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Farm neighbors come together to protect habitat

NEW YORK, NY — June 23, 2014 — The recent preservation of highly productive farmland embedded within a climate-resilient landscape in western Massachusetts demonstrates the universality of resilience—a science that seeks to protect the most viable wildlife habitat for both today and tomorrow. 

In the small farming town of Leyden, near the Vermont border, almost a dozen landowners came together to protect 900 acres of forest and farmland. Collectively known as the Leyden Working Farms and Forest Conservation Partnership, the project site is a priority climate refuge for wildlife that also includes local farms and productive forestlands.

The group of neighbors, many of whose families have worked the land for generations, recognized that critical wildlife habitat lay adjacent to their productive, working farms. To ensure that the complex conservation project was completed, the landowners donated nearly 50 percent of their properties’ aggregate value—emphasizing an extraordinary commitment to each other and of the importance of sustaining natural systems in the face of climate change.

The Leyden project was completed by the Mount Grace Conservation Trust, Franklin Land Trust the town of Leyden, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with support from the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative. 
OSI’s supported the effort because the lands’ rich forests, wetland systems, small ponds, vernal pools and streams contain the diverse resources that scientists believe will endure in the face of climate change and provide long-term habitat for plants and animals. 

“When you actually get out and walk on these lands, you can really see and feel why they’re considered so highly resilient,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “There’s a great variety of landforms—from wetlands to ridgelines—and it’s all part of a large, connected forest. It’s clear that lands like these will provide the natural refuges wildlife will need well into the future, even as the climate changes.” 

“The Leyden project is a significant example of landscape-scale conservation, but just as importantly, it helps achieve the personal goals of many landowners who live their lives very close to the land,” 
said Leigh Youngblood, executive director of the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, one of several organizations that teamed up to protect the Leyden Partnership lands. “As a child Warren Facey (one of the landowners) witnessed his grandfather’s farm in Greenfield, Mass. being sold out of the family and built up with houses. Since then, the idea of conservation grew in his mind and intrigued him, and now Warren’s lifelong dream for his own family farm will be realized.”

The goal of the Leyden partnership was simple: bring neighbors together to protect their abutting lands all at once by taking advantage of a new funding opportunity geared toward large, multi-landowner projects. Massachusetts’ two-year old Landscape Partnership Program made this strategic  conservation possible. With the neighboring landowners collectively gifting greater than $700,000 of value, the project was awarded a $1,079,300 Landscape Partnership Program grant to permanently conserve its woods, streams, fields, and rolling hills. 

The Leyden project represents the latest success in almost a decade of expanding work for the Open Space Institute in Massachusetts. In that time, OSI has provided grants and loans from the Berkshires to the North Shore, protecting critical wildlife habitat, productive forests and access to the natural world. Through a variety of conservation programs, including Saving New England’s Wildlife and the Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund, OSI has provided well over $6 million to land protection efforts throughout the state.

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