Nancy Patch Act 59: Acting Locally in Globally Significant Ways

  • Vermont is part of a globally significant ecoregion that includes the most intact broad-leaved temperate forest in the world. The Northern Appalachian-Acadian ecoregion extends across 82 million acres and includes four states and three provinces; it is also home to more than five million people, putting it at high risk of development and thus ecological losses. Within this ecoregion, there are several critical wildlife habitat corridors. I live and work in one of them: the Northern Green Mountain linkage. This linkage is important for wildlife, including black bear, moose, bobcat and fisher and allows species to move across the international border into Quebec. My community recognized that our backyard is very important to the integrity of the entire Northern Forest. We had to do something to protect it. So, we decided to start the organization Cold Hollow to Canada (CHC).  

    CHC is a small place-based organization that is protecting private lands in the Northern Green Mountain linkage that have been identified as high priority by Vermont Conservation Design. Vermont Conservation Design is the tool the state is using to identify the lands most essential to maintaining ecological function. The lands we’ve helped conserve are part of some of the state’s largest and most intact forest blocks, and connect the entire Northern Forest, from the Berkshires and Adirondacks, all the way up to the Gaspe Peninsula.

    CHC’s focal geography includes seven towns on the western slopes of the northern Green Mountains. In 2009, approximately 23,000 acres, or 20%, of this forested region had been permanently conserved through easements and state ownership. We decided to double this and set a goal for an additional 23,000 acres by 2030. Over the last five years, we’ve mapped our conservation priorities and developed a strategic plan to protect those places. We produced this story map to describe and illustrate this effort.

    CHC is working to tackle the myriad barriers landowners face when wanting to conserve their lands. One of the biggest barriers is funding: the process of conserving land can be surprisingly costly. In order for a land trust to hold a conservation easement, they must find the funding not only to cover the staff time needed to close the deal, but also funds for annual monitoring. After all, holding a conservation easement is only effective if the land trust knows what’s happening on the land and is able to take action if the land is not being cared for. However, land trusts have limited resources and have to think carefully about which projects to prioritize. Many important parcels of land are therefore not conserved, even though the owners want to protect their land. At Cold Hollow to Canada, we believe it’s important that land conservation be accessible to everyone. If a landowner would like to conserve their land, a lack of financial resources should not get in the way.

    Another barrier can be the size of the property. Recently, three separate landowners in our region expressed interest in conserving their land. Their three individual parcels were relatively small, ranging from 45 acres to 100 acres. Yet all of the properties were within high priority forest blocks and connectivity areas for the Cold Hollow to Canada region. These small, individual parcels did not hold much interest for a land trust just on their own. However, CHC approached one of our land trust partners with the idea of aggregating these parcels and conserving them as one larger transaction. The landowners were able to meet, help each other and work with CHC to make this conservation effort happen.

    Here are their stories:

    • Bill and Joan Hildreth live in Montgomery and have been active with CHC for many years in our forest stewardship and wildlife monitoring programs. The property is located at a site where wildlife cross the road between two large forest blocks. Bill and Joan have been some of the most active citizen scientists in the region, documenting wildlife tracks and signs on their property. They have captured exceptional footage of black bear, fisher and many other species. Joan says, “We’ve always loved to walk around our property and to just be with it. Now there’s an added peace and joy in knowing that we’re doing what we can to protect it, not just while we’re here, but forever. We’ve always felt a powerful connection to this place, but that connection somehow feels even closer and stronger now.”

    • Scott and Sally Johnson own 100 acres in Waterville. This property was once slated to be developed into a 22-lot subdivision. The Johnsons purchased the entire property to reconstruct the original farm on six of these lots. Now their property is the first private conservation project in their community, serving as an example for their town of Waterville.

    • Tim Steele inherited land from his mother and he wanted to honor her memory by keeping the land fully undeveloped. Tim’s mother was very active in the early days of the Green Mountain Club, and this land was her connection to the Green Mountain State. This parcel is part of a very large unfragmented block of forest that extends through the towns of Bakersfield, Waterville and Belvidere. While this is a small parcel, it holds value as a permanent buffer along the edge of this large forest block.

    All three properties are also working forests, with management plans that encourage the harvesting of timber, which contributes to the local economy, while also prioritizing long-term forest health. The landowners had their properties assessed for bird habitat by Audubon Vermont and conducted climate change analyses of their forest management plans, based on the National Institute of Applied Climate Science’s criteria.

    Monica Pryzperhart, CHC’s former conservation director, reflects, “No matter what happens around them, these lands have been given a purpose. They will continue to provide habitat for wildlife and to protect water quality. They will provide scenic beauty and be a sustainable source of forest products. They will provide resilience to a changing climate and open, undeveloped space for both human and wild inhabitants. Forever.”   

    Act 59 elevates the importance of conservation to maintain ecosystem function and climate resilience in Vermont. It offers up a variety of different strategies for doing this. Act 59 will help bring a statewide focus to our work and ideally will expand the funding and capacity we need. What CHC and similar place-based groups can bring to the table is our intimate knowledge of the people and ownership goals in our regions. We know the community and the community knows us. We have developed deep trust through our work and can help landowners move through the complexities of land stewardship and conservation.

    Our motto at CHC is “You only see what you know, you only love what you see, and you only protect what you love.” Our role at CHC is to foster that love of the land, interest landowners in conservation and help them find ways to make it feasible. Currently CHC has a large pipeline of projects with even more landowners that want to conserve their woodlands. With more support through Act 59, CHC can do much more, and we are ready to do so. 

    About the Author

    Nancy Patch is the co-founder, board member and vice-president of Cold Hollow to Canada, a small local conservation partnership and 501c3 non-profit. Nancy has also been a practicing forester and educator for nearly 40 years. She has worked both as a consulting forester, and, as a County Forester for the State of Vermont for the last 17 years. She has served on many boards, including nine years with the Vermont Land Trust, and several years with Two Countries, One Forest. She is currently on the board of the Champlain Adirondack United Nations Biosphere Region Network.  Conservation and ecological forest management are her work life passions.