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Open Space Institute Launches Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund to Accelerate Land Conservation within Mid-Atlantic Region to Fight Climate Change

Photo Credit: Brett Cole

NEW YORK, NY (Feb. 18, 2021)—Seeking to accelerate land conservation in the eastern U.S. to counter climate change and its impacts, the Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the launch of its $18 million Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF), which will focus, in part, on protecting key forested sections of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. This first-of-its-kind fund is aimed specifically at safeguarding some of the nation’s most biologically rich and climate-resilient landscapes. The initiative aligns with the Biden administration’s recently announced plan to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by the year 2030 to leverage natural climate solutions, protect biodiversity, and slow extinction rates.

Harnessing the carbon-capturing role of forests to combat climate change, the ALPF seeks to conserve at least 10,000 acres in key portions of the three states. The funding is part of the ALPF’s larger effort to conserve 50,000 acres along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, which contain the world’s largest broadleaf forest, are responsible for the majority of U.S. forest carbon sequestration, and provide essential climate refuge for plants and animals.

“Now more than ever, our future depends on forests. By putting climate change front and center, the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund will help protect the land that matters most as we take on the largest environmental challenge of our time,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of OSI. “While a changing climate can create overwhelming uncertainty, the conservation of forests can go a long way toward helping wildlife and people adapt, while reducing emissions through carbon storage and sequestration.”

“The Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund will be a transformative and wonderful opportunity to expand regional conservation efforts," said Jeanne Ortiz of Audubon Pennsylvania, who serves on the Fund’s Advisory Committee. "This initiative will play a pivotal role in targeting conservation on some of our most treasured and critical places, such as the forests of the Kittatinny Ridge — which help address climate change by storing carbon, and provide habitat for migration of plants, birds and other wildlife in response to a changing climate."

Photo Credit: Brett Cole

To achieve critical, climate-related conservation goals, OSI is providing grants and loans for the acquisition of land and conservation easements that will leverage an additional $66 million in matching public and private funds. The Fund also advances efforts by states, local communities, Native American tribes, and land trusts, to align their conservation goals around climate priorities. The ALPF will ease funding requirements for organizations that identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-led that are at heightened risk of being negatively impacted by the climate crisis.

The Middle Atlantic focus area is one of three specific regions that are priorities for conservation based on their intact habitat and ability to serve as corridors for migrating wildlife, contiguous forests, and to protect and increase carbon storage in vast forest resources that also provide clean water and recreational opportunities for millions of people. In addition to the Middle Atlantic, the other two focus areas, ranging in size from three to eleven million acres, are the Cradle of Southern Appalachia and the Northern Appalachians.

To date, OSI has secured a $6 million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and $6 million from six other regional foundations toward its $18 million goal. Additional funding will allow for further investment in the three target areas and/or the geographic expansion of the program.

Importance of the Middle Atlantic Focus Area

Conservation within the Middle Atlantic focus area will occur along the Kittatinny Ridge, the New Jersey Highlands, and a targeted portion of the Pocono Mountains. Running 250 miles through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, the Kittatinny Ridge, home to 160 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, is a globally important songbird and raptor migration corridor, and contains largely intact forests critical for carbon storage. Located in northwestern New Jersey, the New Jersey Highlands is home to many endangered, imperiled, and rare plant species.

Altogether, the lands comprise some of Pennsylvania’s most climate-resilient habitat, with forests that capture and filter drinking water for millions of people living in Philadelphia, PA, Wilmington, DE, Trenton, NJ, and many other cities and communities.

The Fund builds on many years of successful conservation by OSI in the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. OSI has given more than 100 grants and loans to local land trusts and conservation groups, assisting in the protection of almost 40,000 acres of land.

Appalachian Forests’ Role in Fighting Climate Change

The ALPF is part of a growing national effort to increase use of strategic land conservation to combat climate change. Forests, their trees, and soil are critical to storing carbon; and, when managed correctly, forests can also play a critical role in capturing the carbon emissions that are being produced today. (Learn more by reading OSI’s Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change guide here.)

In addition to providing critical watershed protection, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat, forests are a critical front-line defense against climate change. In 2019, forests in the United States stored 59 billion metric tons of carbon — the equivalent of more than 33 years of U.S. economy-wide emissions. Every year, forests remove 15 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, equal to removing more than 673 million cars from the road.

The Appalachian Mountain region, stretching 1,500 miles from Alabama to Canada, contains vast swaths of healthy, large, and contiguous forests that are critical in combatting climate change. These forests and rivers also provide tremendous benefits to society, including clean water, wood products, recreation, and personal rejuvenation for millions of people.

Despite their critical importance to the nation, the forests of the Appalachian Mountains face significant threats, including development, poor management, and energy extraction. Nationally, U.S. forests are permanently lost at a gross rate of just under a million acres per year.

Partners in the Effort

To expand the impact of the ALPF, OSI is turning to organizations such as American Forests, The Nature Conservancy, and the Land Trust Alliance, to share expertise, amplify efforts, coordinate investments, and develop clear guidance on how land protection can most effectively mitigate climate change. OSI is also collaborating with eastern Climate Alliance states, a growing coalition of 25 states committed to achieving emissions reductions set by the Paris climate accord.

“To address climate change, we need to make sure we keep carbon in our forests and improve how we manage lands to sequester more carbon in order to reduce harmful emissions,” said Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests. “The Fund is an invaluable tool in demonstrating and documenting the value of land conservation as a critical and necessary response to climate change.”

“The Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund will apply cutting-edge science to safeguard some of the most resilient, carbon-rich, and biologically diverse forests in North America,” said Sacha Spector, program director for the environment at Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Over the past two decades, OSI has been leading the way with innovative, science-based efforts to protect the most biodiverse and climate-resilient places across the Eastern U.S.”

“We are pleased that portions of the Delaware River Watershed were selected for investment by the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund because of the climate resilience of its landscapes,” said Andrew Johnson, Watershed Protection Program Director at the William Penn Foundation. “Having awarded more than $10 million in grants to protect important forested watershed lands in the upper watershed through the regional Delaware River Watershed Initiative, we recognize how important forests are to ensure clean water, protect resilient lands, and store and sequester carbon. We are eager to collaborate with this exciting new initiative as it forges new ground for the conservation movement.”

Fund Criteria

In considering lands for conservation, the ALPF is harnessing cutting-edge climate science and decision support tools developed by The Nature Conservancy to identify and protect places that are “climate-resilient” — in that they will continue to protect habitat for sensitive plants and animals, even as the climate changes. A property’s climate resilience will be the major selection criteria, and within these areas OSI aims to protect places with the highest carbon storage potential by 2050, to help meet Paris Accord climate goals for carbon neutrality. The Fund will also take into account a project’s co-benefits, such as community access, water quality, or flood hazard mitigation.

With initial capital from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and with matching support from the Lyndhurst, Tucker, Riverside, and William Penn Foundations, Jane’s Trust and two anonymous foundations, the ALPF is the second large-scale, climate-resilient land protection effort championed by OSI. From 2013-2020, OSI’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative (RLI) (retrospective available here), also supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, provided a total of $11 million to conserve 55,000 acres across Eastern U.S. Through the RLI’s “Catalyst Program,” OSI also integrated climate science into more than 41 conservation plans by land trusts and public-private partnerships and disseminated training materials and case studies to more than 1,300 practitioners.

Contact for the Middle Atlantic Focus Area

Bill Rawlyk

Middle Atlantic Field Coordinator

908-628-4299

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