Farmland Advocates Share Ideas that Increase Farmers’ Access

Many existing farmland protection practices create barriers that leave out a variety of farmers, including those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In March, farmland conservation allies gathered in Southern Maine for the first time in several years to discuss trends and evolutions in farmland conservation and how the pandemic years’ pressures are shaping new approaches to make our work accessible for a wider variety of farmers. The Northeast Convening for Farmland Access symposium’s goal was for participants to share new tools, stories, and strategies with eachother to promote land access for people who have been left behind by existing farmland protection practices, including young, beginning, low-income, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers.

Batula Ismail harvests amaranth at New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston, Maine.
Photo Credit: Molly Haley, courtesy of Maine Farmland Trust.

Keynote Speaker Shirley Sherrod reminded conservation practitioners that today’s land ownership practices stem from colonialism, slavery, redlining, Jim Crow laws, and other forms of oppression against Black people. The co-founder of New Communities in Georgia, one of the country’s first community land trusts, explained how after more than 50 years of struggle against discrimination, New Communities is finally realizing its vision for community empowerment and farming education, welcoming Black, Indigenous, and all community members to join them.

At the convening, land trust leaders shared examples of their work to increase opportunities and farmland access for diverse farmer constituencies. For example, at Maine Farmland Trust (MFT), President & CEO Amy Fisher reflected on how feedback from farmers has spurred the organization to restructure its programs to build stronger, reciprocal partnerships with farmers and meet a broader set of needs. Under its old model, farmers shared they felt as if MFT and other land trusts cared more about protecting the land than about the farmers working it. Others pointed out the “Buy, Protect, Sell” model left farmers who couldn’t quickly access capital out of the picture, while the speed of the transactions left others with land that wasn’t fully suited to their needs. Many farmers preferred leasing the land before buying to determine whether the soil and infrastructure met their needs, which was not part of MFT’s previous offerings.

Seynab Ali harvests amaranth at New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston, Maine.
Photo Credit: Molly Haley, courtesy of Maine Farmland Trust.

As a result of learning this, MFT shifted gears and reimagined its easement stewardship program to make its role with farmers more expansive, launching a farmer network to cultivate relationships with and between farmers. By reorganizing its stewardship, farm business planning, climate resilience, and other farmer support programs under one Farm Network umbrella, MFT now approaches stewardship visits as opportunities to learn about the challenges farmers are facing, connect them with resources for support, and build momentum to advocate for policies and programs that address systemic issues. Rather than seeing MFT staff as easement enforcers, farmers have begun to see stewardship staff more like reference librarians there to help them.

Mohamed Abukar washes produce to prepare it for sale at the market the next day, New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston, Maine. Photo Credit: Molly Haley, courtesy of Maine Farmland Trust.

In addition, MFT works to find solutions and create new models to increase farmland access for farmers who have been left behind, including BIPOC farmers. By modifying its “Buy, Protect, Sell” program to include long-term lease-to-purchase options at farmland values, MFT can stay in communication with farmers to understand and support their needs as they establish their farm, while providing them with a less financially-risky onramp to ownership, Fisher says. Since a down payment toward the purchase of farmland creates a barrier to affordable farmland, removing that hurdle gives a broader and deeper pool of farmers access to land – along with support resources to help them succeed. For example, MFT worked with the Somali-Bantu farmers of New Roots Cooperative (pictured) in 2015 to help them find suitable farmland, which the farmers leased from the organization until they were able to complete the purchase in January 2022, receiving technical assistance and business planning support along the way.

Stacy Funderburke, Georgia state director of The Conservation Fund, developed the Working Farms Fund, which offers a three-to-five-year lease to farmers with the option to purchase after The Conservation Fund secures public funding to purchase an agricultural conservation easement. This makes buying farmland more affordable, and therefore, more accessible. The Working Farms Fund also expands market opportunities for farmers in the program, connecting them to local hospitals and universities with goals for sustainability and sourcing local food.  A key selling point to institutions was learning that their involvement increased local food and local farmers’ resilience, he said.

Another practice improves access to farming while addressing Vermont Land Trust’s (VLT) goal to help improve the economic viability of farming. In Vermont, more than 65 percent of agricultural sales are for dairy. In response to falling demand for cows’ milk, some dairy farmers are diversifying their operations or converting to other types of farming. VLT’s Farmland Futures Fund enables VLT to buy and hold farmland for three to five years. This approach prevents farmland from being lost, underutilized, or developed when transitioning from one owner to the next. If the land is already conserved for farming, VLT buys the land and leases it to farmers for three to five years at a reduced rate so the farmer can acquire conventional agricultural financing. If the farmland is not protected, VLT buys it, protects it, and then leases it to farmers, again with the goal of transferring ownership within five years.

People left the convening with a long list of ideas that are working, people to contact for guidance, and a deeper understanding of some of the barriers and strategies to promote access for a broader diversity of farmers. At Highstead, here are some of our takeaways on how conservation allies can support BIPOC farmers specifically:

  • Change decision-making bodies to include BIPOC.
  • Advance “land back,” a decentralized campaign by Native Americans in the United States and Indigenous peoples in Canada that seeks to reestablish Indigenous sovereignty, with political and economic control of their unceded traditional lands.
  • Cede power to BIPOC groups and individuals.
  • Identify which tangible resources to pass on to BIPOC groups based on their needs.
  • Advance easement policies that extinguish easements for “land back.”

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Learn from the 2023 Conservation Finance Learning Lab Panelists – Part V

Part V: “Dolphin Tank” Project Consultations –  – April 11, 2023 at 2 PM ET

Margaret Bowman
Bowman Environmental Consulting

With over 30 years of conservation experience, Margaret Bowman helps foundations and NGOs promote sustainable and equitable water solutions through better policy, strategy, and investment. Margaret ran sustainable water investing and grantmaking programs at Spring Point Partners, advanced water supply solutions in the Colorado River Basin at the Walton Family Foundation, and supported policy-relevant scientific research at the Pew Charitable Trusts. She has also advocated for river restoration at American Rivers and supported environmental law drafting in Central Europe at the Environmental Law Institute.

Jessamine Fitzpatrick
Managing Director
Alder Point Capital Management

Jessamine Fitzpatrick is Managing Director, and co-founder of Alder Point Capital Management, an investment firm focused on sustainable farmland and timberland investments in the U.S. Prior to Alder Point, Jessamine led the Alignment Insights team at RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance. Past roles include serving as Principal, Real Assets at New Island Capital Management, CFO/COO for Electric Vine Industries, and External Relations Manager for The Nature Conservancy. Jessamine holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management, a MEM from the Yale School of the Environment, and a BS from Georgetown University.

Shaun O’Rourke
Quantified Ventures

Shaun O’Rourke is a Director on the Water Climate and Finance Team at Quantified Ventures. He has more than 15 years of climate leadership in the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors. Prior to joining QV, Shaun was the Managing Director at Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank and was appointed by Governor Raimondo as the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer.

Jill Ozarski
Program Officer
Walton Family Foundation

Jill is a land and water conservation expert and joined the Walton Family Foundation in 2016. In that role, she works with grantee partners across the Colorado River region to conserve water, restore watersheds, and leverage public funding. Prior, she served as the Senior Natural Resources Policy Advisor to U.S. Senator Mark Udall and held other leadership and policy positions with NGOs. She is a 2015 Fulbright-Ian Axford Fellow in Public Policy, where she worked in New Zealand to advance public-private partnerships. Her passion is finding community-driven collaborative solutions to the increasingly complex demands facing people and nature.

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Team Up with Appalachian Trail Peers to Expand Reach & Impact

If you’ve wanted to raise more conservation funds and engage with a more diverse group of people but your staff is already stretched thin, consider working with your Northern Appalachian Trail Landscape Partnership (NATLP) peers. 

Highstead and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recently hired a coordinator to lead collaborations between Regional Conservation Partnerships (RCPs) and their partners to meet common goals within the Northern Appalachian region from the Hudson River to Katahdin in Maine. The coordinator, Max Olsen, is working with a new steering committee to boost three areas identified as priorities by NATLP members: conservation; justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; and communications. 

Image courtesy of the NATLP

“Whether you’re looking for more funding, partners, and expertise for your projects, or to contribute what you can while having a greater impact on shared objectives like biodiversity, climate change, and land justice, joining the Northern A.T. Landscape Partnership may prove to be a force multiplier for you, your organization, and your RCP,” says Bill Labich, RCP Network coordinator. 

When RCPs work together and share expertise, connections, and ideas, they see their capacity and reach grow. There’s more federal funding available now than in recent years, such as through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). 

The LWCF is now permanently financed and, along with two recently passed bills that bring “billions more dollars than the conservation community had access to before,” Olsen says. “We’re faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have the tools and the will.” Network partners, from land trusts to large environmental nonprofits, can look to the NATLP as one avenue to leverage and access this funding. 

By working collaboratively with groups representing multiple constituencies and regions, Network members can secure larger grants. Large tasks can be broken down into smaller pieces to make the conservation projects and grant applications more manageable for organizations and more appealing to private and federal funders. 

Another priority area, increasing diverse involvement and representation, has begun making inroads. “We need to have a much broader vision of what conservation is and can be,” Olsen says. The partnership is growing and, with guidance from the steering committee, it is creating a more welcoming environment for communities typically ignored or excluded from decision-making processes.

The working group focusing on diversity and inclusion has access to grant funding to pursue how the partnership can more effectively engage and serve Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities throughout the region toward achieving shared conservation goals.

An essential first step in forging these relationships is building trust. Trust begins with an acknowledgment of past mistakes and exclusionary practices. “Our partners have established connections and are building relationships,” Olsen says. “We want to be able to pursue conservation efforts that effectively and honestly represent everyone’s values, and we can’t do that unless under-engaged communities are involved.” 

Relationship building takes time, especially when the folks involved come from such different backgrounds, but conservation is a common throughline that can bring diverse peoples and perspectives together, he says.

Regardless of your organization’s capacity, whether you want a staff member to serve in a leadership role on a steering committee, as a member of a working group, or as a contributor to a group effort, the NATLP can use your help, Labich says. Raising your hand to join the partnership doesn’t mean falling into a deep hole of commitment. You decide how much or how little time you can give. With three different working groups, Network partners choose where they can best contribute expertise and time.  

“There’s new capacity where there wasn’t before,” Labich says. “You’re going to make an impact and access resources you might not otherwise get.” 

Plans call for an internal communications committee and the launch this quarter of the conservation and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion working groups. With the first meetings on the horizon, there is still time to join these working groups, help set an agenda, and contribute ideas about how to advance shared objectives, Olsen says. 

“We want to help you succeed in your mission,” Olsen says. “Let’s work together so we can all succeed.”

Reach out to Max Olsen to learn more and see how you can get involved at Even if you’re not ready to be a participant in a working group, you can be added to the email list for quarterly updates about partnership work and invitations to bi-annual gatherings. 

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Learn from the 2023 Conservation Finance Learning Lab Panelists – Part IV

IV: Partnering with Companies: How to Find Alignment and Sharpen Your Partner Introduction – March 14, 2023 at 2 PM ET
Chris Adamo
VP Public Affairs & Regenerative Agriculture
Danone North America

Chris Adamo is Vice President at Danone North America for public affairs & regenerative agriculture policy, assisting Danone to create social and environmental impact through its business. Chris helps Danone build strategies for implementing regenerative agriculture with farming partners across its supply chain and engages key stakeholders with advocacy and public policy efforts. Prior to joining Danone, Chris spent over a decade at the highest levels of the federal government working on issues related to agriculture, environment and climate change. He served as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 2015.

Alissa Hauser
Project Manager
Dr. Bronner’s

Alissa Hauser is a former nonprofit and foundation executive working in the Constructive Capital Department at Dr. Bronner’s, a values-driven natural products company. Alissa also is the Managing Director of Circle of Life, an organization that provides fiscal sponsorship support to a handful of projects, primarily in the food and farming space. Alissa advises nonprofit organizations on fund development and constituent and donor engagement strategies.

Lisa Shibata
Director, Sustainability
Chipotle Mexican Grill

Lisa is the Director of Sustainability at Chipotle Mexican Grill. She leads Chipotle’s sustainability ambitions to cultivate a better world overseeing strategic planning over a wide array of issues, including climate action, sustainable materials, water stewardship, and responsible sourcing. Prior to joining Chipotle, Lisa was at Disney, where she was responsible for investments in nature-based projects and water stewardship. She also led supplier engagement efforts for the paper sourcing policy and assessing value chain impacts to inform Scope 3 ambitions. Lisa has over 20 years of experience developing sustainability programs.

Jena Thompson
Founder and CEO
Ocelot Company

As founder and CEO of Ocelot Co., Jena Thompson has expertise in land conservation, nature-based climate solutions, sustainability, and strategic partnerships. She is a senior fellow with Future 500 and a certified leadership coach for conservation and sustainability teams. Jena has worked with executives from Apple, Dell, Delta, Disney, The North Face, U-Haul, UPS, and more to inspire employees, engage customers, increase visibility, and make a lasting difference for land, water, wildlife, and communities. Jena believes that access to capital and expertise are privileges that must be equalized across the conservation movement.

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Affordable Housing & Land Conservation Leaders Work Toward Shared Goals

In New York’s Hudson Valley, five affordable housing nonprofits and five land conservation trusts are collaborating to increase access to affordable housing and conserve land. While these two sectors may appear to have conflicting goals, the co-leaders of the effort are working to build trust, identify their shared values, map areas with the greatest chance for cross-sector collaboration, and develop policy recommendations.

At a Connecticut Land Conservation Council summit on affordable housing and land conservation in February, keynote speakers Rebecca Gillman Crimmins and Steve Rosenberg, co-conveners of the Hudson Valley Affordable Housing and Conservation Strategy, shared how the groups participating in the effort are developing a regional collaborative approach to advance shared goals.

Affordable housing shortages are increasingly acute, Crimmins said. Wages are not keeping up with the rising cost of housing. Many low-wage earners can’t live and work remotely, so access to public transportation and jobs is essential. In New York, all newly built, state-funded affordable housing has to meet net-zero electric standards by 2027.  Sustainability is a shared value of the two sectors, and healthy communities need access to open space, fresh food, and affordable housing to thrive.

Land trusts and affordable housing organizations can work together to identify the best places where both goals can be achieved in harmony.

The goal is to figure out ways to work together instead of housing and the environment being pitted against one another, as is commonplace, the presenters said.

The collaboration between the land conservation community and affordable housing advocates is in its infancy. These two sectors can learn about each other, reduce conflicts, and advance land justice to help people from marginalized communities attain housing that is safe, affordable, and accessible to open space and nature.

These common values provide Regional Conservation Partnerships and other conservation groups an opportunity to bring people from these and other sectors together to identify their shared priorities. RCPs could support regional planning agencies and councils of government in their efforts to help residents and town officials identify, learn about, and dismantle policies that continue to marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and keep them from owning the housing of their choice and enjoying access to safe, welcoming, open space. RCPs could provide a forum for advocates from these two sectors to work with community members to increase understanding, build trust, and decrease tensions.

With funding from all 10 of the participating organizations, a variety of individuals and small foundations, and major support from The Nature Conservancy / New York, the Hudson Valley groups identified shared values. These include creating transit-oriented development; developing proposals between affordable housing organizations and conservation land trusts; and sharing knowledge to identify the best places to achieve both open space and affordable housing objectives.

The Consensus Building Institute facilitates monthly meetings to help foster relationships and trust, share information and expertise, and discuss what projects groups may be able to undertake together. Their shared purpose statement captures the values and goals that bind them to this work. Regional Plan Association is helping the groups identify geographic areas that may be well-suited to collaborative projects.

Desired outcomes of this initial phase include:

  • Collaboration among stakeholders to advance projects in areas with the greatest potential for success;
  • Generation of ideas for state and local policies that propose new approaches to program design, project funding, and permitting; and
  • Fostering a mutually supportive environment for both interests to advance their shared goals with their boards, constituents, elected officials, and the public.

The ultimate goals include:

  • Building appropriately scaled and designed, energy-efficient housing adjacent to village and hamlet centers, surrounded by conserved and accessible land;
  • Redeveloping former industrial and commercial sites into a mix of housing, conservation land, and renewable energy;
  • Redeveloping urban buildings with affordable housing, easy access to parks, jobs, and locally grown food.

Reaching these goals means overcoming challenges, including getting decision-makers, staff, and volunteers from both affordable housing and conservation groups involved. Tensions over the process and outcomes will arise.

Rosenberg and Crimmins recommendation to land trusts: Jump right in. Build relationships with affordable housing and other allied groups, look for opportunities to collaborate, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

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Listening, Patience, & Collaboration Yields Land for Immigrant Growers

When people with different skills and experiences approach collaboration with a willingness to listen and learn, farmland conservation work can benefit migrant and immigrant farm workers from a variety of cultures. This is the conclusion Mark Wamsley, who manages the Forever Farmland Initiative (FFI), a Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP), has come to as he is nearing the end of a long project that he hopes has a bright future. Coordinated by Kestrel Land Trust, FFI was established in 2009 with a mission to accelerate the pace of farmland conservation in Western Masssachusett’s Connecticut River Valley. The partnership has since expanded its work into improving access to farmland for farmers, increasing the region’s food security, and partnering with migrant, immigrant, and refugee farming communities.

“Many of the farmers had previously worked on high-end, local, organic farms, but they weren’t able to afford the crops they worked so hard to produce.” – Mark Wamsley, Forever Farmland Initiative manager

Starting in 2017, representatives from All Farmers, an organization founded with a goal to provide land, training, and representation for refugee and immigrant farmers, began attending FFI meetings. All Farmers works with farmers from various African and Asian countries like Somalia, Kenya, Bhutan, and Vietnam, and wanted to find points of synergy with the land trust community. As she attended the meetings, Hannah Spare, executive director of All Farmers, noted that land trusts were skilled in land transactions and searching for and conserving farmland. Realizing these were essential services that could help secure land for the farmers they represented, All Farmers began a working relationship with FFI. This newly formed partnership challenged FFI to shift its perspective and look at land and collaboration in new ways. They reached out to new communities, connected with local colleges to enlist GIS-mapping students in helping with land searches, and more. Initially, FFI had trouble finding and securing the type of property All Farmers needed in suitable locations, but the setbacks allowed the two groups to look at a number of other properties they hadn’t previously considered.

Farmers, board members, and staff at All Farmers’ annual meeting held at the Dewey Property.
Photo Credit: Kestrel Staff

They first succeeded in securing the Dewey Street Property in West Springfield, seven acres of farmland located on a bus line. Though it was small, had some wetlands, and was certainly not the “end-all-be-all” land All Farmers was looking for, Spare realized the land was easily accessible, fairly secluded, primed for small family garden plots, and could be ideal for meeting the needs of some of the farmers. The funds needed to purchase the land were secured when a representative from Eversource Energy reached out to Wamsley to inquire about a mitigation project. Eversource was looking to conserve property with wetlands, and Wamsley informed the representative about All Farmers and the Dewey Street Property. After several conversations between Wamsley and Eversource, the company offered All Farmers the funding needed to acquire and conserve the property. Following this success, FFI and All Farmers were also able to find the type of prime property they had originally set out to secure in a nearby town. Though initially not for sale, persistence brought progress, and they are hoping to close on the land by Summer 2023. 

Wamsley attributed the evolution of the relationship between Kestrel Land Trust and All Farmers – which was forged through FFI – to putting in the effort. “It’s taken a lot of persistence, a lot of hours, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of learning,” he said. Overall, the land trust movement has not equitably and appropriately served urban communities whose landscape and policies can be vastly different from the more suburban and rural communities that many are used to working with, he said. 

PVWC farmers harvesting and gathering vegetables at La Colmena Farm.
Photo Credit: Pioneer Valley Workers Center

During the early stages of their partnership with All Farmers, Kestrel had the opportunity to collaborate with another organization that had similar goals. The land trust was fortunate to acquire a small piece of farmland in Hatfield, Massachusetts through a donation. Hoping to secure land for the food industry and migrant farm workers they serviced, a representative from Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) reached out to FFI and inquired about the land. PVWC’s mission involves building community and affecting real change in the lives of low-wage and immigrant workers, primarily from Mexico and countries throughout Central America. The organization leased the farmland through Kestrel, which helped them license an adjacent city-owned parcel in Northampton, and together with a group of farmers, called Riquezas del Campo, developed La Colmena Community Farm. This community farm, consisting of a farm co-op, community garden, and more, is used by PVWC to grow more than 30 types of culturally appropriate vegetables, berries, flowers, and perennial native plants. While building a relationship with PVWC, one of the main benefits that stood out to Wamsley was equity and accessibility.  

Farmer planting at La Colmena Farm. Photo Credit: Pioneer Valley Workers Center

“Many of the farmers had previously worked on high-end, local, organic farms, but they weren’t able to afford the crops they worked so hard to produce,” he said. “So having their own farmland where they could grow and harvest their own crops was critical.” With access to this property, at least 20 families will be able to grow the majority of their family’s vegetables for the whole year. As the organization has grown in capacity, Riquezas del Campo is now looking ahead to its own, sustainable future on the land and has begun negotiating to take over as the farm’s lease holder.

Partnering with PVWC, All Farmers, and the diverse communities they serve has been a valuable learning process, Wamsley said. “We are constantly faced with the question of, ‘What are the different needs and abilities of the communities we’re working with?’ Some have cars; some don’t. Some are happy to drive 45 minutes to farmland; others don’t have that type of time available. Some want to grow food to feed themselves and their families; others want to grow a business and build equity,” he said. “There are differences in languages, cultures, perspectives, and goals, and we’re learning what it looks like to take time and learn about the communities we’re serving so we can all do the best work possible.”

While partnering to improve food and farmland security for these communities is still a fairly new endeavor for FFI, Wamsley’s humble advice to RCPs interested in land justice work is to make sure your meetings are welcoming before you reach out. “RCPs provide a great forum for people and groups with a variety of interests to come together, but don’t expect everyone to come to you. Find groups and communities you think could benefit and see if they’re willing to start engaging in conversations with you. Work on pursuing and building those relationships, with listening playing an important role,” he said. “Once you begin understanding the needs and goals of different communities, which is a process, it enables RCPs to begin assessing where common ground exists and how their technical assistance can prove useful.”

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New Paper Suggests Reexamining Young Forest Management

To what extent is it necessary or desirable to cut mature forests to create young forest (aka “early successional”) habitat for wildlife species? This is a complex question that elicits strong and diverging opinions in New England’s conservation science and management community. In a new peer-reviewed paper, published in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, Highstead’s senior ecologist Ed Faison joins six notable scientists and conservationists (including Highstead board member David Foster) to argue that current widespread management for young forest habitat in the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern U.S. needs to be re-examined.  

Photo Credit: David Foster

The paper, led by Restore the North Woods’ Michael Kellett, asserts that current declines in species and habitats used to justify management need to be reconsidered. These five components should be factored in: 

  1. a longer-term historical baseline; 
  2. recent research suggesting many species require young forest habitat less than previously thought; 
  3. the size of species’ geographical range;
  4. the forests’ habitat diversity that develops naturally over time, particularly with increased natural disturbances such as storms and insect outbreaks from climate change; and 
  5. the need to keep carbon stored in the forest rather than in the atmosphere to mitigate climate change. 

Additionally, the paper argues for greater protection of old forests and their vital habitat and climate benefits, stating, “Public land forest and wildlife management programs must be reevaluated to balance the prioritization and funding of early-successional habitat with strong and lasting protection for old-growth and mature forests.”

One of the signature species of the young forest habitat initiative is the New England Cottontail, a threatened rabbit species believed to require young forest habitat for its survival. Although this species does use young, shrubby habitats, the most recent research shows that New England cottontails use a broader range of wooded habitats than previously known, including mature forest habitat with thick shrub layers. In contrast, the introduced eastern cottontail that it competes with avoids mature forests. This research recommends against clear-cutting forests for habitat because it was found to be more beneficial to the introduced eastern cottontail and “unlikely” to provide high-quality habitat for New England Cottontail.

The hope is that this new paper in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change will generate new and informed discussions about this important forest management topic in New England and beyond.

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RCP Handbook (Step 1) Pulling Out Some Key Elements

The early decisions of an RCP—Who are your members? What’s your region? Who’s the host partner? How and when do members meet as an RCP?—can influence how well your members function together as a partnership later on. Whether you want to build an RCP from scratch or have a team of people for a new partnership already in mind, your objectives and intent for the partnership are critical to long-term outcomes.

Anyone who has coordinated an RCP or other landscape conservation initiative may be rolling their eyes right about now, saying to themselves, “You can’t dictate how a partnership should begin. There are too many variables.”

Indeed, there are many variables that are difficult to impact in the short term, including:

  • Capacity of conservation organizations and land trusts in the prospective region;
  • Level of interest in the region among state and federal agencies, national organizations, and philanthropic foundations and major donors;
  • Average parcel size and development and conservation cost/acre;
  • History of landowners donating conservation easements vs. expecting payment;
  • Capacity of municipalities to bond for open space and collaborate;
  • Diversity of sectors that conservation groups have already engaged;
  • History of collaboration among these entities; and,
  • Knowledge, expertise, leadership, and political connections in the areas of environmental justice, community conservation, philanthropy, conservation finance, communication, and land protection projects.

In the Northeast, only a few RCPs were established in regions well-positioned in terms of these variables. In other less-promising regions, despite challenges, RCPs succeeded because their members shared information and worked together to build the capacity of local groups and communities. And, in most cases, the host partner had the capacity and internal support to administer and coordinate the RCP.

Members of these resourceful RCPs met regularly (in-person pre COVID-19), and their leaders created enough governance (e.g., regular meetings, a steering committee, working groups, partner agreements) to ease sharing of knowledge, experience, and opportunities. These included invitations to collaborate in planning, engaging communities, mapping, and fundraising. In time, some of these RCPs ended up cultivating a new culture of collaboration, resulting in more acres conserved and under stewardship. This involved new mergers, alliances, and innovations. Some RCPs developed new skills as a result. Here are a few examples of changes RCPs made to be more successful:

  • RCP’s boundary: Moved the boundary to include the entire region of the host partner organization to foster stronger internal support for the RCP by the convening organization’s board.
  • Host Partners: With an interstate RCP, members recognized the necessity of having two host partners and co-coordinators to help the new RCP engage members in each state equally.
  • Coordinator: With very few resources, members applied for a grant with another RCP and, with the award, hired a one-day/week coordinator to begin bringing value to all-volunteer land trusts by organizing members to apply for a large federal grant.

Even if the region and prospective members have many positive attributes, members might consider taking a raise-all-boats approach as soon as they can. For example, if opportunities warrant, organize quickly to acquire a timely source of funding. Then go back and build that capacity to collaborate afterward. Sayings that seem to apply here are, “Go slow to go fast;” “Progress at the speed of trust;” and “Everyone moves forward or no one moves forward.”

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Teamwork Leads to Conserving 6K Acres in Great Bay Watershed

Formed with the collaborative vision to promote collective conservation goals, the Great Bay Resource Protection Partnership (GBRPP) is a Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) with a long history of securing funds for its conservation efforts. Through intentional collaboration, shared priorities, and science-informed decision-making, the Partnership’s transaction grant program has awarded over $620,000 to eligible Principal Partner organizations, land trusts, and conservation organizations, and leveraged over $1.24 million in other funds. As a result, the Partnership protected more than 6,400 acres of land in the last nine years.

Crommet Creek Wetland. Photo Credit: Dea Brickner-Wood

Established in 1994, the Partnership received assistance from land trusts and state and federal agencies to submit its first North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant. This grant helped GBRPP launch its land conservation program, identifying and outlining the Partnership’s goals and actions to protect priority lands in the Great Bay estuary region. The group later expanded its work to the coastal watershed.

Just three years later, GBRPP received its first Environmental Merit Award for its commitment, ingenuity, and success in protecting and preserving New England’s environment. These efforts and achievements gained the attention of then-U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, who had worked with many of the organizations in the Partnership on conservation initiatives throughout the region. Recognizing GBRPP’s success in protecting ecologically significant lands in the region, Gregg supported the Partnership’s efforts to secure funds through the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for conservation projects. The combined funding support from municipal funds, private sources, and state and federal grants resulted in the permanent protection of 109 properties totaling more than 6,400 acres.

Dea Brickner-Wood, coordinator of the RCP, attributes much of the Partnership’s initial funding success to being ready when opportunities arose. “As leaders in the conservation world, if you do your homework and are willing to engage people in that process, when opportunities present themselves, you can make the most of them.” This leadership philosophy became a critical pillar in the Partnership’s success during the national financial crisis that began in 2008. When the financial landscape changed, GBRPP re-evaluated its work, and asked, “Where can our partnership be most useful?” After extensive conversations among the nine Principal Partners, GBRPP approached the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation (NHCF), requesting a grant to create a transaction fund to defray the cost of land protection for cash-strapped organizations. In 2014, NHCF granted the Partnership seed money to start the Land Protection Transaction Grant Program. Through this program, the Partnership has provided 98 transaction grants to land trusts and municipalities working to conserve ecologically significant land in coastal watershed communities and has recently finished its 16th grant round.

Bellamy River Valley. Photo Credit: Dea Brickner-Wood

In spite of its results, the Partnership continued to challenge itself, and through this, identified a key component missing in its work. “We redid our internal assessment and had an awakening around stewardship,” Brickner-Wood says.  “We realized we were doing all of this great work around land protection but nothing around the stewardship of these lands.” Partners began to ask questions, such as,  “How do we get more money for stewardship?” and “How do we look at this from a collaborative point of view?”

In a changing landscape, the Partnership assessed its future role in the endeavors to study, protect, and manage the region’s conservation lands, updating two critical guiding documents. The Partnership’s Strategic Plan guided the group’s role in the region’s conservation work. It updated New Hampshire’s Coastal Watershed Conservation Plan (NHCWC), which helped identify priority conservation areas. These documents positioned the Partnership to be well suited for the Great Bay 2030 initiative, a cohesive strategy to increase collaboration and investment to promote a healthy Great Bay estuary system. Launched in 2022,  $12 million in funding over five years will be available through the NHCF to support five conservation focus areas. The GBRPP, serving as the lead group for the Protect Priority Lands focus area, will receive grant funding in 2023 to support the development of a stewardship grants program, the land transaction grant program, and increased capacity for land conservation and public policy work. The Great Bay 2030 funds will allow the Partnership’s collaboration to accelerate the pace of protection in a rapidly developing region and support the stewardship practices on preserved lands.

Clarity and commitment to a shared mission and conservation goals are vital to GBRPP’s success in securing funds for its RCP, Brickner-Wood says. Another key factor involved being willing to share its resources and make use of other available resources. “Commitment to conservation planning has enabled our Partnership to act swiftly when there are funding opportunities,” she says. “We use the best available science to inform and agree upon our priorities, and we always try to remain willing and nimble to adapt to emerging conservation challenges and opportunities.”

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Learn from the 2023 Conservation Finance Learning Lab Panelists – Part III

Part III: The Art & Science of Borrowing Money: Bridge Loans & State Revolving Funds – February 14, 2023 at 2 PM ET
Kristin DeBoer
Executive Director
Kestrel Land Trust

Kristin DeBoer has served as Executive Director of Kestrel Land Trust since 2006, leading the organization’s growth from a small volunteer-led group to a professionally staffed regional land trust. During this time, Kestrel has more than tripled its rate of land conserved annually. Kristin has a BA in economics and environmental science from Bucknell University and an MS in Environmental Studies from Antioch University. She lives with her family in Pelham, Massachusetts.

Reggie Hall
Director, Conservation Finance
LegacyWorks Group

Reggie works nationwide with land trusts, community partners, and government leaders to save special places outdoors. When not saving land, he is out experiencing it often on a bike, in running shoes, or otherwise suited up for an adventure.

Tee Thomas
Vice President
Quantified Ventures

Tee combines her expertise in the mechanics of public water finance with her passion for natural infrastructure. She’s a strong believer in the potential power of public financing to be the super catalytic investor in this fast-emerging field of nature-based solutions while simultaneously and aggressively advancing equity and resilience agendas across the country.

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