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First transborder grant protects habitat and jobs

Stretching for hundreds of miles across two countries, the ancient Northern Appalachian/Acadian ecoregion envelops much of Maine, northern New Hampshire and Vermont and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, its forests providing habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife and jobs for those whose livelihood depends on its continued good health.

Of particular significance to conservationists is the St. John River Valley, where the famed waterway crosses over from Maine into New Brunswick. Coordinating conservation programs can get tricky in spots like this, where a border and jurisdictional boundaries exist in theory, yet the landscape flows seamlessly from one country to the next.

In June of 2009, the Open Space Institute launched the $1 million Transborder Land Protection Fund, which, in concert with Two Countries, One Forest and other partners, aims to unify land protection efforts on both sides of the international border, creating alliances that strengthen the forest connectivity that is vital to local economies and the biodiversity of this globally unique region.

Through its Transborder Fund, OSI makes grants and loans to support conservation projects that protect this landscape—much of it still relatively untouched, but increasingly threatened by conversion that could irreparably fracture its intact, contiguous forests.

The first transaction supported by the Fund, the acquisition of a conservation easement on 760 acres of sustainably harvested forest, sits in Van Buren, Maine, in the heart of the St. John River Valley. OSI’s Transborder funds will provide for the stewardship of the property, which is adjacent to hundreds of acres of already-protected forestland, now creating an approximately 2,000-acre block of preserved land.

“This parcel is within an area where the forest connectivity is narrowing down,” said Peter S. McKinley, Ph.D., the director of forestland conservation for the Forest Society of Maine, which holds the easements on the full 2,000 acres of forest. “It’s potentially a chokepoint, where a few thousand acres of conservation can have a very positive impact on maintaining connectivity.” 

Inside the forest, biodiversity flourishes. Dominated by aspen, maple, spruce and fir, it is abundant with moose, snowshoe hare, bobcat and bear. Wood frogs and Spring Peepers thrive in its marshes. The black-backed woodpecker and wood thrush—famous for its beautiful song—are among the dozens of resident and neo-tropical migrant birds that breed in the interior of the forest.

Indeed, “it is optimal landscape and habitat,” McKinley said.

At the same time, sustainably grown and harvested wood is sold to local saw mills, producing lumber and paper products, while local families purchase firewood, each example demonstrating that habitat protection and economic development aren’t diametrically opposed.

Since 2003, the scientists, funders, nonprofits and academics that make up Two Countries, One Forest (2C1F) have been gathering data and developing a vision for the Northern Appalachian/Acadian ecoregion. Alice Chamberlin, the executive director of 2C1F, serves on OSI’s Transborder advisory committee, and believes the Van Buren Forest Conservation project could lead to increased conservation activity on both sides of the border, setting the stage for a level of connectivity that will allow the Transborder region to continue to thrive.

“The Transborder Land Protection Fund is creating the incentive for state and local organizations to identify projects that have that trans-boundary ecological connectivity,” she said. “I think what we’re going to see is a real effect of synergy and increased conservation because of this one project.”

The Partridge Foundation is the lead private funder supporting OSI’s Transborder Fund, in large part because the Fund seeks to coordinate land protection efforts across country lines.

“Through support of the Transborder Fund,” said Jeremy Guth, a foundation spokesperson, “the Partridge Foundation hopes to inspire conservation efforts in the U.S. and Canada that look beyond the political identities of the two countries and sustain the eternal, biological identity of the North American continent.

“The Trustees champion the simple but profoundly important truth that if you do the right thing environmentally for Canada, you'll do the right thing environmentally for the United States because Canada and the U.S. are ecologically joined.”

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