Considering that forests are the most species-rich habitat on earth, fragmentation is a serious threat to the integrity of their infrastructure and an ecosystem that provides our communities with clean water, jobs, flood protection and a place to explore the outdoors.
In 1998, forest products company Champion International announced the sale of nearly 300,000 acres across New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This land, near the Connecticut River, represents a microcosm of the surrounding ecology, with numerous significant alpine areas that support native wildlife. These forests also include much of the viewsheds of Blue Mountain and 12 other peaks above 3,000 feet, as well as 28 miles of stream frontage.
Market-Based ConservationChampion expected bids from large paper and logging companies as well as domestic and even foreign investors. A broad coalition of local communities, conservationists, forestry workers and outdoor enthusiasts feared the public auction of the Champion land would leave the forests vulnerable to unrestrained development.
The Conservation Fund, on the other hand, saw the looming sale as a chance to show what market-based conservation could accomplish. After extensive consideration, TCF weighed the unprecedented opportunity and jumped in as a buyer, attempting something no conservation organization had tried before—to lead the largest multistate, public-private conservation project in U.S. history.
Our bid won.
We assembled a diverse group of partners—from timber interests to state agencies—and purchased the entire Champion land in 1999, keeping 70 percent of the land as a working forest and transferring the remaining 30 percent to public ownership.
Our actions protected more than 120 miles of river corridor and more than 30 remote lakes and ponds, and created sustainable forestry and recreation opportunities over 470 square miles in three states. The conservation plan emphasizes long-term restoration of a privately-owned working forest with protected ecological reserves.
Why This Project MattersToday, this project is hailed as one of the first landscape-level working forest conservation projects. It was the most substantial sale of Northeast woodlands in more than a decade and, at the time, was the largest multi-state conservation project in U.S. history, as well as the largest preservation effort in New York and Vermont.
“The Champion deal had a transformative impact on the timberland market because it showed that conservation groups could be successful when critical ownerships went to auction,” says Evan Smith, the Fund’s vice president for conservation ventures. “This gave credibility to conservation efforts nationwide and created the momentum necessary to respond to the subsequent tidal wave of forestland sales.”
The Northern Forestlands conservation project is just part of the more than 1.5 million acres of working forest we’ve saved across the country.
Why Do Forests Matter?At The Conservation Fund, we believe that well-managed forests can be both economically viable and ecologically sustainable, but like all other necessary parts of our national infrastructure, they need to be invested in and maintained. That's why, since 1985, we've protected more than a million forest acres across America. Protecting and maintaining working forests, and the communities that depend on them, remains one of our top conservation priorities.