The Open Space Institute’s Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund (“Fund”) is an initiative designed to support the conservation of forested landscapes in western Massachusetts, with a focus on protecting wildlife habitat while also facilitating appropriate human use. The Fund achieves its mission through capital grants for the purchase of conservation easements and fee title.
Capitalized initially with $1 million from a private charitable foundation, the Fund has a particular interest in supporting projects that by themselves, or by aggregating smaller parcels, achieve landscape-scale conservation and leverage other public and private funding. Guided by an independent advisory committee with conservation expertise and knowledge of the region, the Fund awards grants to qualified non-profit organizations through a competitive application process and, in certain exceptional circumstances, to public entities.
Fund Summary and Mission
The Fund seeks to protect forested landscapes in western Massachusetts and the natural and human values they contain. The Fund places particular priority on landscapes that protect and enhance wildlife while facilitating appropriate recreational use and sustainable forest management.
Through its grants, the Fund seeks to conserve contiguous forested parcels to achieve greater scale and to attract and leverage other public and private dollars. It is intended that the operation of the Fund will serve as an illustration of the opportunities and challenges of marshalling scarce public and philanthropic dollars to achieve strategic conservation in a rapidly developing state such as Massachusetts.
The rural heritage of western Massachusetts is disappearing in the increasingly fragmented landscape of southern New England. Encompassing millions of forested acres, the region includes large public land holdings as well as significant unfragmented and privately held parcels, with almost a quarter of the land protected in some way.
Forests in this region harbor significant biological diversity, are the source of drinking water for millions of people, and provide outdoor recreational opportunities and jobs for thousands. Yet the forests face growing threats from development, subdivision and road building that fragment wildlife habitat, disrupt ecological functions, and remove land from productive uses such as forestry and recreation.
In response to such threats, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has developed a compelling vision for Forested Habitat Reserves that will encompass both preserves and working forests. The administration of Governor Deval Patrick is committed to finding the resources for their protection.
Significant planning by the Commonwealth and The Nature Conservancy, as well as regional land trusts has helped to identify focus areas and priority projects. Other efforts are underway to conserve Massachusetts’ forests, such as the Wildlands and Woodlands initiative, which has embraced a network of ecological preserves and working forests principally in the Commonwealth’s western section.
The Fund is being capitalized with $1 million in foundation funds for the Open Space Conservancy (OSC), an affiliate of the Open Space Institute (OSI).
The Fund will concentrate on forested landscapes in western Massachusetts, with a focus on the regions identified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in its Forested Habitat Reserves program. Preference shall be given to projects located in these focus areas.
Because precise delineation of these areas is not publicly available, grant applicants should contact the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program (Lynn Harper: 508-389-6351; firstname.lastname@example.org) to determine geographic eligibility. A list of towns that include Forested Habitat Reserve areas is available.
Eligible projects must focus on landscapes that offer the opportunity to protect large-scale forest ecosystems that can sustain wildlife and appropriate human activity, including recreation and sustainable forestry. Although smaller parcel size is a reality throughout southern New England, eligible projects by themselves or when combined with other projects must achieve relative landscape scale protection.
As a primary criterion, preference shall be given to projects that lie within the Commonwealth’s forested Habitat Reserve areas. Projects lying outside Forested Habitat Reserves will be considered if they have the potential to buffer and/or enhance these reserves in a significant way.
Preference shall be given to projects that satisfy the following criteria, with multiple overlaps rating more highly:
- Include Core or Supporting Habitat on the Massachusetts BioMap and/or Living Waters Map, with preference for Core Habitat;
- Contain interior forest patches of 500 acres or more in size;
- Achieve a significant scale to protect the resources at risk, either by itself or in aggregation with other adjacent projects;
- Are adjacent to state lands;
- Are adjacent to other permanently protected lands; and
- Enhance connectivity among protected lands in other ways.
In addition, projects should:
- Achieve significant financial leverage, e.g., state, local and/or federal funds, and private contributions.
The Fund seeks to leverage its investments overall at a 5:1 ratio, i.e., for every dollar invested, there are five other matching public and private dollars;
- Demonstrate an urgency and/or timeliness in proceeding, i.e., where there is significant but manageable threat;
- Be spearheaded by organizations with the capacity and financial ability to execute the transaction and ensure long-term stewardship/management of the protected property; and
- Be executed in a cost-effective manner, providing the greatest benefit at the least cost.
The Fund will work closely with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as well as with local governments and other public agencies, national, regional and local land trusts, and other conservation groups. Preference for funding shall be given to nonprofit groups, but under exceptional circumstances the Fund will consider providing funds directly to public entities.
Eligible Uses of Funds
The Fund will award capital grants to support the purchase of conservation restrictions and fee interests. Short-term, low-interest loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding are also available form OSI’s Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund.
The Fund seeks to directly protect large blocks of forestland in western Massachusetts, with a focus on forests identified on the Commonwealth’s BioMap and Living Waters Map, maps of interior forest habitat, and emerging data on forested landscapes. The Fund also seeks to leverage at least another $5 million in other public and private funding. More broadly, the Fund seeks to use its investments to raise visibility about the importance of protecting high-priority forested landscapes that contain important wildlife habitat and facilitate compatible human uses; highlight the value of public private partnerships; and strengthen land trust capacity in the region.
Application, Timeline and Deadlines
The Fund awards grants on a competitive basis to qualified organizations. Preference for funding is given to nonprofit groups; under exceptional circumstances the initiative will provide funds directly to state or municipal agencies.
Proposals are reviewed by the Fund’s advisory committee, which makes recommendations to its Credit Committee. Final grant awards are subject to approval by its Board of Trustees. Funds will be provided at project closing in accordance with the terms of a grant agreement.
Grant applications are not being accepted at this time.
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New England Coordinator
Open Space Institute
26 School Street
Yarmouth, ME 04096