OSI's Community Forest Fund

Errol New Hampshire Forest, Photo Monkmans

Errol New Hampshire forest - photo: Monkmans 

Town forests are an historic fixture in many northern New England communities. Today global economic change, large-scale disposition of industrial forestland and continuing fragmentation of the land highlight the need to renew this effective model of local land ownership and management in Northern New England. Community forests have the potential to stabilize ownership of the region’s productive forestland, expand the assets of rural communities and build civic capacity.

OSI's Community Forest Fund recognizes that towns and communities play a critical role in conserving their natural resources. Stewardship is often best assured through local involvement in the sustainable management of these resources for a variety of purposes, including timber revenues, watershed protection and other ecosystem services, and recreation.

OSI’s Fund helps rural communities in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont gain control not only of their forests but also their economic futures. By taking on planning, ownership and stewardship responsibilities, communities benefit directly – economically, culturally, ecologically - from their forests.

Because OSI recognizes the importance of funding at all stages of the land conservation process, the Fund provides small support grants – for transaction and planning costs – as well as more substantial capital grants. Low-interest bridge loans are also available for eligible projects.  Towns and non-profit land conservation organizations are welcome to apply.

To date (February 2015), OSI’s board has approved nine capital grants and twelve support grants, totaling over $1.4 million. These projects illustrate how the Fund can help move land conservation forward, especially in small towns with tight budgets and limited volunteer capacity. Supporting transaction costs or a forest management plan can turn a tentative idea into an on-the-ground success. See descriptions of completed projects here and read more about several of these projects.

The Fund complements several other OSI initiatives in the region, including capital funds focused on U.S.-Canadian Transborder conservation and wildlife habitat conservation in New England. It also builds upon OSI’s Northern Forest Protection Fund, which assisted in the protection of more than 1.6 million acres in northern New England and New York.

A new federal conservation initiative, the Community Forest Program, brings a similar approach to sustaining working forests. Combined these two programs are helping to focus scarce funds and attention on this emerging  conservation and economic development tool. Read more about the federal program here.

Fund Summary

The Community Forest Fund supports the creation and expansion of community forests in northern New England. The Fund achieves its mission through (1) matching capital grants and loans for the purchase of land and conservation easements and (2) support grants for planning, transaction and stewardship activities for community forest projects. The Open Space Institute (OSI)administers the Fund and makes grants and loans to qualified non-profit organizations and municipalities. OSI established an advisory board, comprised of representatives from the region, which makes recommendations on implementation of the Fund to OSI’s board.

Download a summary report of the Community Forest Fund

Geographic Focus

The Fund awards grants in the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Resources will be focused to areas where community ownership is economically feasible and advances landscape conservation strategies.

Fund Criteria

The Fund supports projects that integrate community, economic and conservation goals, e.g, efforts that create and retain jobs, promote sustainable forestry, conserve land, and increase and deepen community involvement in land stewardship. More specifically, to be eligible for funding, projects must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Result in municipal or community ownership (such as through a regional or local land trust) of forestland;
  • Preserve productive forestland at a scale that can sustain forest-based economic activity;
  • Conserve the full suite of forest values;
  • Ensure community involvement in management and use of the forest;
  • Ensure community access to the economic and non-economic benefits of the forest through, for example, the planning board, town forest committee, or conservation commission;
  • Ensure that the community benefits directly from access to the economic and non-economic values of the forest, such as timber revenues, water supply, and recreational access; and,
  • Achieve permanent protection through a conservation easement or other legal mechanism that restricts development and ensures sustainable forest management.

The Fund will give preference to projects that also meet the following supporting criteria:

  • Are contiguous to, or part of a plan to protect, a large block of forestland;
  • Implement new and promising approaches to managing and/or financing community forests;
  • Achieve significant financial leverage, with a minimum match of 4:1, and,
  • Are executed in a cost-effective manner, providing the greatest benefit at the least cost.

Conservation Easement Standards

Conservation Easements must, at a minimum, include the following: enforceable standards for permanent protection of forest values (such as wildlife, wetlands, recreation, drinking water, timber); workable monitoring and enforcement provisions; process for communication between the easement holder and landowner; provisions ensuring sustainable forest management; process for community involvement in property stewardship; public access guarantees appropriate to the forest values; a stewardship or management plan process; and, baseline documentation provision.

Potential Partners

The Fund works with municipalities, economic development organizations and land trusts. It makes loans and grants to municipalities and to nonprofit organizations that demonstrate they are working in active partnership with municipalities and relevant local community organizations.

Eligible Uses of Funds

The Fund awards matching capital grants to support the purchase of conservation easements and fee interest in land. The Fund also makes low-cost loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding. Smaller support grants (under $20,000) are provided for planning, transaction and stewardship activities directly related to community forest projects, such as: resource inventory and mapping; timber cruise; forest management plans; appraisals, legal expenses, title exams and environmental assessments. Grants are not available for fundraising expenses or stewardship endowments.


An advisory board, composed of experts from the community economic development, forestry and conservation fields, helped OSI develop the Fund and reviews individual projects against funding criteria. All grant and loan recommendations are forwarded to OSI’s board of trustees, which makes all funding decisions.


OSI launched the Fund with $1.4 million to support a limited number of exemplary projects. OSI will seek to raise additional capital, as needed, to support additional projects.

Application Deadline

There are no grant opportunities at this time. If you would like more information on the funding cycle, please sign up here.  

Application Inquiries

For questions regarding the grant program and the application process contact:

Jennifer Melville
Vice President, Conservation Grants & Loans
53 Depot Street, Freeport, ME 04032
207-846-9700; jmelville@osiny.org












Community Forest Fund 2015 Cover









Download a Fund summary