Conservation in the Commonwealth

June 21, 2012 – Earlier this month, Gov. Deval Patrick and a host of other Commonwealth officials celebrated the acquisition of the largest conservation restriction on a contiguous block of privately owned land in Massachusetts history. The protection and creation of the 3,486-acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest was not only the Commonwealth’s largest private land conservation deal since the 1920s; it happened with the Open Space Institute as a major contributor. 

Much has been said about the historic Jones Forest (also known locally as Brushy Mountain) effort. Four years in the making, Governor Patrick called the deal a “generational responsibility.” 

With $839,600 in support through grants from OSI’s Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund and Saving New England’s Wildlife, the project also represents OSI's greatest investment in any land conservation project in Massachusetts. 

The investment, however, was not OSI’s first in the Bay State. Dating back to the launch of the Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund in 2005, OSI has maintained a presence in Massachusetts and is considered one of the Commonwealth’s most important conservation funding partners.

“The future of conservation is all about connecting people to the land,” said Bob O’Connor, the Massachusetts director of land and forest conservation. “Whether it’s connecting to an urban space or a rural landscape, it’s extremely important, and the Open Space Institute’s work in Massachusetts has enabled the Patrick administration to make significant strides toward its conservation goals.”

Since 2005, OSI has made more than $6 million in grants and loans to help partner organizations and state agencies protect over 11,000 acres in Massachusetts. In western Massachusetts, with the support of the Kohlberg Foundation, OSI has protected farms and forested landscapes throughout the Berkshires and the rest of the Massachusetts highlands. Through Saving New England’s Wildlife, which was launched with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, OSI has targeted strategic wildlife habitat in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

Statewide, Massachusetts has protected 1.2 million acres—nearly 25 percent of its overall acreage. Citing the creation of renovation of urban parks, preservation of working farms and forests and ecosystem protection as its three investment priorities, the present administration has protected nearly 1 million of those acres since Gov. Patrick took office in 2007. 

“We’ve been pursuing the most important habitat lands that are expected to adapt to climate change and connect to important already-protected land,” O’Connor said. “Even in difficult economic times, it’s important to fill in these gaps, and I don’t think we would have been able to do so without OSI’s help.”

In addition to land protection projects, OSI has been active in helping others build conservation capacity in Massachusetts. 

The Kestrel Land Trust—one of the lead negotiators in the Brushy Mountain project—is one of more than a dozen organizations taking part in OSI’s Massachusetts Land Trust Acceleration Program. 

The initiative, launched in 2011 by OSI, the Trustees of Reservations and the Land Trust Alliance, helps small land trusts tackle the rigorous application process needed for national certification. The program supports the Bay State’s thriving land conservation movement by providing small grants and a series of workshops to 14 land trusts—from all-volunteer to fully staffed, in urban, seaside and rural communities—that guide them through the certification process. 

These collaborations demonstrate the way that land trusts, foundations, state and local agencies can all come together in partnership, fostering a mutually beneficial process that promotes open space protection, preserving places like Brushy Mountain, for everyone.

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