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Landscape Conservation: Financing Forest Conservation

Financing Forest Conservation Commission

Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. announced the publication of a land conservation report by the Massachusetts Commission on Financing Forest Conservation—chaired by Leigh Youngblood.

Since taking office in January 2007, Governor Deval Patrick has made land protection a priority.  By keeping conservation funding available through a tough economy, the Patrick administration has protected more than 88,000 acres of land.  

In fact, the Commonwealth is now protecting about 54 acres of land per day, more than at any time since the Tully Initiative.  But even this increased pace of conservation cannot guarantee the survival of the farms and forest corridors that sit on the edge of what Massachusetts Audubon’s Losing Ground report calls the Sprawl Danger Zone: towns where development and fragmentation threaten significant ecological impacts.

In 2010, to address these pressures, Governor Patrick appointed a Massachusetts Special Commission on Financing Forest Conservation to study innovative sources of additional funding for conservation of wildlands and woodlands and to develop specific recommendations for the legislature and agencies of the Commonwealth. 

Commission members include State Senators Stephen Brewer, who filed the original legislation in support of the commission, and Anthony Petrucelli and Bruce Tarr, as well as Mount Grace’s founder Keith Ross, Executive Director Leigh Youngblood, and other experts in land conservation.  James Levitt, Director of Harvard Forest’s Program on Conservation Innovation serves as the commission’s staff.  Mount Grace is the only regional land trust represented on the commission, in large part due to the trust’s pioneering work with aggregation as a conservation strategy. 

Aggregation, the practice of bringing together large groups of landowners for landscape scale conservation projects, is particularly important in Massachusetts where most unprotected lands are small, family-owned parcels. 

The history of aggregation in Massachusetts begins with the Tully Valley Private Forestland Initiative.  Eleanor Richards Whitmore of Athol grew increasingly concerned late in her life with the loss of bird habitat in her neighborhood.  Her answer was to bequeath her ranch house and quarter-acre lot to Mount Grace to fund land protection in the Tully Watershed. 

That modest gift was a local precursor to Massachusetts Environmental Secretary Bob Durand’s vision that led to Mount Grace working with 104 landowners to protect more than 9,000 acres of land.  Due in part to that confluence of local and state priorities, 2000-2002 are still the most successful years for conservation in Massachusetts history.  This is a record the Commonwealth now hopes to exceed and sustain with guidance from the new commission. 

“Serving on the commission is a great honor and a great opportunity to help save more land,” says Youngblood, who was elected Chairwoman at the Commission’s first meeting in October 2010. “The recommendations in this report offer tangible opportunities for landowners and communities in Mount Grace’s region and across the state.  This report offers new incentives and funding sources for both private and public investment in land conservation.”

The Commission’s report emphasizes four themes: aggregation for conservation, mitigation, compact land development and targeted forest-based economic development.  The report includes the following recommendations:

  • Extend the Conservation Land Tax Credit limit from $2 million annually to $20 million annually.
  • Support re-enactment of enhanced federal tax incentives for conservation. 
  • Utilize Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trust Funds to purchase forestland appropriate for OHV riding areas.
  • Launch an initiative to conserve institutional forest land across the state.
  • Link forest landowner incentives for forest conservation with programs that encourage sustainable forestry.
  • Support Chapter 61 improvements that advance forest land protection in Massachusetts.  
  • Inform towns and cities regarding the availability of the Drinking Water Supply Protection Grant Program.
  • Explore opportunities to use federal new markets tax credits in low-income rural census areas to provide investment incentives for wood fuel, timber, wood manufacturing plants, or tourism infrastructure.
  • Promote locally grown, value-added wood products.
  • Work with the State Tourism Office to enhance the state‘s rural tourism infrastructure.

For the full text of Secretary Sullivan's Press Release click here.

The full report and the summary of recommendations are attached below.