Conservation Fund purchases forestland in three states

The Conservation Fund has announced the purchase of 23,053 acres of working forestland in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts.

The parcels are sections of the Cowee Forest lands. They provide connections to existing conserved areas and recreational resources, including the Taconic Crest Trail, as well as protection for important wildlife habitat, the organization said.

A spokeswoman said the purchase price was about $25 million.

Included are parcels in the Manchester-Arlington area in Vermont, along the Pownal border near the Taconic Crest Trail, and on both sides of the New York-Massachusetts border with Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

The Taconic Crest Trail extends north-south from the North Pownal area to Hancock, Massachusetts.

The Cowee Forest lands were assembled over several generations to support a wood products manufacturing mill in the Rensselaer Plateau and Taconic regions, before being sold to an investment fund 10 years ago.

Included are sections in Bennington County, as well as Rensselaer and Washington counties in New York, and in the Berkshires.

In a news release, The Conservation Fund cited “the importance of ensuring that the valuable resources of this large forest, including wood supply to local mills that support nearly 100 forestry-based jobs, was protected from both subdivision and conversion to nonforest uses.”

“This purchase is an investment in the vitality of the Rensselaer Plateau and Taconic region’s forest economy, which is the largest natural resource-based economic sector in the state of New York,” said Tom Duffus, vice president and Northeast representative for The Conservation Fund.

“Our goal is to protect forestland of community- and statewide importance, and we look forward to working with our public and private partners to implement conservation solutions at Cowee Forest that meet the needs of people, protect wildlife habitat and provide economic benefits.”

In Vermont, parcels are located near Shatterack, Big Spruce and Red mountains in the Northshire.

More than 16,600 acres of Cowee Forest are located in eastern New York, with lands adjacent to the Capital District Wildlife Management Area, Cherry Plain State Park and numerous state forests — including Taconic Ridge, Berlin, Battenkill and Goose Egg state forests.

In Berkshire County, the parcels are along the Taconic Range and the Taconic Crest Trail.

Other parcels are shown on a map of the region on the organization’s website.

Within the view from the Dickinson Hill Fire Tower near Grafton, New York, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cowee Forest lands contain a portion of the Albany Road to Massachusetts, a Colonial highway dating to 1753 and the first road that crossed the plateau and Taconic Mountains.

The purchase allows time for the creation and implementation of permanent protection strategies with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, communities and other local partners while preventing fragmentation and development of the land, The Conservation Fund said.

During its temporary ownership, The Conservation Fund will pay property taxes on and will sustainably manage Cowee Forest for timber resources and a variety of conservation benefits, including public recreational access for hiking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

The land will also be managed for improved wildlife habitat for seven species of national importance, like the New England cottontail and four hawk species listed by the New York State Endangered Species Act: Cooper’s hawk, red-shouldered hawk, broad-winged hawk and northern goshawk.

“This project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we … are so grateful to The Conservation Fund for making it possible,” said Jim Bonesteel, executive director of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance.

The fund’s Working Forest Fund uses conservation-focused forest management strategies to enhance forest health and productivity, wildlife habitat and water quality, while supporting the economic well-being of surrounding communities. Over the past three decades, The Conservation Fund has protected more than 2 million acres of forestland nationwide.

The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly 8 million acres.

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