BRATTLEBORO — If you reside in the tri-state region, you are living in a portion of the world’s largest broadleaf forest, that which grows along and upon the Appalachian Mountains.
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, states the Open Space Institute in a news release announcing an initiative to protect that forestland in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
“Now more than ever, our future depends on forests,” states Kim Elliman, the CEO of the Open Space Institute, in the news release. “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.”
Founded 40 years ago, OSI has preserved nearly 2.3 million acres along the Eastern Seaboard. Since 2001, OSI has awarded nearly 120 grants and loans to land trusts and conservation groups in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, assisting in the protection of more than 1.6 million acres of land.
“Not only do we buy and protect lands, we make grants to other conservation entities to help them do their work,” said Jennifer Melville, the vice president of conservation grants for the Northern Appalachians Focus Area.
Locally, OSI and the Vermont Land Trust helped the Putney Mountain Association preserve its Salmon Brook Headwaters and the Ames Hill — Marlboro Community Center to conserve South Pond.
The Nature Conservancy, with funding from OSI, was able to purchase 410 acres to add to its conserved land on Black Mountain. And working with the Franklin Land Trust, OSI helped the Mount Grace Conservation Trust preserve 481 acres in the Leyden, Mass., town forest.
OSI recently announced it is making available another $18 million in grant funding for Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The organization will host a webinar on March 8 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to answer questions from organizations that might qualify for the funds.
“This is an online, competitive process and it’s a complicated application process, so people should register for the webinar,” she said.
Landowners can’t just apply for a grant, said Melville. They must find someone to buy the easement and protect the land. That might be a land trust, a state agency, a town, a tribe or some other comparable entity.
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 hurt by the climate crisis.
“The vast forests of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are essential to countering the impacts of a changing climate,” states the news release. “The forests hold enormous amounts of carbon — both above and below ground — and with conservation will be able to take up even more pollution in the future, while also keeping regional air and water clean.”
OSI’s Northern Appalachians focus area includes key wildlife corridors such the linkage between New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains, and the Upper Valley straddling New Hampshire and Vermont. It also includes large tracts of unprotected, at-risk resilient habitat — particularly fertile river valleys and mountain slopes.
Jim Shallow, director of strategic conservation initiatives for The Nature Conservancy, said the new fund will help organizations such as TNC preserve land necessary to address “existential threats” facing the world.
“Right now, there is a crisis in diversity,” he said. “Upwards of one-quarter of species around the world are faced with extinction. And there is a crisis in abundance. The sheer number of animals have declined. In the United States alone, we have 30 percent less birds than we had in 1970. At the same time, the climate crisis is going to impact both wildlife and people.”
Much of the science that is being used to guide land-saving decisions was developed by the TNC’s director of science for the eastern United States, Mark Anderson, and his team, based out of Boston.
“The work they have done is critical to both OSI’s announcement and the work we are doing in New England and around the country,” said Shallow.
The work of Anderson’s team is meant to identify lands that are resilient, inter-connected and are still biodiverse, he said.
“Wildlife is on the move as a result of climate change,” said Shallow. “Ranges are moving northward about 11 miles a decade.”
Habitats are also moving uphill at a base of one meter a decade because of rising temperatures, he said.
“We anticipate that is going to continue,” said Shallow. “So we absolutely need a network of land that will be resilient in the face of this warming climate, a network that is connected across the continent so that movement will be able to continue.”
He said Vermont will play a crucial role in protecting species on the move.
“Where Vermont sits is very much a crossroads fo connectivity in this larger Appalachian network,” said Shallow. “As animals move northward from the mid-Atlantic to Canada, all paths lead through Vermont.”
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.
However, states the news release, these forests 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.
OSI has received a $6 million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and $6 million from six other regional foundations toward its $18 million goal.