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Conservation partners conserve wildlands and woodlands to advance climate and community goals

A block of over 4,700 acres of wilderness and managed forests in Richford and Jay has been permanently protected, the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), The Nature Conservancy in Vermont (TNC) and Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT) announced today. Located on the north- and west-facing slopes of the Green Mountains, the newly protected land adds to a network of nearly 10,000 acres of unfragmented, protected forest stretching from Vermont to Quebec.

“This is a win for our climate and for the people, plants, and animals who call Vermont home,” said Tracy Zschau, President & CEO of the Vermont Land Trust. “This parcel adds to an impressive block of conserved land located within a globally significant Boreal forest while supporting sustainable forest management on over 2,000 acres.”

The protections were achieved through three separate transactions. On December 28, the Atlas Timberlands Partnership (between TNC and VLT) sold 2,025 acres in the towns of Richford and Jay to Somerset Investment Partnership, L.P., which then conveyed a conservation easement to VLT that supports forest management alongside strong ecological protections and public access.

On January 5, the Partnership sold 1,986 adjacent acres (referred to as Bear’s Nest) to NEWT subject to a forever wild conservation easement held by TNC, which is adjacent to another parcel that NEWT purchased in 2023. All three parcels will be open for dispersed public recreation, with additional limits on access to the forever-wild parcels.

“The Bear’s Nest project and the Richford-Jay managed forest project exemplify the best of conservation—partners coming together to safeguard benefits for both nature and communities,” said Eve Frankel, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Vermont. “In this specific case, Bear’s Nest will sequester and store carbon and protect the Richford community water supply, while the Richford-Jay parcel will provide fiber and forest products for local businesses. Both will provide recreational access while conserving large forest blocks that support the ability of species to move and adapt to a changing climate.”

The newly protected lands feature high-elevation forest, wetlands, and streams including the upper watershed for Stanhope Brook, which provides the water supply for the Town of Richford. The land also features rare and uncommon plants such as Kamtschatka bedstraw and leathery grape fern.

“The State of Vermont, through Vermont Conservation Design, notes that at least nine percent of Vermont should be comprised of old forest to sustain the ecological function of our cherished landscape. One of the best ways to achieve that goal is permanently protecting places as forever-wild, which today make up less than four percent of Vermont,” said Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of Northeast Wilderness Trust. “A forever-wild property today is an old forest of tomorrow. The protection of these places serves as a complementary conservation strategy to the continued protection of well-managed forests.

This forest block was originally owned by the Atlas Timber Company, which sold over 26,000 acres to TNC and VLT in 1997 to steward and advance sustainable forest management, support biodiversity, and improve public access.

In 2016, VLT and TNC began to sell and permanently conserve much of this land, with the proceeds going to protect additional forestland in Vermont. The parcel in Richford-Jay was one of the last still owned by VLT and TNC.

Balancing wilderness and managed forests

In an effort to balance wilderness and managed forests, the 1,986-acre parcel now owned by NEWT, carries a forever-wild easement that prohibits timber harvests. This sits adjacent to the 730-acre parcel that NEWT purchased last year that will also be protected by a forever-wild easement—strengthening connectivity within the Northern Green Mountains.

These two forever-wild properties—collectively named Bear’s Nest Wilderness Preserve by NEWT—represent a wild 2,716-acre core area that will benefit the surrounding managed landscape. The Preserve gets its name from the “bear nests” found on site: bundles of broken branches created when bears feed on nuts or leaves by pulling branches towards them.

“The Northern Greens host some of the most intact forests in Vermont and are critical for wildlife movement, especially in a rapidly changing climate. NEWT is proud to have worked with TNC, VLT, and a private landowner to protect this important new wilderness area and future old forest,” said Caitlin Mather, Conservation Manager at Northeast Wilderness Trust.

“Over the past two decades, since we launched the Atlas Timberlands Partnership with TNC, we know more about old forests and the unique benefits they provide,” said Tracy Zschau, President & CEO of the Vermont Land Trust. “This includes enhanced biodiversity and carbon storage that helps to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. As the science has evolved, so too has our approach.”

For more details on Bear’s Nest Wilderness Preserve please go to


About Northeast Wilderness Trust:  Northeast Wilderness Trust conserves forever-wild landscapes for Nature and people and it envisions a landscape of connected, resilient wildlands shared by a human culture that recognizes the benefits of wild places. It accomplishes this work by acquiring land as well as holding forever-wild conservation easements on properties owned by other organizations or individuals. Northeast Wilderness Trust also champions wilderness in the public sphere. Across New England and New York, the Wilderness Trust secures wild places where Nature can thrive, wildlife can wander, and people can find beauty and quiet. Since its founding in 2002, Northeast Wilderness Trust has protected 81,372 forever-wild acres. Learn more at

Photography by Jerry Monkman / EcoPhotography.