Vermont Conservation Is Having a Banner Year

Sep. 05, 2023

Writing by NEFF Communications Manager Tinsley Hunsdorfer and NEFF Conservation Project Manager Sophie Anthony

Willey Woods Community Willey Woods Community Forest, where NEFF holds an easement. Photo by Matt Peters.

While New England Forestry Foundation is a regional forest conservation organization, our protected lands aren’t evenly distributed across New England. Through both ownership and easements, NEFF has conserved 33 forestlands in Vermont and 11 in Connecticut; at the other end of the spectrum, NEFF has conserved 116 in Massachusetts and 112 in New Hampshire.

These differences primarily come down to where NEFF was founded—Massachusetts—and the location of land parcels and easements donated to NEFF over time. Regardless of there being a logical explanation for this pattern, it’s hard not to root for the underdog, which is why we’re pleased to report that 2022 and 2023 are giving some Vermont conservation projects time to shine.

Cold Hollow to Canada Partnership

Status: In progress

NEFF is partnering with the Vermont-based Cold Hollow to Canada (CHC) organization, which has received funding from the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund to enhance collaborative land conservation in the region. CHC’s mission is to maintain ecosystem integrity, biological diversity, and forest resiliency throughout the Cold Hollow to Canada region, which spans seven towns in the northern Green Mountains. Their work includes sustainable stewardship, forestland conservation, and community empowerment.

CHC is in turn a member of the larger Staying Connected Initiative (SCI) landscape partnership, which conserves wildlife corridors across the Northern Appalachian – Acadian Region of the U.S. and Canada, and the Cold Hollow to Canada landscape encompasses a core part of SCI’s 722,000-acre “Northern Greens to Canada” linkage.

“We’re excited to be included in this partnership, and hope to facilitate conservation that will ultimately support natural systems over the immense Northern Greens to Canada linkage,” said Sophie Anthony, NEFF Conservation Project Manager. “Conserving the here-at-home CHC landscape is also crucial in its own right, as the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has identified it as highly important for maintaining interior forest and connectivity, and we are grateful to be working with other inspiring conservation leaders in Vermont to protect it.”

As a CHC partner, NEFF will act as a potential conservation easement holder for landowners recruited to participate in the program. The collaborative conservation program includes four virtual coordination meetings among partners, a group workshop for landowners, and follow-up with landowners. This will take place over a two-year timeframe and will hopefully expand conservation in the CHC area.

Caper Hill Farm

Status: Closed March 22, 2022

Anne Turek, Jane Jackson and their siblings—all members of the Leslie family, which has long supported NEFF—sold 88 acres to NEFF at a bargain rate, or very reduced price, in spring 2022. The land was split between a 42-acre property in West Windsor, and an adjacent 46-acre parcel in Reading. Fun family fact: The 42-acre property features a trail their mother once named “The Cathedral Trail.”

NEFF has now combined these two woodlands with NEFF’s existing Reeves-Royster-Liebowitz Forest to create Caper Hill Community Forest; the older NEFF property is located next to the Leslie family land.

Composed primarily of well-managed mixed and northern hardwoods, the 166-acre Caper Hill Community Forest has relaxing walking paths, horseback riding trails, beautiful spring wildflowers, rolling hills, and babbling brooks. It shares a border with NEFF’s own Pineview easement, and Vermont Land Trust also holds an easement on the neighboring Spring Brook Farm, which runs popular children’s educational programs.

Willey Woods Conservation Easement

Status: Closed December 14, 2022

The Town of Burke has long identified the 283-acre Willey Woods property, located in the village of West Burke, as an ideal conservation opportunity with good public access and important natural resources. In collaboration with the Town, the Trust for Public Land helped fundraise for the property’s purchase, and also asked NEFF and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to co-hold an easement on the land—now known as the Willey Woods Community Forest.

“We were honored to partner with these organizations and the Town of Burke to establish this vital community forest and help protect its range of benefits, from public recreation to carbon sequestration,” said Will Brune, NEFF Chief Conservation Officer. “It’s a truly beautiful addition to our suite of conserved Vermont land, and it feels like part of the NEFF family, given that it offers many of the same opportunities and protects many of the same sorts of resources as NEFF’s Community Forests do.”

The new Willey Woods Community Forest is the first unit of public land in West Burke and is part of a more than 2,000-acre block of connected forestland. This means its conservation helps prevent forest fragmentation, ensure water quality and flood resilience, and prevent the loss of biodiversity. Wiley Woods also provides wildlife habitat, allows for sustainable timber harvesting and offers a wide range of opportunities for public recreation, including hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.

Looking Ahead

NEFF is excited about these Vermont projects, and we hope to soon conserve more land in this beautiful state. NEFF has potential projects coming up in the Stowe-Smugglers Notch Region and the Middlebury-Vergennes Region that could add 600 acres to NEFF’s Vermont conservation easement land, and NEFF is working to expand some of its existing easements in the area. We also plan to continue building partnerships in Vermont in order to help preserve the state’s biodiversity and prevent further habitat loss and forest fragmentation.