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Open Space Institute announces loan for expansion of New Jersey Pinelands refuge

New York, NY - June 20, 2005 - Today the Open Space Institute (OSI) announced that it had provided a $670,000 loan to Unexpected Wildlife Refuge (UWR) to purchase a 127-acre tract in the New Jersey's Pinelands. 

UWR, located on “Unexpected Road” in both Atlantic and Gloucester Counties, purchased the land in Buena Borough and Buena Vista Township in Atlantic County as an addition to the organization's adjacent 610-acre refuge in the Pinelands National Reserve. According to Peter Howell, vice president and director of conservation finance at the Open Space Institute, the loan announced today helps protect a critical wildlife resource by taking advantage of New Jersey's innovative conservation funding mechanism known as Pinelands Development Credits (PDC). These credits are part of the New Jersey program that administers Transfer of Development Rights. The program was established to protect ecologically sensitive lands in the Pinelands while directing development into designated growth areas (See sidebar for more information). 

“UWR will retire a portion of the OSI loan through the sale of PDCs,” said Howell. “This is a great example of creative financing for loan conservation. As we lose acres by the minute in New Jersey, we need to identify innovative strategies like this to permanently protect irreplaceable natural resources,” Howell commented. 

Using OSI's $670,000 loan, UWR purchased the property from the United States Department of Agriculture on June 13. The refuge is part of a larger mosaic of protected properties in the immediate vicinity. Together, the Refuge, Franklin Township Park, Girl Scout lands and Cedar Lake WMA create over 1,330 acres of contiguous green space. 

Sarah Summerville, director of Unexpected Wildlife Refuge said, “By purchasing this 127-acre property, the Unexpected Wildlife Refuge is providing additional habitat protection for endangered and threatened species in the Pinelands region. The expansive fields on the property present an opportunity to enhance a unique grassland wildlife habitat, which is seriously declining in New Jersey.” The name of the refuge refers to the nearby Unexpected Road. 

The New Jersey Conservation Loan Fund is part of OSI's Conservation Loan Program, which in total has made 17 loans totaling $16 million to protect over 900,000 acres of land in the US and Canada, since 2001. 

In New Jersey, OSI provides critical bridge financing for land conservation projects with $3.5 million in loans from the Geraldine R. Dodge and William Penn Foundations. Since 2003, OSI has loaned a total of $4.6 million to New Jersey non-profit conservation organizations, facilitating the protection of more than 10,000 acres valued at more than $40 million. 

“The New Jersey Pinelands represent a priority landscape for our conservation loan program,” said OSI's Peter Howell. “The sale of these PDCs in what currently appears to be a robust market represents an opportunity to demonstrate an innovative way for non-profit conservation groups to partially finance their land acquisition projects.” 

“The New Jersey Conservation Loan Program greatly increases the ability of nonprofit land trusts to preserve land in New Jersey,” added Michael Catania, president of Conservation Resources Inc., a New Jersey-based non-profit that helps to administer the loan fund. “Oftentimes land trusts are in an open space race with developers and any way to speed up the process of acquiring land, such as these loans, can mean the difference between permanently developed land and permanently protected wildlife habitat.” 

Chris Jage, Pine Barrens Regional Manager for New Jersey Conservation Foundation, assisted Unexpected Wildlife Refuge in structuring the land preservation effort, which he called “an unprecedented opportunity to expand the refuge.” Jage commented, “Since wildlife does not recognize ownership boundaries, when opportunities to expand a refuge occur, you need to take advantage of them. Generally speaking, the larger the preserve you have, the better chance you will have of protecting significant wildlife populations and water quality. Bringing in Conservation Resources Inc. and the Open Space Institute was the only way this could have happened given the short timeframe that Unexpected Wildlife Refuge had purchase the property.”

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