Wildlands & Woodlands Website

Highstead works to inspire curiosity and build knowledge about plants and wooded landscapes in order to enhance life, preserve nature, and advance sound stewardship practices.

Conservation Finance


Conservation finance is an emerging field that aims to address funding gaps for the greatest conservation and climate challenges of our time. In 2016, Highstead launched its Conservation Finance Program to support the Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative (W&WI), stimulate new approaches to funding conservation, and to inspire strong public and private support for land conservation. While building on past initiatives, we are incubating new partnerships that will: (1) accelerate the protection of forest and water resources, (2) conduct new science on the economics of conservation, (3) incentivize sustainable production of food and fiber, (4) mitigate impacts from climate change, and (4) improve public health and rural economies. Senior Conservationist Spencer Meyer (link to your bio) leads these initiatives on behalf of Highstead and W&WI. Some recent Conservation Finance Program resources include:

Briefs and Reports on Trends in Funding for Conservation

A series of publications by Highstead authors are contributing to a growing body of literature. Conservation Finance Perspectives is a new series of briefs on such topics as the benefits of conservation to the recreation and tourism economy, the significant economic contributions of New England’s agriculture and forestry industries, and cost of community services analysis by land use type, among other topics. A public funding trends report analyzes the federal, state and local funding for conservation in New England from 2004 to 2014; an update to that report will soon be available. A companion report, Foundation Funding for Land Conservation in the Northeast, looks at foundation funding in that same time period, exploring the impact of the 2008 recession on private funding for conservation and reasons for optimism as we seek to increase the pace of conservation in New England and beyond.

Conservation Finance Roundtables

The 2017 New England Conservation Finance Roundtable brought together over 40 influential regional and national thinkers representing NGOs, foundations, investment advisors, state and federal agencies, universities and landowners to exchange ideas and explore new strategies to confront a troubling upward trend in forest and farmland conversion to development coupled with slowing rates of land protection. The goal of this roundtable was to amplify the evolving national conservation finance dialogue and stimulate new ideas by focusing on developing strategies that will advance natural infrastructure investments; new public finance programs; healthy communities, healthy people; and working lands investments.

Sebago Clean Waters Partnership

Highstead is working with two local land trusts, Portland Water District, and several national conservation organizations in Maine to develop a water fund to protect the Sebago Lake watershed. The Sebago Clean Waters initiative seeks to protect water quality, community well-being, vibrant economies, and the health of fish and wildlife in the Sebago watershed through voluntary forestland protection. In 2017, a grant from the U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities through the Healthy Watersheds Program provided funds to enable Sebago Clean Waters to hire a coordinator to work with partners on community engagement, launch a water fund that will enable downstream water users to invest in upstream land conservation, and work with land trusts to identify landowners
interested in conservation.

Conservation Finance Internships

Past conservation finance interns have supported research on public and private funding trends and helped develop materials on economic benefits of conservation to communities, among other projects that connect land trusts and others with information that helps build collaborations and increase funding for conservation. For example, Ben North, our 2016 conservation finance intern, was the lead author of New England Conservation Pathways: A Survey of Emerging Conservation Finance Strategies and helped organize the Conservation Finance Roundtable held in 2017. 

Conservation Finance Network

Highstead is an active member in the Conservation Finance Network (CFN), which is a diverse network of individuals and organizations from across the private sector, charitable foundations, public agencies, conservation groups, and academic institutions. CFN includes a conservation journalism platform and hosts practitioner convenings, and intensive trainings, all in the service of deploying more capital for conservation.