Open Space Institute announces new conservation funding program for the environment

New York, NY - June 28, 2005 - Today the Open Space Institute announced the creation of a revolving loan fund to facilitate the protection of threatened landscapes western Massachusetts. The fund is being launched with an initial contribution from the Kohlberg Foundation. 

The $2 million fund will provide short-term, low-interest loans to land trusts and other conservation organizations working to permanently protect working farms and forests, as well as other ecologically sensitive landscapes in the region west of Worcester. The fund, administered by OSI, will provide interim financing for transactions where there is insufficient capital at the time of closing. 

“Our shared goal is quick and concerted action in the state of Massachusetts,” said Nancy McCabe, executive director of the Kohlberg Foundation. “The area west of Worcester contains critical habitat and biodiversity on par with Cape Cod and the Islands. To protect our most valued open spaces, we need to think creatively about financing options for preservation efforts that are time-sensitive.” 

The loan fund announcement comes on the heels of a comprehensive study of conservation opportunities and threats in Massachusetts completed by OSI and funded by the Kohlberg Foundation. The study identifies western Massachusetts as containing some of southern New England's only remaining viable working farms and forests. The study, available in the press room, states that conservation efforts in the region are hampered by sharply curtailed state acquisition funds and archaic state land use laws that have had the effect of fueling unplanned development. The result is a gap of as much as $30 million in acquisition funding for pending or proposed conservation transactions in the region.

Meanwhile, notes the report, development continues to escalate, with a marked loss of working farms and forests. The region, which contains areas of critical conservation importance on the State of Massachusetts BioMap, is losing approximately 15,000 acres a year to development.

The loan fund is the fourth region where the Open Space Institute provides loans for the purchase of conservation lands. The other regions are New Jersey, the Northern Forest and the Southern Appalachian Mountains. To date, OSI has made 17 loans totaling $16 million to protect over 900,000 acres of land in New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Maine and southern Quebec, Canada.

In entering Massachusetts, OSI seeks to facilitate the work of the state's many exemplary state, regional and local land trusts. “We are here to help the institutions in this region achieve their goals, and we seek to work as a facilitator and partner,” said Peter Howell. “Massachusetts is the same size as New Jersey but to date has maintained viable working farms and forestlands despite dense populations east of Worcester. As advocates for open space, we recognize the pressing need and opportunity to protect this area's natural heritage,” added Howell.

Delays in public funding can create uncertainty and prevent land conservation groups from closing deals. In some instances, the potential for delay makes landowners and nonprofits hesitant even to undertake new preservation initiatives. The fund was designed to provide an interim funding mechanism to protect transactions already in process and to encourage the pursuit of new high value projects.

“The loan fund couldn't have come at a better time,” said Bernie McHugh, Director of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, which serves as an advocate for all of the state's 150 land trusts and provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and skills related to land conservation. “Given declines in state funding and changing criteria for what acquisition dollars remain, land trusts in the region are in need of money to complete priority acquisitions in a timely manner,” added McHugh.

The loan fund will focus on protecting working landscapes, as well as natural areas of critical regional importance, in Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire Counties and will compliment the work of Norcross Foundation, which provides loans of up to $250,000 to protect wildlife habitat in Massachusetts and elsewhere. The fund will generally make loans of $100,000 and greater, with a term not to exceed three years and an interest rate of 3%.

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