Pollinator Pathway Success is Focus of CBS News Segment

As part of its coverage leading up to Earth Day 2022, CBS News visited Norwalk, Connecticut, to share the success of the Pollinator Pathway project.

Focusing on the value of lower-impact yard care, the 2-minute segment explores how the local effort to eliminate yard pesticides and increase the use of native plants to create corridors of pollinator-friendly spaces in Fairfield and Westchester counties has grown into a national phenomenon.

Featured in the segment are movement founders Louise Washer of the Norwalk River Valley Watershed Association and Donna Merrill, a member of the Wilton, CT, Conservation Commission and former Executive Director of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust. Started in 2017 when both were members of the Hudson to Housatonic RCP (H2H) it became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit this year. Their mission: “Establishing pollinator-friendly habitats and food sources for bees, butterflies and birds.”

The Pollinator Pathway now has the participation of more than 300 communities nationwide. “It is seeding all over the United States,” says Merrill. “It’s moving into the Midwest, into the Northwest, into the Southeast. I think we are really changing something.”

They emphasize that small steps can, in fact, make a difference. “People read about the ‘insect apocalypse’ and bee decline,” says Washer, “This is something positive. This is something you can do.”

The Pollinator Pathway invites people to join the movement by committing to some basic pollinator-friendly behaviors, literally in their own back yards – whether urban, suburban, or rural.

The commitment is simple. Anyone can join by taking these steps:

  • Adding native pollinator-friendly plants – anywhere from one pollinator-friendly tree or planter, to a small pollinator garden, to a full meadow
  • Subtracting a little lawn (cut high or reduce the size)
  • Avoiding the use of pesticides and lawn chemicals

Category: News

Tracking the Progress and Impact of Federal Climate Legislation

With the introduction of two new pieces of federal legislation related to climate and conservation in the fall of 2021, Highstead’s Conservation Finance Team began providing background and insight on aspects of the legislation that were most relevant to conservation in the New England region. Here is an ongoing compilation of articles.

Biden Administration Launches $1 Billion “America the Beautiful” Challenge (May 5, 2022)

The passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated a significant amount of initial funding for the $1B “America the Beautiful Challenge,” a competitive grant program coordinating funding from Federal agencies and private philanthropy. Learn about The Challenge and Request for Proposals. 

What’s new with Clean Water State Revolving Funds? (Feb 22, 2022)

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law significantly increased funding for Clean Water State Revolving Funds. Learn about the potential use of CWSRF funds for conservation and get clarity on how the funds work. 

Next steps for Land Justice in the New England Conservation Community (Dec 17, 2021)

Following the RCP Network Gathering on Land Justice, we examine the emerging focus on justice in the conservation field and opportunities for new funding to advance environmental justice initiatives. 

Reconciliation Bill passes in House signaling need for regional coordination (Nov 23, 2021)

After the passage of the Build Back Better Bill in the House, we spoke with conservation leaders on how regional coordination can bolster funding opportunities in New England and tackle obstacles in funding. 

What does the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill mean for New England? (Nov 9, 2021)

Learn about the latest on the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and get a closer look at the Build Back Better Framework. 

Conservation funding in the Reconciliation and Infrastructure Bills: An Explainer (Oct 26, 2021)

The United States Congress is in the process of advancing two bills that support additional funding for established forestry, stewardship, agriculture, and climate resiliency programs. Discover how the Reconciliation and Infrastructure Bills have the potential to advance regional conservation goals. 

Category: News

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2021-22 Conservation Finance Learning Lab

We are excited to announce the five-part Conservation Finance Learning Lab produced in partnership between Highstead and The Conservation Finance Network and made freely available to registrants. The webinars will take place from December 2021 to April 2022, and will feature panel discussions, case studies, and networking opportunities for participants to take a deep dive into tangible, innovative approaches to conservation funding and financing. The concepts and lessons learned from the case studies presented will be broadly applicable to practitioners everywhere. Each session will build on the previous sessions, culminating in the “Dolphin Tank” exercise*, where participants will have the opportunity to analyze and deliberate solutions to real-world conservation problems. Attendance at all/most sessions will ensure the full benefit of the series. Register for individual sessions below.

*Like Shark Tank, but friendlier!

A woman and a young girl canoe on a lake with mountains in the background. Conservation Finance.

Webinar Dates and Registration

Participants who have not previously participated in Conservation Finance 101 are encouraged to watch this pre-recorded session.

For those unable to attend a live session, a recording will be available on this page after each webinar.

Previous Sessions

Part V: “Dolphin Tank” Project Consultations: Bringing it Home – Tuesday, April 12th at 2 PM ET

This last session will put the previous webinar lessons into practice where participants will have the opportunity to analyze and deliberate solutions to real-world conservation problems.

Part I: Structuring Conservation Transactions to Broaden Partnerships and Funding Sources – Tuesday, December 14th at 2 PM ET.

Explore transaction structures through urban/rural examples where equity is centered in funding and financing.

Part II: Turning Over Rocks: Underutilized Sources of Funding – Tuesday, January 11th at 2 PM ET

Focus on underutilized sources of federal funding and financing, what to track, and how best to anticipate them (CIG, RCPP, LWCF, IFNF, etc.).

Part III: The Power of Debt: Borrowing Money to Save the World – Tuesday, February 8th at 2 PM ET

Focus on the benefits and sources of debt alongside repayment pathways (PRIs, SRF, revolving loans, etc.).

Part IV: Corporate Engagement: Successfully Selling your Project – Tuesday, March 8th at 2 PM ET

Focus on cracking the nut for corporate engagement. Trends, tips, and tricks for honing, and then making your pitch to companies.

The Conservation Finance Network wordmark. Conservation Finance Learning
Highstead logo. Conservation Finance Learning

Category: Events

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What’s New with Clean Water State Revolving Funds?

This past November, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. This Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes the single largest federal investment in water ever made and allocates $11.7 billion over five years to the Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRF). “This means an increase of $1.69 billion or more per year, “which adds significant resources to the program,” said Michael Deane, Chief of the EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund. More funding for the program, combined with greater emphasis on nonpoint source projects — including habitat, groundwater, and surface water protection and restoration — make the CWSRF an appealing source of funding for conservation in New England. 

State Revolving Funds are an appealing source of conservation funding.
The Virgil Parris Forest contains shoreline on South Pond in Buckfield, Maine. Aerial view. Photo by Jerry Monkman.

Of particular importance is that 49% of this funding must go towards “additional subsidization,” or principal loan forgiveness — this portion functions like a grant to help states fund priority projects, especially within environmental justice communities. The increased Infrastructure Law investment, along with the focus on additional subsidization and the potential projects in New England, means it is the perfect time to start thinking about leveraging SRFs to fund conservation projects. Terisa Thomas, Director at Quantified Ventures, advanced key legislation for SRFs in Vermont. Thomas encourages the New England conservation community to utilize SRFs and “Step into this new generation of conservation finance, where there’s not enough free money to make it all happen today, and waiting until tomorrow is not an option.”

A Brief Explanation of the Clean Water State Revolving Funds

The CWSRF was established in 1987 to provide low interest loans and long-term financial assistance in support of water infrastructure needs. Since its inception, the CWSRF has allocated $145 billion towards water quality improvement projects. SRFs are funded with a federal capitalization grant, which is given to a state and then matched at 20% by state funds. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law reduces state match down to 10% for financial years 2022-23, with the match returning to the normal rate after that. States lend out these funds as low-interest loans, with an interest rate ranging from 0% to the market rate, with an average rate of 1.2%. As loan recipients pay back the principal, states can make new loans to other recipients, creating a revolving source of funding for projects. Eligible recipients include municipalities, nonprofit organizations, citizen groups, and private entities. This Conservation Finance Network Toolkit explains how State Revolving Funds work and how they can be applied to conservation. 

It is the perfect time to start thinking about leveraging SRFs to fund conservation projects.

Nonpoint Source Projects and CWSRF

To qualify for a CWSRF loan, projects must demonstrate a water quality benefit and meet at least one of the EPA’s 11 eligibility criteria and project categories, including habitat, groundwater, and surface water protection and restoration. Land acquisition and restoration can be funded through the CWSRF, typically as a Nonpoint Source (NPS) project as a means to protect water quality. Projects can take the form of conservation easements, leasing of land, fee simple purchases, and restoration activities such as pervious trails and tree planting. 

While nonpoint source pollution is the leading source of water quality impairment across the U.S., less than 4% of CWSRF funds (through 2020) have gone towards addressing nonpoint source needs. Michael Deane highlighted this disparity and emphasized that new funding from the Infrastructure Law poses an opportunity for states to explore more nonpoint source projects. Green infrastructure projects have at times been underappreciated as a water quality solution. Conservation NPS projects prevent water impairment at the source, reducing the need for traditional wastewater treatment. They also prevent development in sensitive areas, helping avoid associated storm water runoff and water quality degradation. 

What Makes a Strong Nonpoint Source Project?

As nonpoint source projects have a unique set of challenges and opportunities, this Best Practices Guide for NPS projects outlines everything an NPS project developer should consider. Understanding what makes an NPS project effective is key to figuring out if the CWSRF might be the right fit. First, determine what your state’s water quality priorities are. States will be most interested in projects that solve priority problems. Demonstrating multiple benefits can also make your project a stronger contender for funds. NPS projects often naturally have multiple benefits, as they protect habitats, conserve natural resources, and preserve land. Additional benefits of NPS projects include economic, public health, and social benefits that come from healthy watersheds and access to green space.  Projects that benefit underserved communities are also prioritized at the state level. Another feature that makes a project more attractive to state CWSRF programs is having layered financing where funds are coming from multiple sources. Layered financing shows support from other sources and validates project preparedness. 

Obstacles making way for opportunities

Utilizing Debt to Advance Conservation Goals

While conservation groups may be averse to taking on debt or trying an unfamiliar financing approach, Terisa Thomas emphasized their many benefits for conservation projects. “The value of securing all financing upfront, a 0% or very low interest loan, and flexibility in terms of repayment… This enables the project versus losing the project or waiting a few years when the cost of the property significantly increases.”  This Conservation Finance Webinar on the Power of Debt highlights the value of debt for conservation projects, and this article tackles talking to your land trust board about debt financing. 

Building State Relationships and Forming Partnerships

The EPA gives states discretion on how their CWSRF works so that they are able to target their priority water quality issues. As each state has a unique CWSRF strategy, some are further along in the NPS project realm or have special financing to support NPS projects. States utilize Intended Use Plans (IUPs) to identify priority projects each year. It is important to find out your state’s water quality priorities and goals so your NPS projects align with them. Working with your state CWSRF representative can also help determine whether changes can be made to state CWSRF regulations to accommodate the growth of NPS projects. The importance of reaching out to your state’s SRF contact early on in the process cannot be overstated. Find your state’s CWSRF allotments, contacts, and websites from the EPA.

In addition to coordinating with state CWSRF representatives, partnerships at the local level are an essential part of NPS projects. Establishing a relationship with your municipality and local wastewater utilities is important to help them understand green infrastructure and the value of conserving land to protect water quality. Partnering with other land trusts can build capacity to understand how the SRF works and collaborate on projects. Working with other entities can also lead to potential repayment streams and creative solutions. 

An example of CWSRF advancement of NPS projects comes from Vermont. State restrictions on nonpoint source funding were a barrier to addressing nutrient loading issues in Lake Champlain, which was a top priority for water quality in Vermont. Terisa Thomas played a key role in passing Act 185 in May 2018 — which expanded eligibility of CWSRF projects to include natural resources protection projects such as conservation easements, wetland restoration, and tree planting. Act 185 also enabled direct loans to private entities for natural infrastructure projects. “There are only a few states that do this and it’s a huge barrier to finance these projects if you have to go through municipalities,” said Thomas, “this allowed our State Revolving Funds to work directly with conservation groups to develop financing tools that are of value.” 

Administrative Burdens

As NPS conservation projects are often smaller than other gray infrastructure projects funded by the CWSRF, administrative challenges can exist. Financing several small NPS projects requires more relative effort than larger, traditional projects. Exploring more conservation projects also requires exploration of new partnerships and financing options by state CWSRF programs. In states with strong NPS partnerships and projects, dedicated staff play an important role. 

Repayment Streams

The need for a repayment stream has resulted in some creative solutions for conservation focused projects. Some examples include Homeowner Association fees, recreation fees, and equipment rentals. The Yurok Tribe in California acquired over 22,000 acres from the CWSRF. They came up with a very creative repayment plan — carbon credits from sustainable harvesting practices and timber sale revenues. The Massachusetts CWSRF Community Septic Management Program applies property tax bills to repayment. Applicants must prove the validity of a repayment plan in order to secure a loan, so this should be a priority issue to discuss when considering applying. Michael Deane remarked that, “Some conservation or watershed focus projects don’t have an obvious repayment stream, and while there’s some exciting things going on with land trusts and conservation groups to generate revenues to pay off loans, the ability to provide loan principal forgiveness through the CWSRF program’s additional subsidization can provide more flexibility for states to structure affordable assistance and get some momentum going.” Creative repayment streams and additional subsidization can help NPS projects thrive. 

Regional Collaboration Lens

New England as a region is in a favorable position to capitalize on this opportunity. Regional Conservation Partnerships (RCPs) can share knowledge and creative solutions. As the conversation around SRFs circulates around New England, several webinars have shared regional and national knowledge of the CWSRF. In the words of Terisa Thomas, “This is the prime time for municipalities and conservation organizations to develop new partnerships with state SRF representatives and express interest in participation.” The CWSRF is a powerful financial tool that has the potential to kickstart conservation projects across New England.

More on Climate and Conservation Legislation

Category: News

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Highstead Interns Bring Talent and Learn Valuable Conservation Skills

In Fall 2021, Highstead hosted three conservation interns, Jackie Rigley, Jenni Fuller, and Fiona Lunt, who each shared their talents in one of three areas– 1) Policy, 2) Geographic Information Systems (GIS), or 3) Communications and Events, respectively. The purpose of the conservation internship was for each person to gain real-world conservation experience in an area of interest to them, while simultaneously supporting the work of Highstead and the broader Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) Network. Conservation interns also benefit from networking opportunities with other conservation professionals and scholars, and are given the time and support to develop their own “conservation portfolios” to help their future endeavors. At the end of their 12-week tenure, each intern presented about what they did, what they learned, and how they would use the skills they gained in their future work. 

conservation finance
A preview of one of Jackie’s articles.
Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Jackie, Jenni, and Fiona had the opportunity to support a wide variety of projects each within their own discipline. As the policy intern, Jackie worked extensively on articles about current and pending conservation legislation, producing four Highstead website “Insights” on topics like the Infrastructure Bill and Land Justice in New England. Jackie interviewed multiple experts within Highstead’s network to produce thorough and digestible articles about these pressing policy and conservation finance topics while simultaneously learning and researching to become a better expert herself. In her final presentation, Jackie expressed, “In terms of policy work, I learned that it’s ever-changing…and that I really enjoy that.” In a short period of time, she developed a strong knowledge base about conservation policy as well as the networking skills it takes to be able to write about these issues, in the end producing a robust collection of helpful articles for Highstead and its networks.

Jenni focused on GIS and flexed her analytical and design skills throughout her time at Highstead, first in the production of the 2021 RCP Network Gathering story map. Jenni spent much of the first portion of her internship developing this informative and visually-appealing guide to the Gathering, which was shared with participants and remains an important resource for understanding Land Justice and how it has shaped the region.

Jenni also began a project for the Northeast Bird Habitat Conservation Initiative that will integrate eBird science data in order to produce a practical conservation map that is useful to members of the RCP Network. Jenni also researched and designed a new logo for the initiative as well as developing an internal web tool that shows where RCP regions and grassland areas overlap. In reflecting on her time as an intern, Jenni noted, “Having a community that is so supportive has been an amazing experience… And being able to use my creativity is really fulfilling for me, and I really appreciate having that opportunity.”

rcp network gathering story map
Both Jenni and Fiona helped create the story map for the 2021 RCP Network Gathering, with Jenni being the main architect and Fiona helping with content editing.

Fiona, the communications and events intern, supported communications for Highstead and their networks. Early on, she helped with planning for the RCP Network Gathering, which included editing and writing content for the story map, promoting the event, participating in planning meetings and providing support to the meeting itself.

Fiona also worked closely with the Hudson to Housatonic RCP, helping partners remain connected through multiple communications channels and aiding working groups in their specific conservation endeavors. She wore many hats, including editor, communicator, note-taker, organizer, ecologist, and even tech support, and in the end expressed that from this work she can now “step back and see how my part is contributing to the bigger realm of conservation work.”

In the final presentations, all three interns expressed their gratitude to Highstead for creating a welcoming environment and encouraging them to pursue their conservation-related goals. Now in 2022, both Jackie and Fiona have remained at Highstead as conservation associates, still in their respective roles of policy and communications/events, while Jenni is now working as a Project Coordinator for the National Audubon Society.

Jackie Rigley (Policy), Jenni Fuller (GIS), and Fiona Lunt (Communications and Events)

Category: News

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Winter at Work on the Ecotype Seed Project

As a land conservation organization with its roots in plant science, Highstead oversees the collection of diverse wild seeds for the Ecotype Project. These ecotype seed are the offspring of native plants possessing genes local to the region or “ecotypes” specific to our Ecoregion 59. These collections are fundamental to achieving the project goal to increase the availability of native plants across the Northeast. Led by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT NOFA), the project involves local seed collectors, botanists, farmers, propagators, planters, and more. Highstead is one of several partners who contribute their capacity and expertise to support the production and distribution of ecotype plants, even in the deep New England winter.

A greenhouse with sprouting seed trays through seven window panes. Ecotype Seed.
The Highstead greenhouse.

Seed Stratification

Even as the snow is falling, Highstead staff continue work on the Ecotype Project by following in nature’s tracks to learn how to grow the native seed. Some seed requires a complex series of environmental changes to get them to germinate. By observing nature, and through careful planning and coordination, staff conduct experiments to understand the exact growing requirements of the newly collected species.

An open refrigerator door with plastic baggies filled with seeds stacked inside.
Seed storage and cold stratification.

Once seed harvest is complete, seeds are cleaned and kept in cold storage until it is time to grow them, a period known as dormancy. Most dormant seed requires stratification to wake it out of dormancy and prepare for germination. Stratification is a process of treating seed to mimic the conditions of their natural habitat.

Several Ecotype Project plants require a period of cold stratification, where the cleaned seed is placed in a zip-lock bag with a moist paper towel (or coffee filter) and refrigerated. Highstead’s Grounds and Facilities Coordinator Jesse Hubbard explained, “Many seeds require around thirty days of moist and cold stratification, while others may take as long as sixty to ninety days. It depends on the species. Some seeds are straightforward while others are really fussy.”

One species being tended to at Highstead is black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), which is very appealing to a variety of pollinators, including the endangered Appalachian Azure butterfly. Black cohosh seed requires a period of double dormancy for germination to occur. This process involves two cycles of stratifying the seed in warm, moist conditions for 60-to-90 days, followed by another 60-to-90 days in cold, moist conditions. Jesse expanded, “It’s a delicate process and requires close monitoring to ensure the seeds don’t dry out or turn moldy. This is why most people will grow Actaea outdoors – they let nature do all the work, but we’re trying to grow it in a controlled setting. Actaea is tricky, and we’re hoping to find a protocol that works with some consistency.” Once perfected, artificial stratification can speed up the natural growing process which can take over a year in some cases.

Jesse shared examples of current and past ecotype crop species with known protocols that usually do not require stratification, like white wood aster. “Some of the wood asters may not need any stratification, but we do them anyway just to ensure the most germination possible.”

Operations Director Geordie Elkins emphasized the importance of testing and experimentation. “There are only a limited number of native plants that are common in the nursery trade and commercially available. There are many native species in the region, but many are harder to propagate and not as appealing to commercial growers. We test different methods and refine them so that when we recruit growers and farmers, we’re not just handing them seed, but we have some resources to help them succeed.”

Black seeds in a moist coffee filter. Ecotype Seed.
Zizia aurea seeds stratifying in moist and cold conditions.

Greenhouse Growth

Between stratification experiments, protocol refinement, and rigorous documentation, Highstead staff tend to the greenhouse for the seed germination and growth phase. Landscape and Collections Manager Kathleen Kitka described the process, “Once the seeds are stratified, they are sowed into trays containing a seed starting medium. Next, the containers are placed on heated benches in the greenhouse; that’s where the germination chambers come into play.”

Jesse discussed the importance of the germination chambers. “We need to keep the soil consistently warm and moist as the final step to break dormancy and initiate germination. Bench heat with reflective insulation below will maintain necessary soil temperatures while the germination chambers maintain humidity and increase the efficiency of the bench heat and maintain humidity levels. We also ensure we have proper water drainage to prevent pooling from drowning the plants.” Once germination is complete, the trays must be removed from the chambers to prevent the new seedlings from rotting.

Seeded trays in a germination chamber. Ecotype Seed.
Seeded trays in a germination chamber.

It will take about 12 weeks for the seedlings to grow into finished plugs. During this time, the staff is busy with various maintenance and establishment activities such as watering, fertilizing, pinching/thinning, and pest management. Controlling insects and diseases provides opportunities to experiment with practical methods and different OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed products. Jesse added, “With little air movement in the greenhouse, it’s an ideal environment for pests, so we’ll sometimes move trays outside in the summer.”

What’s Next

Following germination, the young native plants will travel to Founder Plots across Ecoregion 59, where local growers will increase the supply of available native ecotype seed by cultivating plots of two hundred plugs of the propagated and genetically diverse plants. Throughout the process, growers will report their progress and troubleshooting tactics. By harvest time, they’ll clean and count the seed in preparation for distribution to local nursery growers, pollinator pathway groups, conservation organizations doing landscape restoration, governmental agencies, and farmers.

Upcoming Ecotype Project Seeds

*This list is subject to change

Genus speciesCommon Name
Lobelia siphiliticablue lobelia
Sorghastrum nutansIndian grass
Symphyotrichum leavesmooth aster
Symphyotrichum patenslate purple American-aster
Symphyotrichum novae-angliaeNew England American-aster
Symphyotrichum lateriflorumcalico American-aster
Zizia aureagolden Alexanders
Seedlings ready for planting in new Founder Plots. Ecotype Seed.
Seedlings ready for planting in new Founder Plots.

Category: Stories

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February is for the Love of Birds

Wherever you are this winter, you can be a part of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. On February 18-22, join people from all over the world to discover the joys of bird watching, advance your bird knowledge, and contribute your observations to an extensive bird science database.

eBird map data visualization example. Great Backyard Bird Count

Last year’s count collectively identified 6,436 different bird species by over an estimated 300,000 participants from across the globe. In the Northern Hemisphere, GBBC data is collected before the annual spring migration, when birds move en masse to their breeding grounds. This information helps scientists better understand trends in movement, population densities, and even uncovers new bird sightings like the Northern Wheatear’s appearance in the state of Ohio during its nonbreeding lifecycle.

Regardless of location, interested participants are invited to watch the birds around them for a minimum of 15 minutes, at least once on any of the event’s four days, and record their sightings using a suite of easy-access and free digital tools, including the Merlin Bird ID app. Merlin Bird ID provides bird identification assistance and enters user recorded findings into the count. In addition, checklist locations will populate the glow of their corresponding longitude and latitude on the 2022 sightings map.

Northeast Bird Habitat Conservation Initiative. A well-camouflaged Eastern Screech-Owl at Highstead.

Birdwatchers who already know their species or want to enter a checklist of multiple birds can submit their data, as well as photos and audio recordings to the eBird website and eBird app. Beyond the bird count, eBird gathers long-term data about global bird migration patterns, species distribution and abundance, habitat use, and more. Scientists, educators, researchers, conservationists, government agencies, and private citizens apply eBird data for various purposes, including conservation planning and monitoring, policymaking, and resources management and protection. For example, the Northeast Bird Habitat Conservation Initiative uses eBird as a tool to help regional conservation leaders make decisions in support of bird conservation activities including land acquisition, monitoring, and engagement with landowners, stakeholders, and the birding community.

Are you excited to count some birds yet? Want to learn more? Invite a friend or family member and visit the Great Backyard Bird Count official website for easy data entry instructions and more information. In addition, a Cornell Lab webinar with bird count tips from GBBC experts will host a Facebook Livestream on February 16, 2 p.m. ET. Register today for free.

A well-camouflaged Eastern Screech-Owl at Highstead. Great Backyard Bird Count
A well-camouflaged Eastern Screech-Owl at Highstead.

Category: Events, News

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Apply Now: eBird Mini-Grants Available for Northeast RCPs

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is currently accepting applications for mini-grants to support eBird workshops led by Regional Conservation Partnerships (RCPs) for their partners and practitioners. The goal of these workshops is to empower RCP leaders to train their partners to use eBird effectively for land conservation within their respective landscapes, creating an ambassador network to promote the effectiveness of this birding tool for conservation, monitoring, and community engagement.

It is expected that RCPs in the Northeast will utilize these mini-grants to host eBird training workshops for their partners, either virtual or in-person, and then use this as a jumping-off point to build a network of eBird users who can use the resource in support of their conservation goals.  Applications are now open and must be submitted by March 15, 2022. See below for the Request for Proposal details, eligibility criteria, and expectations.

About the Grant

In 2021, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology received funding for the Northeast Bird Habitat Conservation Initiative (NBHCI) to train Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) Network leaders to use the planning tool eBird, eBird science data, and bird-friendly forestry techniques, and to support partners with effective management implementation on ecologically important forests, grasslands, and farmlands for at‐risk bird species in the Northeast. The first year of this funding was used in part to host online eBird training workshops on landowner engagement and using eBird science data for conservation planning and acquisition prioritization for RCP leaders.

Now in year two, mini-grants as well as eBird training resources and workshop recordings are available for RCP leaders to use to support the development of their own eBird training sessions.


Grant Details and Eligibility Criteria 

  • Applications are due March 15, 2022, with funds dispersed around the beginning of April. (See link to online application below.)
  • Applicant organizations must reside within the U.S.
  • Applicants must apply on behalf of or in partnership with a Regional Conservation Partnership.
  • Grants are for up to $500/project to subsidize the cost of either an eBird workshop or webinar, including salary time, material costs, venue rental (if in person), virtual platform fees (if a webinar), etc. Indirect costs should be no more than 10%.
  • Projects must host the eBird workshop before December 31, 2022, either virtually or in-person.
  • Applicants should demonstrate their commitment to using eBird and supporting the use of this tool in their partnership base.
  • Applicants are welcome to engage partners to help present the workshop/webinar or to present on your RCP’s behalf.
  • eBird resources and webinar videos are available to help support workshop/webinar development if needed.

Grant Awards and Expectations

  • To initiate the project and payment, a MOU with a list of grant activities and expectations will be signed by the awardee organization and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
  • Upon completion of the project, the awardee should submit a one-page report detailing the workshop event, including metrics such as length of workshop, number of attendees, lessons learned, thoughts about how their organization will use eBird going forward, etc. Please include photos if possible.
  • The Cornell Lab and Highstead reserve the right to feature the funded projects and use photographs and other media on their websites, in Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative materials, and on social media.

If you have questions, please contact:

Sara Barker, Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative Program Leader

Katie Blake, Conservationist, Highstead

Photo Credit: Sara Barker

Category: News

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Collaborative Conservation Project Pitches are Focus of H2H Meeting

The Hudson to Housatonic (H2H) Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) recently hosted its first virtual All-Partner meeting of the year. 59 partners representing land trusts, local councils, state/local agencies, and other organizations were in attendance. The meeting featured speaker Ed Faison, Senior Ecologist at Highstead, where he presented on the long-term forest monitoring projects taking place at Highstead. During the talk, attendees had the opportunity to learn and ask questions about the relationships between deer browsing, invasive species, and forest growth.

collaborative conservation
H2H meeting Word Cloud responses to the question “How would you like to connect with H2H this year?”

Following the featured presentation, three partner groups shared their Collaborative Conservation Project Pitches, which were intended to help partners connect and share resources in order to realize their conservation visions. The first pitch was from Patrick Comins of the Connecticut Audubon Society, where he shared information about their work on habitat restoration and enhancement in the Mill River and Sasco Creek Brook watersheds in the Fairfield region. This project has been focusing on protecting habitat for species of conservation concern, such as wood trout, spotted turtle, American eel, and Wood Thrush. Connecticut Audubon Society is continuing to look for seed money and partner support to implement these projects in other private sanctuaries. 

The second pitch was from Simon Skolnik of the Bedford Conservation Board, who spoke about how the Town of Bedford has completed a map of wildlife corridors between significant habitats using NYS Department of Environmental Conservation funding. The group is now looking to produce an ordinance that assigns protection to those mapped corridors and is seeking additional grant money to continue this mapping work in other New York municipalities. 

Spotted turtle on a log. colalborative conservation.
At the January H2H All-Partner Meeting, the Connecticut Audubon Society shared their work on habitat enhancement and restoration for species of concern like the spotted turtle in the Mill River and Sasco Creek Brook watersheds.

The final pitch came from Julia Rogers and Paul Mailhot-Singer of the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA). The team spoke about HVA’s Follow the Forest project, which aims to connect and protect forests from southern Hudson valley to Canada. Much of their project area includes the H2H region, making it a great partner in this effort. HVA has already developed an exercise that assesses wildlife linkages and scores them based on viability and are looking to use this to set conservation priority areas. The team also plugged their new Follow the Forest film which launched on January 14th. 

If you’re interested in connecting with any of these projects summarized above or are an H2H partner with a pitch of your own, contact H2H Coordinator Katie Blake at  The main goal of H2H All-Partner Meetings is to improve networking and collaboration among partners and share the range of available resources that exist within the group. This meeting successfully connected three ongoing projects with other partners who can aid in the expansion and realization of their conservation plans. H2H also has a range of other upcoming in-person and virtual programming in 2022 that will advance these networking and sharing opportunities.

Category: Events

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Build Back Better Bill News: Three Highlights from the Week of January 3

In conservation funding news this week, Build Back Better bill negotiations continue to bubble as we head into 2022. With the infrastructure bill passed, New England states are beginning to consider how to distribute the funding. 

Below are three articles that take a closer look at the ongoing negotiations, implementation plans, and emerging policy discussions. 

Delegated as the state’s lead on infrastructure funding, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Revenue Services Mark Boughton is considering s how to allocate infrastructure funding in Connecticut. Commissioner Boughton emphasizes a regional approach, signaling the need for collaboration within New England. – The Connecticut Examiner

Following a heated political debate at the end of 2021, Senator Joe Manchin has returned to the Build Back Better discussion. As his vote is key in passing the legislation, Manchin is voicing his demands from the bill, including a reduction in the Child Tax Credit. – Axios

Despite doubt that the Build Back Better bill will pass, the Senate is committed to getting a vote on the bill. The bill might have to undergo a significant amount of change to get the go-ahead from Senators Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema, but hope remains that the legislation will be agreed upon in the coming months. – The Washington Post

Continuing Coverage of Infrastructure Legislation

Highstead has been following the developments in Washington closely and providing ongoing coverage of developments regarding the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill as well as Build Back Better.

Visit these articles for additional background:

Category: News

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