New England forest in autumn. Photo by Justin Reznick/iStockphoto.com
At A Glance
- This was the largest multi-state conservation project in U.S. history at the time and has been hailed as one of the first ever landscape-level working forest conservation projects.
- In 1998, Champion International announced the sale of nearly 300,000 acres of forest across three states which made the land vulnerable to unrestrained development and fragmentation.
- Forests are the most species-rich habitat on earth and fragmentation is a serious threat to the integrity of the ecosystem.
- The Fund saw the sale as a chance to show what market-based conservation could accomplish and assembled a group of partners that purchased the land in 1999.
Did you know that more than half of the forestland in the United States is privately owned and therefore at risk of being fragmented and sold into smaller parcels? In fact, it’s estimated that the U.S. loses more than 30 million acres of American forestland to private sales every year.
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.
The Northern Forestlands is a great example of scale forest conservation. In 1998, forest products company Champion International announced the sale of nearly 300,000 acres in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This land, near the Connecticut River, represents a microcosm of the surrounding ecology. Numerous significant alpine areas that support native wildlife are now permanently protected, including much of the viewsheds of Blue Mountain and 12 other peaks above 3,000 feet, as well as approximately 5,800 acres above 2,700 feet. Also protected are 28 miles of stream frontage on Lyman, Gore and Cone brooks as well as Simms and other smaller streams.
A broad coalition of local communities, conservationists, forestry workers and outdoor enthusiasts feared the public auction would leave the forests vulnerable to unrestrained development. The Fund, on the other hand, saw the looming sale as a chance to show what market-based conservation could accomplish. We assembled a diverse group of partners—from timber interests to state agencies—that purchased the entire Champion sale in 1999.
It was the most substantial sale of Northeast woodlands in more than a decade and, at the time, the largest multi-state conservation project in U.S. history. Today, the project is hailed as one of the first landscape-level working forest conservation projects, protecting more than 120 miles of river corridor and more than 30 remote lakes and ponds, and creating 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.
“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 venturese. “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.