Natural Disturbances Can Deliver Surprising Benefits to the Landscape

Climate change, along with species loss, is the leading environmental challenge of our time. Warmer temperatures, drought, and more intense rainfall and flooding characterize the changing climate, which in turn are associated with increased severity and extent of windstorms, wildfires, and insect outbreaks. Not surprisingly, tree mortality has increased dramatically in many parts of the world.

A grey barn obscured by slim trees with small leaves. Natural Disturbances Can Deliver Surprising Benefits to the Landscape.
The Highstead barn and oak-mountain laurel forest.

Highstead’s natural landscape is no exception. Several intense storms and a severe insect outbreak over the past dozen years have resulted in a sharp uptick in tree death in Highstead’s forest. In 2011-2012, two tropical storms and one severe ice storm knocked down dozens of trees, reducing carbon accumulation (i.e., climate mitigation). More recently, the invasive emerald ash borer beetle killed 99% of mature ash trees between 2016 and 2021, further slowing total forest growth and carbon accumulation.

A rabbit sits in grass. Natural Disturbances Can Deliver Surprising Benefits to the Landscape
New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis)
Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The irony of increased natural disturbance is that despite being generally negative for ecosystem services such as carbon accumulation and wood products, it often increases landscape and vegetation complexity and therefore, habitat availability and biodiversity. For instance, at Highstead, the dense shrub layer that has developed in the gaps created by dead ash trees has contributed to a thriving population of the globally vulnerable New England Cottontail, which specializes in shrubby habitat. Were it not for these disturbances, this rabbit species would be much less likely to use this forest.

The exposed insides of a decaying tree with various soils, detritus, leaves, and twigs.
A downed ash tree at Highstead.

Even with increased tree mortality, Highstead’s forest – like New England and the temperate forest biome in general – is remarkably resilient and continues to grow and accumulate carbon. Indeed, carbon stored in live and dead trees and downed wood (“aboveground carbon”) reached its highest level in Highstead’s forest in 2021. A major reason for this is that carbon in trees killed by windstorms and insects is not lost as is commonly believed, but remains in dead standing and downed trees, often for decades as this ‘deadwood’ slowly decomposes. Meanwhile, nearby healthy trees respond with increased growth rates, and young trees regenerate in the gaps left by the dead trees.

Highstead’s 110 acres of forests store on average about 50 metric tons of aboveground carbon per acre, about 20% more carbon than the average southern New England forest. On a global scale, New England’s forests, south of Maine, store above-average levels of carbon. Consequently, New England’s forests are mapped as a global “climate stabilization area” in need of protection. Thus Highstead’s forest represents a small but important piece of that regional (and ultimately global) climate stabilization area.

A boardwalk winds through dense leaves of trees, swamp plants, and grasses.
Red-maple swamp.

Despite its relatively high carbon density, Highstead’s forest – like almost all temperate forests around the globe – is heavily modified by past human land use. Intensive timber harvesting occurred in the oak forest until the early 20th century, while forest clearance maintained the current maple forest in open pasture well into the early 20th century. The result is that Highstead’s forest stores only about 55-60% of its potential maximum carbon.

But Highstead’s roughly 39 acres of fields and meadow that were once forested are in much greater carbon debt than its forests. New England meadows store on average about 3 metric tons of aboveground carbon per acre, or only about 3% of the carbon they once stored in forest vegetation in the same location. Though comparatively carbon-poor, semi-natural meadows in New England provide other services including cultural heritage, expansive views, and habitat for species that specialize in open areas such as the purple milkweed and the globally “near threatened” eastern meadowlark

Given the size of trees relative to grasses and wildflowers, it’s not surprising that forests are the most carbon dense (and biodiverse) vegetation type on Earth. However, if we include soil carbon, one ecosystem surpasses all others in carbon storage on a per acre basis: wetlands. The absence of oxygen in saturated wetland soils greatly slows decomposition and allows for the accumulation of vast amounts of organic carbon in deep soil profiles. Highstead’s approximately 3 acres of forested wetland store an estimated 120 metric tons of carbon per acre in their soil profile, which combined with 50 metric tons of aboveground carbon, makes it the most carbon-dense ecosystem at Highstead.

The next 25-30 years are critical in the effort to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius and to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Thus an important question is how much more carbon could Highstead’s landscape accumulate if it remained protected? By 2052, Highstead’s existing forests could accumulate another 14.5 tons of carbon per acre or over 1500 additional tons across the entire forest. Naturally reforesting a portion of the grassy areas could accumulate about 30 additional tons of carbon per acre over the same time period. In other words, an important piece of the climate solution is simply managing less and letting nature do more.

A stand of brown meadow plants before a distant forest of trees beginning to change to their fall colors of yellows, oranges, and reds. Branches of changing leaves frame the image.
The barn meadow.

Category: Perspectives

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The Inflation Reduction Act: A Closer Look at Natural Climate Solutions and Environmental Justice Provisions

On Tuesday, August 16, 2022,  President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law following months of negotiation. The legislation is the single largest climate investment ever made by Congress with $370 billion towards climate and energy related funding. These investments are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030, making significant strides towards the nation’s Paris Agreement goals – a 50% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act will reduce emissions namely by speeding up the transition to clean energy with financial incentives, ultimately decreasing the cost of clean energy. The act also comes on the heels of the CHIPS and Science Act, a $280 billion package aimed at the American semiconductor industry. The Chips and Science Act could direct nearly $67 billion towards the growth of zero carbon industries and conducting climate research, making it one of the largest climate bills ever passed by Congress.

The Inflation Reduction Act also makes historic investments in natural climate solutions such as forestry and sustainable agriculture practices. These investments acknowledge the importance of forest landowners and farmers in climate solutions through land conservation, forest restoration, and climate friendly agriculture. Natural climate solutions will advance the nation’s carbon emissions reductions by implementing practices that improve soil carbon storage and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The Inflation Reduction Act allocates $20 billion to four different programs under USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The programs provide private landowners with technical and financial assistance for voluntary conservation efforts on agricultural land, and projects with climate related goals will be a priority. The following programs will receive an influx of funding:

The IRA’s funding for forestry totals $5 billion and includes forest management, planning, and restoration activities for both federal and nonfederal forests. Of the $5 billion, $2.15 billion is directed to the National Forest System and includes: 

  • $1.8 billion for the National Forest System to support wildlife risk reducing activities
  • $350 million for vegetation management, environmental reviews, and inventory of old-growth forests on National Forest System land

The remaining $2.75 billion in funding is for non federal forest management activities, including: 

  • $700 million for competitive grants through the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which permanently protects private forestland through conservation easements and acquisitions
  • $450 million to help private landowners manage forests more effectively 

The IRA also allocates $2.6 billion to NOAA to assist coastal communities in conservation, restoration, and protection efforts that increase climate resilience. 

The Inflation Reduction Act includes several measures aimed at advancing environmental and climate justice. These programs promote legacy pollution reduction and accessible clean energy. Two programs of note are:

  • $3 billion for Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants (likely administered by the EPA), which invest in community-led projects in disadvantaged communities to address environmental and public health harms related to pollution and climate change
  • $3 billion in Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants (administered by the DOT), which will fund projects that improve access to transit, walkability, and other infrastructure needs in disadvantaged communities

Several provisions related to clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions reductions offer incentives for disadvantaged or underserved communities. For example, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a clean energy and sustainability accelerator funded at $27 billion, will allocate at least 60 percent of those funds towards disadvantaged communities. While the IRA does not address all environmental justice concerns, and federal agencies are still working on a concrete definition of “underserved communities,” the inclusion of EJ is seen as significant and an important step in the right direction.

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Endangered Monarch Make the Most of Milkweed

Recently, the IUCN listed the status of the iconic migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) to endangered. Monarch make their summer home at Highstead where their sole hostplant, native milkweed from the genus Asclepias grow in abundance. If you peek beneath a milkweed leaf or toward the top of the plant, you may find a monarch’s pinhead-sized egg attached by a secreted glue. This egg is one of 300-500 eggs laid over two to three weeks.

A single yellow monarch egg on the underside of a green leaf.
Monarch egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

Asclepias are the only food source for the monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars). As migratory monarch caterpillar chow down, they ingest the plant’s toxic chemical compounds (cardenolides) that will protect them as adults. The bright orange and black-striped wings they wear are concentrated with the poison and serve as a warning to potential predators while monarch pollinate milkweed and other native plants.

A field of milkweed plants with purple blooms and orange blooms.
Milkweed plants at Highstead.

The monarch’s time at Highstead is only one-half of its life story. The last generation of metamorphosized monarch butterflies may live up to 8-9 months and will spend up to 2 months on an almost 3,000-mile journey to their overwintering grounds in Mexico.

The population in and around the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico is surveyed by the acreage of forest in which the butterfly colonies hibernate and overwinter. Their presence has grown from 2.10 hectares (5.19 acres) in December 2020 to 2.84 hectares (7.02 acres) in December 2021. Despite this growth, these numbers indicate a sharp decline from 1993-2001, when the average area occupied in Mexico was 8.7 hectares (21.5 acres).

Ongoing threats to the population include increased legal and illegal logging of overwintering forest habitat for agriculture and development, pesticides and herbicide application across monarch ranges, climate change, a loss of nectar source plants along migration routes, and milkweed habitat loss.

Are you interested in expanding opportunities for the monarch and increasing the biodiversity of your landscape? Planting local milkweed species native to your area is best. USDA Plants provides a list of the most frequently used milkweed species by monarchs in Eastern North America.

A butterfly on a plant. The butterfly wings are orange with black stripes and white spots at the edges and on its body.
An adult monarch butterfly.


Category: Stories

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How COVID-19 Sparked New Research at Highstead

Above the rafters of the lecture and display hall in the Highstead timber-frame barn, there is a loft that, among other things, houses a high-powered microscope. With COVID-19 restrictions keeping local butterfly enthusiast Victor DeMasi from his research site at the Yale Peabody Museum, that microscope has sparked a multi-year effort to identify the multitude of members of the order Lepidoptera that call the Highstead landscape home and has expanded to include a recent focus on members of the Apoidea family— bees and wasps.

 “I connected with Highstead, and they offered a microscope and a nice, isolated area, so I kind of opened up a little bee lab there.” And for the last two and a half years, Victor’s time at Highstead has been dedicated to studying pollinating bees and participating in the United States Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab to expand his knowledge of Apoidea. “In hindsight, it was just a wonderful thing to happen to me from the pandemic.”

Two and a half years later, the microscope has been joined by cases of various and intricately preserved insects that line every surface available.

In Search of Pollinators

Another recent collaboration between Victor and Highstead includes a survey of the pollinators local to Redding. “I was previously focused on butterflies up until about four years ago, but then I became interested in pollinating insects.”

Native plants and pollinators flourish in Roanna Metowski and Victor DeMasi’s meadow. Photo credit: Victor DeMasi.

Biologist Sammy Riccio, budding entomologist Lukas, and Highstead executive director Geordie Elkins teamed up with Victor to catalog pollinator insects and document the plants on which they are found. As an ongoing effort, the survey is maintained throughout the summer season. “Very few insects have been collected in western Connecticut. Connecticut insect collections mostly represent the center part of the state—near Yale and UConn and where students are located. So, we’re looking at an area that hasn’t really been scrutinized.”

The resulting census includes around 3,000 specimens and will serve as baseline data for future research and conservation efforts. “We made large collections and included special notations about where we found the insects and what flowers they were on. There are a lot of records of Apoidea, but the old records are not connected with specific plants. We’re now trying to record who is pollinating what, and what happens to that flower if its pollinator is not around.”

The census includes two sites— the Highstead barn meadow and Victor’s Redding home where he and spouse Roanna Metowski have cultivated and maintained a two-acre meadow to support butterflies and other pollinators.

Victor explains part of the process for monitoring specialized pollinators in his meadow. “Say you have black cohosh flowering. During its flowering period, black cohosh flowers over about a four-week period. I’ll make a sweep collection every one to two weeks to get the different pollinators that are coming to only black cohosh. And specifically, try to sort out if there are some specialized pollinators that just come to black cohosh and nothing else. So, there are a lot of specimens, and I have a lot of sorting out to do.”

Feeding the Appalachian Blue

Appalachian Blue butterfly. Photo credit: Carol Lemmon.

Victor and Roanna’s meadow is a multifaceted local source for local and native plants, including black cohosh. “We rescued these plants from a future building site (with permission) and transplanted them to our property,” Victor explains. ”There’s a very rare butterfly in the state of Connecticut, the Appalachian Blue, and it feeds exclusively on black cohosh. So, we’re trying to cultivate more black cohosh on our property.”

While not chasing pollinators, Victor fosters creativity and inspiration through his entomology, native plant maintenance, and active mural painting projects with local youth. “I led a recent mural where we painted pollinator insects. The kids learned about the pollinators and at the same time, they painted them on a wall. It’s amazing at the end of the week how much the kids know about pollinators, and they own their artwork. I’m not allowed to touch their mural—so it’s a lot of fun.”

With its base in Redding, Connecticut, Highstead is a place where curiosity about the ecological world around us inspires collaboration with a lively and dedicated cadre of people like Victor, John Mcleran, and scores of other professionals and amateurs whose curiosity drives knowledge and understanding.

Victor led a mural painting session at this year’s summer camp at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists.
How COVID-19 Sparked New Research at Highstead
Mural painting detail.
Photo credits: Victor DeMasi.

Category: Stories

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Taking a Closer Look at Forest Management

Highstead Senior Ecologist Ed Faison joined three other passionate scientists to discuss how different types of forest management can be used to protect forests for climate and biodiversity. The webinar, entitled Exploring Conservation and Proforestation Options for New Jersey Forests, was hosted by the New Jersey Forest Task Force.

In addition to Ed, webinar speakers included Bill Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University; Tony D’Amato, Professor and Director of the Forestry Program at the University of Vermont and William Keeton, Professor of Forest Ecology and Forestry Director at the University of Vermont joined the webinar.

The program explored the benefits of forests in mitigating climate change, with an emphasis on the value of leaving some forest as strategic climate and biodiversity reserves where forests are left to mature without intervention.

Ed and Bill Moomaw, who were co-authors with Susan Masino on the paper, Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good, focused on the benefits of passive forest management – sometimes called Proforestation, while Tony and Bill focused on the important role of more active management strategies, with all agreeing that maintaining New Jersey’s forest cover was essential.

The New Jersey Forest Stewardship Task force was announced in February 2022 with the purpose of studying and identifying ways in which the State can best manage its forests in order to fight climate change, prevent forest fires, improve ecosystems, and protect soil and water quality, among other things.

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Chasing the Fascinating Dragonfly with John McLeran

Redding and Highstead have been fortunate that John McLeran grew up on a New York State dairy farm, right next door to an elementary school environmental education teacher. “I was absolutely fascinated because he opened up doors to me by teaching me how to identify birds by sight and by their songs. By the time I was twelve, I could name pretty much any bird by its song. He put me in that direction, and I’ve steered there ever since.”

Serendipity also brought John to Highstead some 25 years ago, where he has been participating in a range of projects, including forest monitoring and conducting a survey of Highstead’s abundant dragonfly population. Asked why he ended up at Highstead, he explains, “Basically, as a great explorer once said, because it’s there…If it wasn’t Highstead, I would search out any environmental organization just to see what’s there and what’s going on.”

“I think some people are just wired to want to be outdoors and have a natural fascination. I am enamored by just about everything I see and hear and smell that’s outside my front door.”

John McLeran

A Lifetime of Community Science

A man with grey hair, a blue shirt, and round eyeglasses outdoors.
John McLeran

Without a formal environmental background except high school biology and a college major in English and American Literature, John seems an unlikely candidate to spend a lifetime exploring the environment and its many inhabitants. “I went to a very environmentally-oriented college, a little college called Middlebury up in Vermont,” he says. “I think some people are just wired to want to be outdoors and have a natural fascination. I am enamored by just about everything I see and hear and smell that’s outside my front door. And I always want to know, ‘why is it here?’ ‘How is it interacting with everything else in my yard?’ So, I don’t have to go far to find motivation.”

Summers Seeking Dragonflies

With summer’s peak unfolding around Highstead, you’ll see dragonflies everywhere. You just have to look for them. In the insect world, butterflies may be one of the most familiar and common insects, but dragonflies are a close contender. “And there is a lot to know. There has been a great deal of research, especially on dragonfly flight patterns.”

As a biodiversity hotspot, the northeastern United States is buzzing with dragonfly species, with over 180 in New England alone. This season marks John’s eleventh summer seeking dragonflies as part of an ongoing population study in partnership with Highstead’s senior ecologist, Ed Faison. John describes his fieldwork process, “I visit Highstead four times a summer, usually for about 2 to 2.5 hours in the barn meadow, down to the pond, around the pond, and then back on the boardwalk going into the woods.”

A dragonfly with a green abdomen and green and black striped tail, four transparent wings, and black eyes perches on a rock surface.
Photos by John McLeran (Left to Right): Female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis)
A dragonfly with black wings and an emerald body stands on a rock surface.
Male Ebony Jewelwing damsefly (Calopteryx maculata)
A dragonfly with a blue tail and black abdomen hovers against a plant. Its four wings are spread and show black ends along the abdomen and white to transparent out ends.
Male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa)

Species diversity, reappearances or disappearances, date, time, weather, and location are all tracked in a spreadsheet for documentation while following Highstead’s protocols. “I don’t catch the dragonflies. In most cases, I can identify down to the species; some I can’t. I’d have to have it in hand and look at it in a magnifying glass or a microscope.”

As a means toward identification, John also observes dragonfly behaviors including flight patterns, wing position, and perching position. “Some are perchers and only fly up to catch prey, while some hang from a branch, or perch on the highest standing dead plant.”

So far, John has witnessed 29 different dragonfly species, “And there are probably another half dozen that I’ve seen but haven’t been able to identify.”

The dragonfly inventory contributes to Highstead’s ongoing research about the ecological health of systems across the landscape. As bioindicators, dragonflies and other members of the Odonata order (dragonflies, damselflies, etc.) can tell us about freshwater ecosystem integrity and changes in the ecosystem over time. Some commonly observed species include eastern pondhawk, clubtail, swamp spreadwing, and blue dasher. “And others are elusive—the common whitetail is on virtually every pond around here. For years I wasn’t seeing it at Highstead, and then all of a sudden, I think three years ago, it started to appear, and now it has become common to this pond.”

As insectivores, Highstead’s dragonflies live off a diet mostly consisting of mosquitos and midges, but will also eat butterflies, moths, bees, and other dragonflies. “When people say, ‘Talk to me more about your work with pollinators,’ and then, ‘Well, how about dragonflies?’ It’s always a little bit embarrassing because dragonflies are probably the fiercest pollinator eaters around. To my knowledge, I’ve never read that they’re involved in the pollination process.”

A calico dragonfly perches on the tip of a blade of grass. The dragonfly has large red eyes, a tan and black striped ody, and transparent wings with tan-ringed black dots.
A male Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa). Photo Credit: John McLeran.

The Thrill of the Unexpected

John’s approach to science and collaboration at Highstead speaks to the organization’s guiding mission, “inspiring curiosity and building knowledge about plants and wooded landscapes.” When asked if he has learned anything new or unexpected, he quickly answers, “Well, I think just about everything. If I learned something I didn’t know before, that’s always exciting for me. I never know who’s going to appear that I’ve never seen before, or who I can’t find that was here a year or two ago. It’s exciting to know there are still species out there that I’ve not seen. So that’s always fun.”

Underlying all of John’s work is a passion to encourage people to spend time outdoors. And it’s more than the potential for finding dragonflies and making discoveries out your door. “I think in this day and age, if you grow up looking at a screen, and you’re indoors 95% of the time, I can see how it would be difficult to find a kinship with what’s outside your front door.” After a career in leading environmental education centers, John continues. “My great hope is, reach as many as you can as often as you can, and then maybe that’s the best you can do.”

When he’s not chasing dragonflies, John serves as the Open Space Manager for the town of Redding and the Redding Land Trust. Highstead’s neighbor and partner, New Pond Farm Education Center, also hosts John’s dragonfly photography, and some of his specimen collections are housed at the University of Connecticut Storrs and the American Museum of Natural History.

Category: Stories

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NOAA Releases Funding Opportunities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

With nearly $3 billion over the next 5 years, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is taking historic action on habitat restoration, coastal resilience, and weather forecasting infrastructure by releasing several funding opportunities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. NOAA hopes to address key climate risks such as floods, fire, drought and extreme heat and strengthen climate resilience in marine and coastal landscapes. NOAA’s Community-based Restoration Program has funded several past projects in the New England region, and this influx of funding offers new potential for projects centered on Habitat Restoration, Coastal Resilience, and Fish Passage. 

As part of its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, NOAA released two opportunities for Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience, with one program aimed at assisting underserved communities. The programs total $491 million in funding over the next five years.  The Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants will fund projects to restore fisheries and protected resources, as well as strengthen resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems. There is up to $85 million available for this program in 2022, and applications are due September 16. The Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities will support underserved communities in habitat restoration and capacity building to ensure these communities can more fully participate in future transformational habitat projects. This program is funded at $10 million in 2022 and applications are due September 30

NOAA also released two opportunities for Fish Passage, funded at $400 million over the next five years. Fish passage projects entail the removal of dams and other in-stream barriers to restore marine, estuarine, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystem habitat. The goal of these projects is to reopen migratory pathways, restore access to healthy habitat for fish, and increase resilience to climate change by removing or improving outdated infrastructure. One example of a successful fish passage project in New England is the reopening of the Penobscot River. NOAA worked with several partners, including the Penobscot Indian Nation, to remove dams and replace them with nature-like fishways. The project opened 30 miles of spawning habitat for sea-run fish including the Atlantic salmon, alewife, and American eel. With a significant influx of funding, two grant programs for fish passage  are expected to assist in the revival of similar habitats. The Restoring Fish Passage through Barrier Removal grant program will fund locally-led removal of dams and other in-stream barriers. Projects developed with inclusive practices and a diverse range of community groups will be prioritized. This fish passage program is funded at $65 million in 2022 and applications are due August 15. The second program, Restoring Priority Tribal Fish Passage through Barrier Removal, will support Tribes, Tribal commissions, and Tribal consortia in implementing priority fish passage projects and building Tribal organizational capacity to participate in current and future fish passage projects. This program receives $12 million in 2022 and the application deadline is August 29.

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America the Beautiful Grant Programs at a Glance

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced the 2022 Request for Proposals for the America the Beautiful Challenge, a public-private grant program for locally-led and voluntary efforts that invest in ecosystem restoration projects across the nation. 

The $1 Billion initiative is backed by an initial $440 million in federal funds over the next five years mainly through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last year. For the first year, approximately $85 million in grant funding is available. But how do states, Tribes, Territories, and other organizations access this funding to initiate their respective conservation projects?

The Department of Interior’s Implementation Grants and Planning, Collaboration, and Engagement Grants offer plenty of opportunity for New England. Together, they make up a majority of the funding and have no geographic restrictions on projects. The Private Forests, Rangeland, and Farmland Grants funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service could be a good fit for New England projects that serve to protect certain turtle species that are listed under the Working Lands for Wildlife Framework. The Department of Defense and US Forest Service Grants to Buffer and Benefit Public Lands are less applicable for the New England region unless projects are in close proximity to Sentinel Landscapes or US Forest Service lands. Read below for more information about each grant category to determine which might be the best fit for your proposal. 

Implementation Grants

Key details: This is the largest grant category and it offers the highest individual award size. Grants for land acquisition or easement projects can be accepted as long as the effort is part of a larger restoration or conservation goal. States, Tribes, and Territories are the only entities eligible to receive this grant; however, partnerships with NGOs and localities through subawards are encouraged. 

Project focus: Implementation projects that address program priorities (e.g. benefiting  at-risk fish, wildlife and plant species, expanding habitat connectivity, and expanding public and community access to nature) on public, Tribal, and/or private lands. See the reference guide to review all 10 program priorities. 

  • Department: US Department of Interior
  • Eligible applicants: States, U.S. Territories, and Tribal-affiliated organizations and governments 
  • Geographic focus: National
  • Non-federal cost share (Match): for states: 10% of costs, at least 2.5% must be cash, and for Tribes and Territories: Waived
  • Award size: $1 million-$5 million
  • Project length: Up to four years
  • Other important information: Landscape-scale restoration project requests above $5 million may be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Planning, Collaboration, and Engagement Grants

Key details: Projects receiving this grant must be focused on preserving large-scale landscapes, watersheds, and/or seascapes and must include multiple partners. Similar to the Implementation grants, only  States, Tribes, and Territories can apply to grants in this category and partnerships with NGOs and localities through subawards are encouraged. 

Project Focus: Projects that strengthen local capacity through community-based efforts, partnership building, planning, and project design to implement on-the-ground local projects in the future. 

  • Department: US Department of Interior
  • Eligible applicants: States, U.S. Territories, Tribal governments, and Tribal-affiliated organizations
  • Geographic focus: National
  • Non-federal cost share (match): For States: 10% of costs, at least 2.5% must be cash, and for Tribes and Territories: Waived
  • Award size: $200,000 to $1,000,000
  • Project Size: Up to 1 year

Private Forests, Rangeland, and Farmland Grants

Bog Turtle. Photo Credit: Peeples, Gary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Key details: While municipalities and non-profits are eligible to receive these grants, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is focusing on private lands that serve the goals of the Working Lands for Wildlife Frameworks. You can explore maps of Working Lands for Wildlife here. New England species such as the Bog Turtle and Northeast turtle are covered within the framework. 

Project focus: Projects that support outreach and engagement with private landowners to advance voluntary conservation efforts on working lands that align with the NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Framework

  • Department: US Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Eligibility: Non-profits, local and municipal governments, and educational institutions
  • Geographic focus: Private lands with a focus on implementing Working Lands for Wildlife Frameworks
  • Non-federal cost share (match): 50% of costs, Waived for Tribes
  • Award size: $200,000 – $500,000
  • Project length: 2-3 years 

Grants to Buffer and Benefit Public Lands

Key details: These grants from the Department of Defense and US Forest Service apply to nonprofits and municipalities, however, they are restricted to areas in close proximity to Sentinel landscapes and US Forest Service lands. 

Project focus: Projects that result in direct conservation actions that benefit National Forests and Sentinel Landscapes. US Forest Service funds will support invasive species detection, prevention, and treatments benefiting USFS lands, as well as collaboratively-developed fish passage and water quality projects on Federal and Tribal lands. 

  • Department: Department of Defense, US Forest Service
  • Eligible applicants: Non-profits, local and municipal governments, and educational institutions
  • Geographic focus: Sentinel landscapes and areas that advance military mission; US Forest Service lands or areas benefiting US Forest Service lands, other Tribal and Federal lands
  • Non-federal cost share (match): Department of Defense funds: None; US Forest Service funds: 20% of costs, Waived for Tribes
  • Award size: $200,000-$1.5 million
  • Project length: 2-4 years

The deadline for the first round of applications is July 21st, 2022. Eligible entities interested in applying for grants are encouraged to review the Reference Guide and Webinar from NFWF for more information about the requests for proposals or grant categories. This is expected to be a five-year program, with Request for Proposals being released each Spring. NFWF encourages partnerships across organizations and landscapes, so now is the time to identify potential projects and build partnerships. 

Beau Martinez is Highstead’s Yale Conservation Scholar for the summer of 2022. The Conservation Finance series will continue under the leadership and authorship of Highstead’s Tara Whalen, Manager of Conservation Finance Programs and Jackie Rigley, Conservation Associate.

Category: News


Urban Pollinator Workshops Offered in New Haven

CPEN, Highstead, and the Xerces Society have announced details of an upcoming series of Thursday evening programs about urban pollinator gardening. The workshops will show visitors how to plan, plant, and maintain their own pollinator garden and will take place at UrbanScapes Native Plant Nursery, 133 Hazel St., New Haven from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

Interested organizations can share this flyer with their supporters.

Event Details

JULY 21 – How to assess a yard for pollinator habitat

Thinking about starting a pollinator garden in your yard? Learn from Xerces Society experts how to evaluate your yard’s potential. (July 28 rain date)

AUG 18 – Planting a 4×4 pollinator garden

Now that you’ve found the spot, you don’t need much space to make a perfect pollinator garden. Learn how to fit a pollinator paradise in just 16 square feet.

SEPT 22 – Fall Clean up and seed collecting

With autumn right around the corner, learn how to prepare your garden for a long winter and learn how to gather seeds from your favorite pollinator plants.

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Highstead Welcomes New Board Chair

At its annual meeting on June 24, Highstead elected a new Board Chair, Dorothy Adams. The board also approved the promotion of longtime Operations Director Geordie Elkins to Executive Director.

The outgoing Board President, David Foster, will focus his efforts on the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities vision, continuing to advance landscape conservation across New England. Foster will remain on the Highstead board.

Adams has a broad range of experience in leading and advising social purpose organizations across the non-profit sector, including as Board Chair at Capital for Change, Inc. and as a partner at Social Venture Partners Connecticut.

Early in his career, Elkins worked at Highstead as a Horticulturist between 1996 and 2001, where he helped plant many of the plants that make up today’s landscape. In 2012 he returned to Highstead to oversee operations, and in the fall of 2019, he joined the Highstead Board.

Category: News