Northeast Wilderness Trust is joining forces with local land trusts to protect more wilderness across the Northeast. Eligible land trusts are compensated by the Wilderness Trust for project costs, and can receive ongoing income by enrolling in our Wild Carbon program.
The Partnership serves two critical purposes:
- To meet the goal set forth by Harvard Forest’s Wildlands & Woodlands initiative to conserve at least 10% (3 million acres) of New England’s forestland as wilderness by 2060. The Wildlands Partnership unites accredited land trusts to conserve wild landscapes across the region, including New York. With just 3–4% of the Northeast currently protected as wilderness, the time to act, together, is now.
- To respond directly to the urgent need for natural climate solutions, as put forth by the IPCC and the IPBES. Wildlands are remarkably effective at absorbing and storing carbon, while also offering species resilient, connected habitats as the climate rapidly changes. In conjunction with protecting well-managed woodlands, the pace of wilderness conservation must accelerate to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
“The clock is ticking. Scalable natural climate solutions are urgently needed to combat the worst of climate change. What Northeast Wilderness Trust is attempting with the Wildlands Partnership is a science-based approach to increase the carbon sequestration of the Northeast’s forest.”
Bill McKibben, Author & 350.org Co-founder
Wild nature has intrinsic value and deserves to exist for its own sake. In addition, forever-wild conservation is among the most cost-efficient and immediate actions we can take to confront rapid climate change and mass species loss. Recent studies confirm the incredible ability of old, wild forests to absorb carbon. Scientists have reported the importance of allowing forests to mature—a process called “Proforestation.” These forests are better at storing carbon than any technology, and aren’t powered by fossil fuels! (As Bill McKibben says, “Also, they’re beautiful.”) Unmanaged forests offer additional benefits: preventing extinction, allowing life to evolve alongside a changing climate, and connecting wildlife corridors for far-ranging species.
The window is narrowing, and the land trust community must act quickly while we still can. Every forest we protect as wilderness today will become an old-growth forest of tomorrow. The Wildlands Partnership offers a streamlined, cost-effective way to make a difference for nature while doing what land trusts do best: saving places for future generations.
“Right now, we are ignoring natural climate solutions…We need to protect, restore, and fund.”
Greta Thunberg, climate activist
How it works
- Northeast Wilderness Trust will work with your accredited organization to identify potential forever-wild land. Click here to view our intake steps for potential partner land trusts. There are two approaches to permanently protect a forever-wild property:
- For land you own, or would like to own, Northeast Wilderness Trust will hold a forever-wild conservation easement on the property. In certain cases, the Wilderness Trust may contribute to a bargain-sale or help lead a fundraising campaign so that your land trust can acquire a new, forever-wild property.
- For land on which you would like to hold a forever-wild easement, Northeast Wilderness Trust will lend our expertise to help you craft a forever-wild easement. Your land trust will be the primary easement holder, and the Wilderness Trust will hold an executory (back-up enforcement) interest.
- Northeast Wilderness Trust will prioritize Wildlands Partnership conservation projects using our standard Land Protection Criteria: size, resiliency, context, and geographic diversity.
- An MOU between both parties will outline all details of the Partnership and provide transparency for the process. Wilderness Trust staff will be available to present to your board of directors and staff.
- Through Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Wild Carbon program, your land trust can generate carbon credits and earn revenue over 40 years.
- Northeast Wilderness Trust will fund your organization’s staff time, stewardship endowment contribute, transactional costs, and legal fees associated with any Wildlands Partnership project.
Financial support for your organization
Northeast Wilderness Trust will contribute to your forever-wild conservation project, including:
- Due diligence and acquisition costs
- Compensation for staff time
- Stewardship endowment
Wildlands Partners may enroll properties in the carbon market upon conserving them as forever-wild.
- Properties that would otherwise be too small to be eligible for carbon markets will be grouped with other wildlands through Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Wild Carbon program.
- Land trusts will receive reliable periodic income, without needing to devote any time or capacity to building a carbon market program themselves.
- Northeast Wilderness Trust will cover the full cost of the required timber cruise.
Technical assistance and outreach
As the only regional land trust focused exclusively on wilderness conservation, Northeast Wilderness Trust will be a resource for Wildlands Partners. Northeast Wilderness Trust will be on call to offer technical assistance and guidance as your land trust navigates wilderness protection.
Upon completing your forever-wild conservation project, Northeast Wilderness Trust will celebrate your success by:
- Collaboratively crafting a press release for local and regional news outlets;
- Sharing your story through digital and print media;
- Hosting a celebratory event and recognizing major donors, when relevant.
Wildlands Partnership F.A.Q.
Size is an important factor and properties (or aggregated bundles of parcels) larger than 500 acres are preferred. However, projects are chosen based on several criteria, including resilience, biodiversity, and conservation context. Sometimes smaller blocks are still priorities for forever-wild conservation because they are exceptionally resilient to climate change, important for wildlife, or adjacent to already conserved lands. Northeast Wilderness Trust may also aggregate a collection of multiple small properties that can be conserved as forever-wild all at once. If in doubt, contact email@example.com.
What criteria does the Wilderness Trust use to prioritize projects for participation in the Wildlands Partnership?
Proposed projects will be evaluated for enrollment in the Wildlands Partnership according to Northeast Wilderness Trust’s standard Land Protection criteria with an emphasis on:
- Size: When possible, larger properties are prioritized. A 500-acre minimum is preferable but not necessarily a requirement (see above).
- Resilience to Climate Change: A high score on the Nature Conservancy’s resiliency analysis is a critical factor for wilderness conservation. For more information, see The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Sites for Conservation in the Eastern United States
- Context: Projects have higher conservation value if they are near or adjacent to important forest blocks or conserved lands, because they will help create and expand healthy, connected wildlife habitat and corridors.
- Geographic Diversity: The Wildlands Partnership will focus on five different landscapes in the Northeast. The Partnership’s aim is to preserve at least 1,000 acres in each landscape, with a cumulative goal of protecting 10,000 acres across the region by 2024.
Perpetuity is a long time. All land trusts should secure conservation easements on land they own in case their land trust goes out of business. Northeast Wilderness Trust practices what it preaches and encumbers all of the land it owns with partner land trusts. This is often referred to as “belt and suspender” conservation.
Northeast Wilderness Trust invests money into the Wildlands Partnership from private donors and charitable foundations with the expectation of collaboration with similarly-accredited land trusts. While the Wilderness Trust is aware that there are many excellent land trusts that have not pursued accreditation, this process provides assurance that land trust partners have best-management practices in place, and are financially and institutionally prepared to steward their conserved lands in perpetuity.
Additionally, Northeast Wilderness Trust can secure the best returns from the Wild Carbon program for partner land trusts by reducing risks (i.e. insolvency or carbon offset reversals). The American Carbon Registry (ACR) is the organization that certifies voluntary-market carbon projects like those in the Wild Carbon program. As part of this process, the ACR uses a rigorous risk analysis to determine the likelihood that all enrolled carbon projects will remain viable for the entire 40-year term. Accreditation lowers risk factors and allows properties to generate reliable carbon credits.
On forever-wild properties, nature is allowed to take its course with minimal management or interference. For this reason, the landowner generally gives up rights to build structures or roads, subdivide, conduct commercial or industrial activities, farm, and cut timber. Landowners generally retain the rights to use the land for non-motorized, non-mechanized recreation, and to post the land against public use, including hunting. Conservation easements offer flexibility, however, and Northeast Wilderness Trust works closely with landowners to craft an easement that best suits the landowner’s goals for the particular property.
Public access to your property for non-mechanized recreation would continue under the provisions of a forever-wild easement, if you want it to. There is no requirement for public access. If you want to permit fishing or hunting of abundant prey species on your land, you may. All forever-wild conservation easements prohibit mechanized (mountain biking) and motorized (ATVs, snowmobiles) recreation. While maintenance of existing trails is allowed, construction of new trails is generally not allowed. Bird watching, canoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, and snow-shoeing are all examples of activities compatible with conserved wilderness. The object is not to keep people off the land, but to minimize human impacts on wildlife and natural communities.
For all land trusts in the Wildlands Partnership, Northeast Wilderness Trust will offset costs of developing and stewarding a forever-wild conservation easement, including due diligence, legal costs, stewardship endowment contribution, and staff time. The Wilderness Trust will also provide guidance and expertise on wilderness conservation and stewardship at no cost to participating land trusts.
In some cases, Northeast Wilderness Trust will also provide capital for acquisition of properties that a land trust does not yet own, but would like to purchase and protect as forever-wild.
A land trust may then elect to receive ongoing, unrestricted income from their forever-wild land by enrolling it in the Wild Carbon program. In these cases, Northeast Wilderness Trust will pay for the initial timber cruise to assess the property’s carbon inventory. (This is the first step in generating carbon credits to sell.) Net income from the sale of carbon credits on the forever-wild property goes to the partner land trust. Costs that are deducted from the gross carbon revenue prior to distribution include third-party costs for development, compliance and marketing, and the Wilderness Trust’s administrative fee. Our aim for the Wild Carbon program is to pass on 100% of net revenue to our land trust partners. Since our goal in creating the Wildlands Partnership program is to accelerate the pace of wildlands conservation in the Northeast, we developed a Wild Carbon program that will create revenue for land trusts that want to collaborate on wilderness conservation.
What is the timeline of steps in a Wildlands Partnership between my land trust and Northeast Wilderness Trust?
After initial exploratory conversations, the Wildlands Partnership proceeds as following:
- Adopt a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Northeast Wilderness Trust and your land trust to outline the general terms of our working relationship for the Wildlands Partnership;
- Identify properties owned by your land trust—or portions of properties—that you would like Northeast Wilderness Trust to hold a forever-wild conservation easement on, and/or
- Identify properties that your land trust would like to acquire to protect as forever-wild with Northeast Wilderness Trust, and determine how much money Northeast Wilderness Trust will contribute for each property;
- Negotiate the terms of the forever-wild conservation easement(s);
- Optional: Explore the potential of carbon revenue from the Wild Carbon program for your forever-wild properties;
- Optional: Adopt a Carbon Development Marketing Agreement (CDMA), and enroll your properties in the voluntary carbon offset market;
- Sign the forever-wild conservation easement within one year of entering the carbon market, or immediately if your land trust does not participate in the Wild Carbon program.
Wild Carbon Program F.A.Q.
The administrative fee helps Northeast Wilderness Trust cover our personnel cost for performing the duties of the project Sponsor. In this role, NEWT conducts outreach to land trusts, assists with their enrollment, maintains brand recognition for credits generated by Wildlands Carbon, and monitors the project for the best interest of the landowners. Northeast Wilderness Trust’s own independent fundraising—not the carbon program—funds our direct financial support to our Wildlands Partners (grant awards for due diligence, stewardship funds, staff time, and acquisition costs.)
How much ongoing staff capacity will be required of a land trust that enrolls in the Wildlands Carbon program?
Stewardship Staff Capacity: There will not be any demands on your stewardship team beyond what will already be required to monitor the forever-wild conservation easement. Enforcing the terms of the conservation easement is wholly consistent with ensuring that there is no “carbon reversal.” Carbon reversal happens when trees are cut down. Timber harvest and clearing land for construction are examples of actions that would result in carbon reversal. Since these uses will be restricted by the Forever-Wild easement, adhering to the Wildlands Carbon program entails the same requirements of managing a property as wilderness: maintaining boundary signage, monitoring properties to prevent third-party violations such as timber theft, and refraining from all activities restricted by the easement.
Administrative Staff Capacity: As Sponsor, Northeast Wilderness Trust administers all aspects of the Wildlands Carbon program in conjunction with the project Manager. Your land trust will have minimal work to do, which will mostly consist of gathering information we will need at the outset, such as property shapefiles, titles, copies of existing restrictions or easements, and current management plans. (It is likely that most of these documents will already have been shared with us when we discuss terms for the forever-wild conservation easement.) You will need a staff person to reply to the Wilderness Trust when we reach out to you for logistics such as: confirming dates that a forestry crew may need to visit your property to inventory or verify the status of its trees (your staff will not need to be present), or when we notify you of carbon income that will be coming to you after a credit sale.
The Wildlands Carbon LLC – not your land trust – will be the project proponent and will thereby be responsible to the carbon registry for the management of the Wildlands Carbon initiative for the life of the project. The project Sponsor and Manager will shepherd the project through all aspects of carbon inventories, credit verification, credit issuance, and sale of credits. Since the land trust is not the project proponent, there is no legal mechanism for the carbon registry to tap your land trust to pay any costs associated with managing the project or verifying any credit issuances.
Upon enrollment in Wildlands Carbon, your land trust will commit itself to a “No-Harvest” land management plan for the term of the carbon project. If your land trust were to violate that commitment, and were to intentionally harvest trees during the life of the project, it would be responsible for reimbursing the Wildlands Carbon LLC for a proportional number of carbon credits. This is what is known in the industry as an “intentional reversal” of carbon credits--if you’ve been issued carbon credits to sell based on the estimated sequestration and storage of carbon by trees on your property, you cannot turn around and cut down the very trees that earned those credits for you.
Worth noting, of course, is that your land trust will already have granted the timber rights to Northeast Wilderness Trust in the forever-wild conservation easement whether or not you enroll in Wildlands Carbon. Your land trust would have to egregiously violate the conservation easement in order to find itself in an “intentional reversal” situation with the carbon project; a situation all parties expect to be highly unlikely! While the carbon project ends after 40 years, the conservation easement is perpetual.
None. Northeast Wilderness Trust has designed the Wildlands Carbon program to eliminate the financial risk of participating in the carbon offset market, while helping land trusts generate carbon revenue from setting aside wild forests. The project developer will finance all upfront costs for project development, and will only be reimbursed for that investment after the project has generated revenue from credit sales. Our fee structure is designed so that a portion of the proceeds from the first year of carbon credit sales is set aside to cover the anticipated third-party costs over the entire life of the project. When your land trust decides it is serious about pursuing carbon revenue, our staff can walk you through some hypothetical numbers to give you a clearer sense of the possible revenue you could expect by entering your property in the Wildlands Carbon program. The important thing to remember is that your proportional share of all expenses (for project development, administration and compliance) will come out of the gross carbon revenue your properties generate. Your land trust will not have any financial exposure; the expenses only affect the total net revenue you will receive from credit sales.
Northeast Wilderness Trust's only benefit from administering the program will result from the additional conservation of wildlands that your land trust will be doing as a result of being a partner in the Wildlands Partnership. Northeast Wilderness Trust does not intend to, need to, or expect to make any money off of the Wildlands Carbon program. Our vision is that the Wildlands Carbon program will create an incentive for your land trust to join the Wildlands Partnership. In lieu of timber revenue, which will no longer be available to your land trust once the Wilderness Trust holds a forever-wild easement on your property, your land trust will have access to revenue from selling Wildlands Carbon credits. We will be transparent about our fee structure, the projected costs of managing the project, and the revenue we reasonably anticipate for your land trust.
The carbon registries require that forest-related carbon projects contribute a percentage (usually 18%) of the generated carbon reduction credits to an internal insurance program called a buffer pool. The registry uses this pool of reserved credits to cover the cost of reversals due to natural causes. Land trusts are therefore not liable for reductions in predicted carbon-sequestration rates due to natural causes. (Such events would affect the number of future carbon credits that could be generated, however.)
The buffer pool does not cover carbon reversals that are due to intentional human activity. If there is a significant loss of tree cover on an enrolled property that is the result of direct human action, the project proponent (in this case the project developer) is required to refund to the registry the carbon credits that can no longer be verified. Put more simply, the carbon credits are issued by the registry based on the projected rate of carbon sequestration on the properties. If, due to human activity, the rate of sequestration turns out to be significantly less than anticipated on the property, then some of the carbon credits that have already been issued (or the equivalent dollar amount) have to be refunded. For this reason, the Landowner Agreement that participating land trusts sign to enroll in Wildlands Carbon stipulates that the land trust will be responsible for covering reversal costs that result from intentional actions on its own enrolled properties. This also protects each participating land trust from any violations or gross negligence on the part of the other land trusts in the project—your revenue will not be in jeopardy if another land trust in the aggregated project violates the terms of its enrollment.
Can we enroll in Wildlands Carbon if we don’t place a forever-wild conservation easement on a property?
Not through the Wildlands Partnership. Northeast Wilderness Trust is investing time and resources in the Wildlands Carbon Program specifically in order to accelerate the pace of wildlands conservation in the Northeast. The Wilderness Trust’s goal is to expand wilderness; in exchange, our land trust partners receive the revenue from the Wildlands Carbon program with zero financial risk or liability.
Other options to enroll in a carbon market may exist for lands that are producing timber, and we can refer land trusts to these programs if wilderness conservation is not the right fit.
At this point in time, land with a forever-wild easement may only be enrolled in a forest-carbon project for one 40-year term. Carbon offset credits have market value because they show that a project will increase the level of carbon sequestration above and beyond what would otherwise happen on that land. Placement of a forever-wild conservation easement permanently withdraws your protected property from the timber base, and thereby creates the conditions for increased and perpetual additional carbon storage. Future forest-carbon projects cannot be developed on the same land because the trees will at that point already be permanently protected from logging. For this reason, enrollment in the Wildlands Carbon project must occur within one year of recording a forever-wild conservation easement. The Northeast Wilderness Trust will facilitate and guide the timing of this process for all partners. Carbon markets are new and evolving, and the registry protocols with them. The carbon development rights revert to the landowner (you, the land trust) after the completion of the Wildlands Carbon Project. If, at some future time there is another type of carbon project a land trust can develop on its property, you would retain the legal right to do that.
Participating in the Wildlands Partnership does not mean your land trust has to enroll in our Wildlands Carbon program. You may choose not to participate in the carbon offset market at all, or you may choose to investigate developing your own carbon project with a carbon project developer. Whether or not it is possible, or advisable, for you to develop a project solely on your land trust’s properties depends on several factors. The most significant factors are likely to be the total acreage you have eligible to enroll, your staff’s capacity—both knowledge and time—to take on the development of a project, and your Board’s willingness to assume all of the related risk and liability.
Why should my land trust join the Wildlands Carbon program rather than develop its own carbon project?
The main reasons land trusts choose not to develop their own projects are:
- Acreage: Many land trusts in the Northeast do not have the acreage required to enter the carbon market. Carbon project developers generally require upwards of several thousand acres. Revenue from parcels under 5,000 acres is rarely sufficient to cover the substantial fixed costs of developing a carbon project. The Wildlands Partnership model consolidates acreage protected by several land trusts, making it easy to access the voluntary carbon market and reap actual income.
- Economies of Scale: The Wildlands Carbon program consolidates properties that are owned by diverse land trusts for entry into one carbon project. Aggregated projects such as this have the advantage of a favorable cost-benefit ratio for project development. As the overall acreage of a project increases, some of the compliance costs (such as carbon inventories, project verifications, and registry account fees) do not increase proportionately with the number of offsets generated. By sharing the expenses, land trust partners incur lower costs than they would on an independent project, and can therefore retain a greater percentage of their gross revenue.
- Staffing: From our experience, creating a carbon project entails more than a year’s worth of diligent labor to take bids, negotiate MOUs, understand carbon market protocols, evaluate a project’s long-term commitments and liabilities, and execute contractual agreements with carbon project developers. Land trusts rarely have the capacity to dedicate a staff person for this extensive work.
- Risk: Many land trusts are understandably wary of taking on the liabilities that come with being a Project Proponent. Carbon markets, like all markets, offer no guarantees as to future demand. Therefore, it is uncertain how much the carbon credits will sell for once a project is complete. The Wildlands Carbon LLC is responsible for compliance and monitoring over the entire life of the carbon project (40 years) including inventories and verifications that require hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Why should we enroll in Wildlands Carbon rather than a carbon project with other carbon aggregators?
There are several benefits to the Wildlands Carbon program that are not found in other forest carbon programs.
- Wildlands Carbon credits are poised to capture a premium in the carbon marketplace. Carbon offset credits have the greatest value to buyers when the projects accomplish significant environmental objectives above and beyond carbon sequestration. Every acre enrolled in Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Wildlands Carbon project is destined to become old-growth forest. This is markedly different than most carbon projects, where ongoing or future logging is not necessarily prohibited. While carbon projects only last 40 years, the protection of a forever-wild easement remains in perpetuity. In addition to permanent carbon storage, forever-wild forests guarantee that high-quality wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air, and many other ecosystem services will continue benefiting nature and people well beyond the term of the carbon project. It is precisely because of the forever-wild easements that the credits generated by Wildlands Carbon projects have a unique story to tell. Buyers, as well as your supporters, will appreciate the many co-benefits of your carbon project, and can be confident in the permanent carbon storage that your offsets represent.
- Working with businesses that are committed to a sustainable future. Forever-Wildlands Carbon credits are developed for the voluntary carbon market, which allows for discretion in selecting buyers. Northeast Wilderness Trust retains the right to approve the buyer for each credit sale. We have a policy that we only sell to businesses that have serious sustainability goals and are taking concrete actions beyond the purchase of carbon offsets. Your land trust can rest assured that you are providing an opportunity for businesses trying to do the right thing by choosing to offset their carbon footprint.
- Retaining the highest possible percentage of your carbon revenue.The Northeast Wilderness does not plan to make any money on the Wildlands Carbon Program, only to offset our administrative costs. All of the net revenue (revenue from credit sales minus the project development, management and compliance expenses) will be passed along to our Wildlands Partners. This is a mission-driven carbon program with the sole purpose of expanding forever-wild conservation. Furthermore, because the Wilderness Trust is taking on the long-term liability at scale, we pass those savings on to you. We don’t expect you will find better terms in another carbon project.
- Northeast Wilderness Trust will pay for the initial timber cruise to assess your property’s carbon potential.In order for a project developer to even begin to estimate the amount of carbon offset credits that can be generated by sequestration on a property, they need the data from a timber cruise. Unlike other carbon programs where partner land trusts or individuals must bear this cost, the Wildlands Carbon project makes this initial investment (up to $5,000) on behalf of its Wildlands Partners.
- Through the Wildlands Partnership, Northeast Wilderness Trust may be able to help your land trust acquire more land in fee. This is a win-win: more forever-wild land conservation, and more potential acreage to generate carbon revenue for your land trust. To our knowledge, there is not another Carbon Project that will contribute to your land trust’s stewardship fund, staff time, and acquisition dollars.
More questions? Reach out to Sophie Ehrhardt, Wildlands Partnership Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802.224.1000.