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Planning Grants Empower Land Trusts & Communities to Harness Land Protection for Climate Change

As the need to address climate change grows ever more pressing, communities across the nation are rallying behind land protection as a tool for adaptation and mitigation. Now, an initiative of the Open Space Institute (OSI) and the Land Trust Alliance (the Alliance) is empowering land trusts and other nonprofits to harness the protection and management of forests and working lands to advance climate solutions.

The grants made in the 2021 round of the Land and Climate Grant Program total nearly $400,000, offering funding and technical assistance to embed climate science into conservation plans, which in turn guide land protection and stewardship. The grants reinforce the critical role that forests and working lands must play in capturing and storing carbon, and protecting communities from climate threats such as flooding and extreme heat.

Below are three of the projects that received planning grants in 2021. More information about the program is available here. OSI and the Alliance plan to announce a new slate of grants and technical support awards in summer of 2022.

Creating a State-Wide Planning Tool: The Conservation Trust for North Carolina

Communities across North Carolina are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, including increased flooding caused by hurricanes and sea-level rise, landslides, and excessive heat. Now, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina is partnering with Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions to develop a planning tool that supports conservation as a crucial strategy in the state’s official climate response.

The project aims to empower state agencies and conservation organizations to evaluate climate and community benefits from prospective land conservation projects, and prioritize work that will help meet North Carolina’s ambitious climate goals. The online tool will enable users to understand a land protection project’s contribution to statewide conservation priorities, including carbon mitigation, habitat resilience, and community resilience to natural disasters.

"We'd heard from land trusts across the state the desire to both track and communicate additional benefits — such as flood resilience and climate mitigation — from their conservation efforts, but they just didn’t have ready access to the data,” stated Chris Canfield, Executive Director for Conservation Trust for North Carolina. “This tool should go a long way toward filling that gap and inspiring new approaches to planning.”

Adding Climate Change to Land Management Plans: Pennsylvania's Natural Lands

OSI's grant to Natural Lands is helping the land trust manage its ChesLen Preserve for carbon storage and other benefits.
OSI's grant to Natural Lands is helping the land trust manage its ChesLen Preserve for carbon storage and other benefits.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Natural Lands/Sean Quinn

Many land trusts are finding that climate change is already impacting their properties and operations. For the Pennsylvania-based land trust Natural Lands, increased flooding has resulted in flooded trails, damaged stream crossings, and downed trees at several of its preserves across the greater Philadelphia region, impacting recreation and posing a threat to water quality. Less visible, but no less worrying, are the ways the changing climate may threaten biodiversity and shift species range over the long term or impact the future health of forests.

Now, a grant from OSI is helping the organization bring climate considerations into the management plans for its 1,282-acre Bear Creek Preserve in Luzerne County and its 3,565-acre ChesLen Preserve in Chester County, both located within the Delaware River Watershed. Specifically, the funding will support habitat resilience, carbon storage and sequestration, and the reinforcement of trails and other recreational assets.

Scott Wendle, Vice President of Preserve Stewardship at Natural Lands, said of the grant: “Adapting to the impacts of climate change and using our preserves to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is critical to the long-term health and sustainability of the natural resources we steward and the wider region. This grant will help us identify implementable mitigation and adaptation actions that we can apply not only to these two preserves, but also to the rest of our preserve system — which totals over 23,000 acres.”

Deploying Climate-Smart Forestry: Vermont Woodlands Association

With 80 percent of Vermont’s forestland in private ownership, the land management decisions made by thousands of individuals and families have an outsized role to play in shaping how the state’s forests contribute to climate change solutions. Now, with support from OSI, Vermont Woodlands Association is working with conservation partners, consulting foresters, and other experts across the state to get information about climate-adaptive forestry into the hands of forest landowners.

Currently, more than 15,000 properties are enrolled in Vermont’s Current Use program, which confers a lower property tax rate to owners with land in active farm or forest management. To remain in the program, woodland owners are required to update their forest management plans every 10 years — offering a unique opening to discuss options for climate-informed forestry practices.

Using the funding from OSI, Vermont Woodlands Association intends to engage these landowners through a direct digital and mail campaign to encourage practices that promote carbon storage, sequestration, and habitat resilience.

Additionally, the project will create an online clearinghouse for educational resources on climate-smart forestry developed by conservation partners; and connect Vermont woodland owners with forestry professionals who can assist with plan revision and implementation.

“Woodland owners are part of the climate solution and Vermont Woodlands Association is excited to bring them information and resources to improve climate adaptability on the landscape,” said Executive Director Kathleen Wanner.

“Our grant from Open Space Institute will allow us to target a segment of landowners who already manage their woodlands but are hungry for knowledge of how they can do better when it comes to mitigating climate change,” she continued.

OSI thanks the following organizations for their invaluable support for the Land and Climate Grant Program: the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, J.M. Kaplan Fund, Jane’s Trust Foundation, Volgenau Foundation, William Penn Foundation, an anonymous foundation, and several generous individual donors.

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