Westmore, VT — October 16, 2015 — A keystone parcel nestled in the vast forests of Northern New England and southern Canada is now permanently protected. Located within a National Natural Landmark area of outstanding habitat, the land has been a priority for US and Canadian conservation groups seeking to protect clean water, wildlife habitat and productive unbroken forests.
The “Willoughby Peaks” project permanently connects 15,000 acres, including Willoughby State Forest, Bald Hill Wildlife Management Area and other private conservation land. Recreational trails, which traverse the scenic property and provide access to popular peaks, are also protected forever.
The 2,965-acre property was conserved by Vermont Land Trust (VLT) and the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, with grant support from the Open Space Institute (OSI)’s Transborder Fund. The Fund is the only private funding source focused on encouraging conservation on both sides of the border between northern New England and southern Canada.
“Undeveloped forestland near the US-Canadian border provides essential wildlife habitat, not to mention clean water and filtered air,” said Jennifer Melville, Vice President and the Open Space Institute and head of its Transborder Fund. “Conserving lands today is critical to protect these resources under the changing climate of tomorrow.”
The property is located within a transborder region that is a conservation priority for US and Canadian conservation organizations, including Two Countries One Forest (2C1F), the Open Space Institute, the Staying Connected Initiative (SCI) and Corridor Appalachien. Located adjacent to Long Pond Natural Area and Vermont’s deepest lake—Lake Willoughby—the property includes over eight miles of frontage on 22 streams that form the headwaters of the Willoughby, Passumpsic and Clyde Rivers within the international Memphremagog watershed, filtering drinking water and air for local residents.
Moreover, the property's five summits and many smaller knobs above 2,000 feet elevation provide stepping stones of montane and boreal habitat—features threatened by climate change—in close proximity.
“Just like people, wildlife needs to move for food and mating. Our science identifies critical wildlife corridors like the ones found on this land, which are used by moose, bear, otter, fischer and lynx,” states Heather Furman, Vermont State Director of The Nature Conservancy. “This conservation success story celebrates intact forests and their multiple benefits such as improved water and air quality, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat protection. We are proud to be helping secure these values for future generations of Vermonters.”
Since first acquiring the property in the 1980s, the current landowners have allowed recreational hiking trails that both originate on, and pass through, their property, providing access to a number of local and popular peaks including Bald Mountain, Haystack Mountain, Hedgehog Mountain and Mount Pisgah, that has its summit located in Willoughby State Forest.
"In these times when the health of our forests is threatened, we are delighted by the opportunity to protect this property,” said Gil Livingston, President of the VLT. "Conserving this spectacular forest will protect water quality, and ensure sustainable forest management, wildlife habitat connectivity and public access to an important trail network. It is a home run for Vermont’s effort to protect important forestland. We sincerely thank the landowners and The Nature Conservancy for joining us in fulfilling our shared vision for a large, healthy working forest that serves our economy, is enjoyed by our citizens and supports the resilience of our wildlife for generations to come."
In addition to OSI, the project received additional funding and support from Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s New England Forests and Rivers Fund and private donors. Both VLT and The Nature Conservancy contributed conservation funds held by the organizations, restricted for the protection of exceptional forestland.