that the NELF Explorer is best used on a desktop or laptop computer with Safari, Chrome, Firefox, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not a web browser supported by the NELF Explorer.

I have ideas or general feedback on the NELF Explorer. How can I share that?

Please submit your feedback! We welcome all comments and suggestions. If the NELF Explorer has been useful for you, we would love to hear about that, too!

Recent Trends

What is Recent Trends?

Recent Trends is the “business as usual” scenario. In contrast to the four other scenarios, which are defined by stakeholders, Recent Trends is based on rates and patterns of land use change that occurred between 1990 and 2010. Patterns and rates of change over this time period are simulated within core-based statistical areas (CBSAs, areas of high social and economic connectivity) to allow regional variation across New England. Learn more about the science behind Recent Trends.

How do you simulate recent trends into the future?

There are two major parameters to consider in any land use change simulation: rates of change and spatial allocation of change. Rates of change refer to how much land is converted from one use to another during a period. Spatial allocation refers to where land is converted from one use to another. Spatial allocation is controlled by driver variables, such as distance to roads, that are known to influence where land use change occurs. Rates of change between land uses and statistical relationships between driver variables and land use changes were identified within CBSAs for the period of 1990-2010. Those rates and relationships remain constant in the future simulation. Learn more about the science behind Recent Trends.

Is Recent Trends a prediction of future conditions?

No. Recent Trends is not a prediction of future conditions. Like all models, Recent Trends is a simplified representation of reality. It shows plausible future land use based on the driver variables and land use changes modeled, as well as the reference time period that establishes rates and patterns of change to simulate into the future. Learn more about the science behind Recent Trends.

How can I cite Recent Trends data?

Thompson J.R., Plisinski J.S., Olofsson P., Holden C.E., Duveneck M.J. 2017. Forest loss in New England: A projection of recent trends. PLOS ONE 12(12): e0189636.


What is scenario planning?

Scenario planning is a structured way of asking “what if?” about the future. It is helpful in situations where there is great uncertainty regarding future conditions but decisions and plans must be made regardless. Scenario planning provides structures and processes for exploring the sources and impacts of uncertainty. The goal of scenario planning is to identify actions and develop plans that will lead to your organization’s success no matter what the future holds.

How were the NELF scenario created?

The NELF scenarios were created through a participatory process with stakeholders from across New England. One workshop was held in each state in which participants created scenarios for their state. The NELF team then carefully combined common elements of each state’s scenarios to form four regional scenarios: Connected Communities, Yankee Cosmopolitan, Go It Alone, and Growing Global. Learn more about the scenario development process. Read the report that summarizes the major outcomes of the process.

How are the four scenarios in the scenario matrix different than Recent Trends?

Recent Trends is the only scenario to be based on historical patterns and rates of change, with no stakeholder input. It is the core scenario from which the stakeholder-defined scenarios deviate. The land uses for the stakeholder-defined scenarios are mapped by tweaking the Recent Trends model based on stakeholder input. For example, Yankee Cosmopolitan and Connected Communities have reduced probability of development near coastal areas because stakeholders said that, in these scenarios, new development is planned to reduce climate change impacts. The rates of change from one land use to another, shape and size of land use patches, and the spatial allocation of land use are all modified in different ways to make the stakeholder-defined scenario maps different than Recent Trends. Appendix 3 of this peer-reviewed publication contains the scenario narratives with footnotes explaining how the NELF team simulated qualitative scenario characteristics identified by stakeholders.

How are climate change and climate change adaptation represented in the NELF scenarios?

Climate change is assumed to exist in all stakeholder-defined scenarios. The relative impacts of climate change on New England and government response to those impacts via adaptation varies across the scenarios. For example, Growing Global is a scenario in which climate change refugees settle in New England, but governments fail to plan for this which results in sprawling low-density development, especially around existing population centers. In contrast, Connected Communities and Yankee Cosmopolitan are scenarios in which society adapts to climate change to different extents. For example, Connected Communities allows no wetland or flood zone development, while Yankee Cosmopolitan allows wetland and flood zone development but at a reduced probability.

How can my organization use the NELF scenarios?

The answer to this question depends on your organization’s needs and capacity. The NELF Explorer can be used to generate descriptive statistics for an area using Recent Trends, to compare impacts of development patterns on natural resources, and as a communication tool with your organization’s stakeholders and funders. The NELF land use maps can be used to do more advanced analyses with your organization’s GIS data. The most intensive use of the NELF scenarios is to do a scenario planning exercise for your organization. If you are interested in a facilitated scenario planning workshop please email Lucy Lee at

I would like to bring these scenarios to my community but I am not sure how to describe or frame them in a way that is easy to understand and makes sense. Are there resources to help with that?

View our framing suggestions for Recent Trends and the four alternatives. We hope these help, and please feel free to reach out to if you need additional assistance using the NELF scenarios in your work or community.

Land Use Data

What datasets did you use to create the NELF land use maps?

All scenarios start out with the same land use in 2010 and diverge from each other over time. To create these initial conditions across New England, two widely used, remote sensing-based land use datasets were combined:

    • Continuous Change Detection and Classification (CCDC, Olofsson et al. 2016) algorithm applied to Landsat data -- used for most of New England
    • National Land Cover Database (NLCD) -- used for the northern half of Maine and where needed to fill in gaps in CCDC

Data on conserved lands as of 2010 was retrieved from various sources including The Nature Conservancy, National Conservation Easement Database, Protected Areas Database of the United States, and state GIS clearinghouses.

What do the NELF land use classes mean?

The pixel numbers in the GIS raster maps correspond to the following classes:

    1. High density development
    2. Low density development
    3. Unprotected forest
    4. Conserved forest
    5. Agriculture
    6. Other
    7. Water

Appendix 2 contains the reclassification table that shows how the CCDC and NLCD land uses were reclassified into the NELF land uses listed above.

How can I access the NELF land use data?

The NELF Explorer allows you to access the land use data with some helpful exploration tools and prepackaged analyses at various spatial scales. To download the land use data as GIS data please join the New England Landscape Futures group on Databasin. Through this group, you will have access to every scenario map (6 maps x 5 scenarios), multiple download options, symbology layers, and a community of NELF data users.

My question isn't answered here. Who can I ask?

Please email Lucy Lee with your question –

Appendix 1

Table comparing the NELF Explorer to other online mapping tools. View here.

Appendix 2

NELF land use reclassification table. View here.