09/25/2012 - Over the past century, the wilderness, wildlife habitat and farmlands that characterized much of the northeastern United States have disappeared in the face of accelerated suburban sprawl. Fields and fertile soils that helped feed an early nation have been paved over, and the forests that once carpeted the Northeast have been diminished by the demands of rapid population growth.
But philanthropists and other visionaries recognized that without action to permanently preserve the landscapes that had long defined America’s natural heritage, this decline would continue. Their efforts resulted in the establishment of the national park system, beginning with the creation of Yellowstone in 1872, and also inspired efforts at the local level with the creation in the early 1900s of the first private land trusts. Today, there are more than 1,500 local and regional land trusts around the United States, protecting more than 9 million acres of important natural habitat and landscape. Building on this legacy, and recognizing that decades of environmental conservation experience could aid the land trust community’s efforts, Pew launched the Northeast Land Trust Consortium (NLTC) in 2006 to help safeguard some of the nation’s most beloved woodlands, farms and shores in the northeastern United States.
Through strategic conservation partnerships with some of the most accomplished land trusts in the region, the NLTC has enabled donors to amplify the impact of their gifts through a 20 percent match grant provided by Pew. To date, Pew’s investment of $10 million in seed funding has generated a total of nearly $50 million in gifts. In addition, NLTC donors benefit from Pew’s 60 years of coalition-building expertise, access to a carefully vetted and approved conservation network, and a demonstrated return on investment.
Through this project, 550 philanthropists and 60 foundations have joined with Pew to secure more than 825,000 acres of the Northeast’s most treasured landscapes. These permanently protected parcels stretch from the rugged interior woodlands of Maine and New Hampshire, across the dramatic vistas of New York’s Hudson Valley and through the productive farms of Vermont, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Thomas Curren, NLTC project director, works closely with local land trusts to identify properties with the highest conservation value and to multiply challenge donations by attracting additional support from donors for these initiatives. “Through the NLTC, donors are leveraging their funds to protect more lands and waters for future generations,” Curren said. “Rural areas have been disappearing, limiting access to local food sources and clean waters, so it is critically important that we take action now to preserve the lands that support wildlife and provide recreational and agricultural resources throughout the Northeast.”
By contributing to these efforts, supporters are continuing the legacy of such trailblazers as the Rockefeller family, Charles Eliot and George Dorr, whose efforts led to the creation of Acadia National Park in Maine in 1919. These early conservationists sought to protect the wilderness of Mount Desert Island for the enjoyment of all. Today, the pressures from developers in this region are even more intense. Tracts of houses could have replaced the untouched expanse of wetlands and woods known as the Kitteredge Brook Forest adjacent to the park but philanthropists and foundations, acting in concert with the NLTC and in partnership with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, were able to secure its protection in 2011.
“The results of the partnership between Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Pew can be found in critical additions to Acadia National Park and the many conserved estuaries of Cobscook Bay,” said Tim Glidden, president of the trust, which works to steward and preserve the state’s islands and shores. “With the support of the NLTC, we have been able to extend our record of success in conserving the iconic beauty and ecological integrity of coastal Maine.”
Maine’s white-capped waves and rocky coast have inspired philanthropists such as Forrest Berkley, Dr. Richard Rockefeller and foundations such as the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation to save 15 miles of shoreline and seven islands with the NLTC’s help. “In protecting coastal Maine, we build on the momentum established by the accomplishments of generations of conservationists before us,” said Berkley, a board member of the Maine trust.
After six years of accomplishment, the NLTC’s work still is not done. New projects are underway throughout New England, New York and Pennsylvania, and successful collaborations between donors and land-trust partners could result in 1 million acres safeguarded by the NLTC in the next few years.
“Land prices in many areas have been reduced to figures not seen in decades,” Curren said. “Continued population growth in the Northeast and the critical need to protect farmland and wildlife habitat in the region make timely action imperative. Private philanthropy has a real opportunity to preserve the landscapes that secure our regional health and well-being.”
Those wishing to learn more about leveraging their conservation gifts should contact Curren at email@example.com.
Janica Lockhart is a contributing writer to Trust.