Conservation without borders

July 30, 2012 — Two major links in a vast wildlife corridor stretching from Québec to Vermont in the Northern Green Mountains were preserved in recent months using agreements with private landowners that protect wildlife habitat while allowing sustainable timber management. Protection of the two landscapes, Jackson Valley in Jay, Vermont, and the Champigny property in the Eastern townships of Québec, had been a top priority for the Canadian-American effort to foster connectivity in the larger ecological region spanning the two countries. 

The Open Space Institute’s Transborder Land Protection Fund, founded in 2010 to promote efforts that protect and connect wild lands across the U.S.-Canada border, provided grants to both projects.

Current research shows that in order to maintain wildlife diversity and a resilient forest landscape, especially as the climate changes, it is essential to maintain, enhance, and restore large blocks of habitat and the connections between them on the scale of landscapes covering hundreds of square miles. 

Eastern North America still has broad expanses of relatively intact forestland within the transboundary region known as the Northern Appalachian/Arcadian ecoregion. Along a chain of mountains from New York and Massachusetts to Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, the region is the last stronghold in the East for many wildlife species, including moose, lynx, bobcat, and loon. Laced with rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands, the forests provide clean water and an abundance of outdoor recreation, as well as the foundation for the region’s timber and tourism economy. 

Two Countries, One Forest, a Canadian-American collaboration of more than 50 conservation organizations, researchers, and foundations working to protect the Northern Appalachian ecoregion, has identified the Vermont-to-Québec corridor of the Northern Greens as one of five major linkages that must be preserved to maintain the entire region’s ecological viability.

Within commuting distance of Quebec’s largest cities and close to the population centers of the Northeast, the Northern Greens face increasing fragmentation from vacation and suburban subdivisions, new roads, and other development. Over the last decade, environmental leaders in the U.S. and Canada have focused land protection efforts in the Northern Greens on maintaining corridors for wildlife across the bi-national region.

The protection of the 936-acre Jackson Valley property secures an important transboundary connection. The land sits right at the U.S.-Canada border, back-to-back with lands protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Its preservation fills a gap in a 13,000-acre swath of conserved lands in the two countries.

More than 200 bird species, as well as wildlife such as bear and moose, find homes in its mix of hardwood and softwood forest, including high elevation spruce-fir forest and bear-scarred beech forest. The parcel borders more than a mile of the Long Trail, the nation’s oldest long-distance trail. Streams beginning in the upper reaches of the property flow northward into protected land in Québec, and then join the Missisquoi River, which traverses both countries.

After two years of negotiation by The Trust for Public Land, the purchase of the easement was finalized in late March with funding from the federal Forest Legacy program. OSI’s Transborder Fund provided a grant for acquisition costs and a stewardship fund. The state of Vermont will hold the easement, primarily to support wildlife habitat protection, in addition to allowing sustainable timber harvesting and public recreational access.

The Québec agreement, between the forestry company Bois Champigny and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, in partnership with Appalachian Corridor and Memphrémagog Conservation Inc., conserves 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of forestland in the Eastern Townships of southwest Québec in the Northern Greens.

“Support from the Open Space Institute was essential to the conservation of Jackson Valley, and leveraged almost $700,000 in federal funding,” said Rodger Krussman, TPL’s Vermont state director. “OSI's Transborder Fund has proven to be a catalyst in a number of important conservation efforts along the U.S./Canadian border in New England.”

The mountainous forest tract has a high concentration of pristine habitats, including wetlands and streams, and harbors endangered plant species. It is a stepping-stone within a natural corridor of 8,400 hectares (20,750 acres) already protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. 

“For us it was really a critical link,” said Nathalie Zinger, vice president of Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Québec region. “We had to make sure it would not become a ski hill or a residential complex of some sort. Once it’s subdivided, once it’s paved over, then it is no longer able to sustain forestry or keep that connection for wildlife.”

Funding to establish the servitude came from the Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program, Appalachian Corridor, Bois Champigny, Inc., OSI’s Transborder Fund, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its North American Waterfowl Management and Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation programs.

The agreement is also notable because it marks the first time a conservation “servitude” has been used to protect working forests in Québec. Similar to a conservation easement in the United States, a conservation servitude places restrictions on privately owned property, in perpetuity, that prevent subdivision and other activities that would harm its ecological value. Although this method has been used in Québec previously, the Champigny agreement pioneers its use to protect lands actively managed for timber, creating a new model for future land conservation in the Northern Greens. 

“We are delighted that foresters and biologists from conservation organizations are collaborating in the pursuit of a common goal, namely the sustainability of forest cover, while preserving the attributes and benefits of the forest for the community,” said Réjean Champigny, on behalf of Bois Champigny Inc.’s partners and co-owners.

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