Open Space Institute Community Forest Fund

Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman

OSI's Community Forest Fund

Errol New Hampshire Forest, Photo Monkmans

Errol New Hampshire forest - photo: Monkmans 

Program Overview

OSI's Community Forest Fund recognizes that local communities can play a critical role in conserving land. Stewardship is often best assured through citizen involvement in the sustainable management of natural resources - for wood products, watershed protection, outdoor recreation and other forest-based values.

To date, OSI has made grants to help create or expand 15 community forests that have conserved over 30,000 acres. These projects illustrate how the Fund helps move community 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.

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. Towns and non-profit land conservation groups are welcome to apply.

Town forests are an historic fixture in many northern New England communities. Today global economic change, the purchase and sale of forestland by investors, and continuing fragmentation of the land highlight the need for this effective model of local land stewardship. Community forests can help stabilize ownership of the region’s productive forestland, expand the assets of rural communities and build civic capacity.

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.

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

Download a summary report of the OSI Community Forest Fund

Fund Criteria

The Community Forest 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.

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;
  • Conserve the full suite of forest values, such as wildlife habitat, water quality and productive soils;
  • Ensure sustained 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;
  • Preserve productive forestland at a scale that can sustain forest-based economic assets;
  • Implement new and promising approaches to managing and/or financing community forests;
  • For capital projects, achieve significant financial leverage; and,
  • Are executed in a cost-effective manner, providing the greatest benefit at the least cost.

Conservation Easement Standards

Conservation Easements must be consistent with the Fund’s goals and, 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.

Because there are multiple ways to craft a conservation easement that meets the same goals, OSI does not require specific easement language but we can provide examples and guidance. OSI staff must approve the final CE prior to distribution of grant funds.

Geographic Focus

The Fund awards grants in the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.


Land Trusts and towns are eligible to apply to the Fund. OSI works with municipalities, economic development organizations and land trusts and  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. Smaller support grants (under $30,000) are available for planning, transaction and stewardship activities directly related to community forest projects, such as: community planning, resource inventory and mapping; timber cruise; forest management plans; appraisals, legal expenses, title exams and environmental assessments. The Fund also makes low-cost loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding. Grants funds cannot be used for fundraising expenses, staff time, buildings, advocacy, or stewardship endowments.

Grant Awards

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. OSI staff and board of trustees make the final funding decisions.  

Once OSI has approved a grant, we will provide the grantee with a checklist of items required for OSI to prepare a grant agreement. When all required information and documents are received, OSI will forward a grant agreement to the grantee. OSI releases capital funds at the time the transaction closes. Capital projects must close within 18 months of OSI’s grant approval


Six years ago, OSI launched the Fund with $1.6 million that supported 15 exemplary projects.

Thanks to lead support from the Thomas W. Haas Fund and the Tarleton Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Fund, Jane’s Trust, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, and several generous anonymous donors, OSI has secured a new round of funding and continues to seek additional capital to support the most deserving projects.

Of the $650,000 of funding in hand, $200,000 is specifically dedicated to Capital and Support Grants in New Hampshire and $100,000 is earmarked for Support Grants in Maine. The remaining funding can be spent in any of the three eligible states.

Application Process and Deadline

OSI is currently accepting applications through February 9, 2017. All applications must be submitted through our online service here.

Additional grant rounds will be announced every six to nine months. 

If you would like more information on the Fund, please sign up here.  


Application Inquiries

We encourage applicants to contact OSI staff before preparing a proposal. For questions regarding the grant program and the application process contact:

Jennifer Melville
Vice President, Conservation Grants & Loans




















Community Forest Fund 2015 Cover









Download a Fund summary




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