A 19th century model for forest protection is gaining new popularity throughout northern New England and New York. To encourage and accelerate this locally-based movement, and to preserve local culture, provide economic stability and protect valuable natural resources, OSI launched our Community Forest Fund in 2010.
To date, OSI has approved grants to community forests that will conserve over 33,000 acres in 21 towns. These projects illustrate how the Fund helps move community conservation forward, especially in small communities with tight budgets and limited volunteer capacity. Supporting transaction costs or a forest management plan can turn a tentative idea into an on-the-ground success.
What Is a Community Forest?
Beginning in the late 1980s, global market forces led timber companies to sell millions of acres of forestland. This transformation upended local economies and threatened to fragment the vast wild forest stretching across northern New England. Towns saw lands that had long been open — for hunting, fishing, camping and boating — divided and sold to distant landowners.
A groundswell of concern led to a renewed interest in community forests. In this land-use model of the 19th and 20th centuries, towns themselves own and manage forestland and directly benefit from its natural resources. Sustainably managed, community forests can provide jobs, wood and other forest products, water protection, outdoor recreation, and revenues to support education and other town services. OSI and other land conservation organizations joined in to support this budding movement with research, training and funding.
By giving towns control over their own natural resources – and by building civic participation as town leaders, nonprofits and citizens work together to purchase, conserve, and steward the land – community forests are a powerful force for strengthening rural communities and encouraging long-term forest conservation in the region.