• Annie Jacobs

Uplands to Lowlands - Ten land trusts, three Regional Conservation Partnerships & one bold project

Updated: Mar 10

March 10, 2022

Annie Jacobs

In April, 2021, the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program awarded $6,239,091 to 10 Northeast land trusts working in partnership. Over 5 years, the partner organizations will conserve land through easements, protect pollinator pathways, restore buffers along streams and other waterways, and more. Partners will contribute an additional $7,064,460 of staff time, cash, and matching land conservation projects. Photo by Kim Clune.

Taking a cue from the diverse forests and wetlands we all love—with their connected roots and fungal networks—we land trusts have learned that we cannot work in isolation. Threats like climate change and rising development pressure make it ever more critical that we conserve our forests and wetlands through regional partnerships, across state and county boundaries.


And not only for the plants and animals, but for our human communities, too.


That's why RPA has been a member of the Berkshire Taconic Regional Conservation Partnership (BTRCP) since its inception, and why we decided to take the lead on a major grant from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).


The RCPP grant program allows conservation partners to collaborate with the NRCS to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners conserve water, soil, and wildlife habitat—all while increasing climate resilience. In each awarded project, partners contribute to match the funded amount through staff time and resources.


For RPA, taking the lead on a project like this is a big step for our small but growing land trust.


A view of the Taconic Mountains from the Rensselaer Plateau. Photo by Nate Simms.

The opportunity to apply for an RCPP grant had been on the mind of Bill Labich, a Senior Conservationist at Highstead who heads up the Regional Conservation Partnership Network.


He saw it as an excellent opportunity for several regional conservation partnerships to link up and to really build on our shared momentum. At an RCP gathering in Amherst, Massachusetts, he and Jim Bonesteel, RPA’s Executive Director, shared an elevator ride.


Bill told Jim that this wonderful opportunity was there for them but that no partner really wanted to take the lead on it. He thought RPA might be up for the task.


Jim thought about it and realized he didn’t want to let an opportunity like this slip by. He appreciated how the RCPP grant allows for creativity and the chance to build capacity within the project scope. He brought the idea to RPA’s board and as a team they saw beyond the risks to the opportunities.


Before long, Jim was working closely with Highstead, Columbia Land Conservancy, and Housatonic Valley Association, along with 6 other participating land trusts—representing three different Regional Conservation Partnerships, to produce a project proposal.


The Uplands to Lowlands Climate-Resilient Cores and Connectors will support land conservation and restoration projects on a regional scale through a partnership of three Regional Conservation Partnerships: The Berkshire Taconic Regional Conservation Partnership, Hudson to Housatonic (H2H) Regional Conservation Partnership, and Litchfield Hills Greenprint Collaborative. The Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, a member of Berkshire Taconic RCP, is serving as a lead in this project.

The working group asked questions like: How can we best serve our unique and vulnerable Northeastern forests and human communities? How can we maximize this opportunity to sequester carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change?


They decided on the Uplands to Lowlands Climate-Resilient Cores and Connectors project to conserve and care for not only forested hills, but also the riverside lowlands from the Hudson Valley through to Vermont.

In the proposed project, forested uplands and farmland would remain undeveloped with the help of conservation easements. Land management projects such as riparian buffer restoration and pollinator pathways would help support the rich biodiversity in these places. Partnership states would include New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts with a full time Conservation Project Manager who would work for RPA and stay on after the 5-year grant period.


The project’s outcomes align well with the partners’ current work on multi-state, landscape-scale initiatives like Follow the Forest, which seeks to protect and connect a continuous forested wildlife corridor extending from the Hudson Highlands to Canada.


In April 2021, we learned that this RCPP grant was awarded, along with 85 other partnership awards across the U.S. (You can view all awarded projects on this interactive map!). The Uplands to Lowlands Climate-Resilient Cores and Connectors project was granted $6,239,091 to 10 Northeast land trusts working in partnership for five years through 2026. RPA is now hiring for the Conservation Project Manager position to coordinate this exciting effort.


This kind of dreaming together is how land trusts across the country will make a lasting difference for our future generations.


Here in the Northeast, we're connecting forests together for wildlife movement and healthy waterways. What we do in our home region will build on the impact of land trusts all over, helping to sequester carbon, reach the ambitious 30 x 30 land conservation goal, and support thriving human communities for years to come.


Thinking on such a large scale about climate resilience and wildlife habitat can be overwhelming. Thankfully, it's much less so when we do it together.



 

The Uplands to Lowlands Climate-Resilient Cores and Connectors will support land conservation and restoration projects on a regional scale through a partnership of three Regional Conservation Partnerships: The Berkshire Taconic Regional Conservation Partnership, Hudson to Housatonic (H2H) Regional Conservation Partnership, and Litchfield Hills Greenprint Collaborative. The Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, a member of Berkshire Taconic RCP, is serving as a lead in this project.


Uplands to Lowlands Climate-Resilient Cores and Connectors partner organizations:

Columbia Land Conservancy

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Highstead

Housatonic Valley Association (& the Follow the Forest initiative)

Native Habitat Restoration, LLC

Norwalk River Watershed Association, Inc.

Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition

Rensselaer Plateau Alliance

Salisbury Association Land Trust

Sheffield Land Trust

Trout Unlimited


Community partners (organizations and initiatives involved in this project):

Pound Ridge Land Conservancy, Pound Ridge Pollinator Pathway, Irvington Pollinator Pathway, Dobbs Ferry Pollinator Pathway, North Yonkers Groundwork, Weston Pollinator Pathway, Darien Pollinator Pathway, Wilton Pollinator Pathway, Ridgefield Pollinator Pathway, Norwalk Pollinator Pathway, and Stamford Pollinator Pathway.


Photos by Kim Clune and Nate Simms.



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