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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

Why wilderness?

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

  1. 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.
  1. Northeast Wilderness Trust will prioritize Wildlands Partnership conservation projects using our standard Land Protection Criteria: size, resiliency, context, and geographic diversity.
  2. 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.
  3. Through Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Wild Carbon program, your land trust can generate carbon credits and earn revenue over 40 years.
  4. Northeast Wilderness Trust will fund your organization’s staff time, stewardship endowment contribute, transactional costs, and legal fees associated with any Wildlands Partnership project.

Partner benefits

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 sophie@newildernesstrust.org.

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.

After initial exploratory conversations, the Wildlands Partnership proceeds as following:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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;
  4. Negotiate the terms of the forever-wild conservation easement(s);
  5. Optional: Explore the potential of carbon revenue from the Wild Carbon program for your forever-wild properties;
  6. Optional: Adopt a Carbon Development Marketing Agreement (CDMA), and enroll your properties in the voluntary carbon offset market;
  7. 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.

Click here to download the Wildlands Partnership Intake Steps.

Wild Carbon Program F.A.Q.

The administrative fee allows Northeast Wilderness Trust to cover the administrative expenses of running the Wild Carbon program and ensuring the project remains in compliance for the whole 40-year term. The majority of this expense is staff time; other costs include outreach, travel, and legal and technical fees. Northeast Wilderness Trust’s own independent fundraising—specifically earmarked for the Wildlands Partnership—funds our direct financial support to our Wildlands Partners (due diligence, legal fees, contributions to your stewardship fund, staff time, and acquisition costs.)

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 Wild 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: Northeast Wilderness Trust contracts with the project developer and administers all aspects of the Wild Carbon program. Your land trust will have minimal work to do, which will mostly consist of gathering information we will need to share with the project developer 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 carbon registry under whose protocol the project is developed will hold Northeast Wilderness Trust exclusively liable for compliance and management of the Wild Carbon program over the entire 40-year life of the project. The only duty of your land trust is adhering to the terms of the forever-wild conservation easement. The stewardship of the easement will not end after the 40-year term of the carbon project, nor will the carbon project increase your stewardship responsibilities. The conservation easement on Forever-Wild parcels enrolled in the Wild Carbon program will contain language that grants Northeast Wilderness Trust the right to develop a carbon project on the property. The easement language will also outline remedies that may be pursued if actions by a third-party trespasser result in a significant loss of trees, resulting in a carbon reversal.  In the extremely unlikely event that Northeast Wilderness Trust ceases to exist during the 40-year period, the liability of the carbon project would run with the conservation easement, not the landowner, per the conservation easement terms.

None. Northeast Wilderness Trust has designed the Wild Carbon program to eliminate the financial risk of participating in the carbon offset market for the sole benefit of our Wildlands Partners, while helping them to generate carbon revenue from setting aside wild forests. Northeast Wilderness Trust—not your land trust—is responsible for all compliance with the carbon registry, including, but not limited to: carbon inventories, verifications, recertification, annual fees, and credit transaction costs. 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 clear sense of the possible revenue and expenses involved with entering your property in the Wild Carbon program. The important thing to remember is that all expenses (for project development, administration and compliance) come out of the carbon revenue your properties generate. Your land trust will not have any financial exposure; the expenses only affect the total net revenue.

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 Wild Carbon program. Our vision is that the Wild 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 Wild 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 human activity. If a person (whether the landowner or a third-party trespasser) causes loss of tree cover on the enrolled property, the project proponent (Northeast Wilderness Trust) is required to refund to the registry the number of carbon credits that corresponds to the resulting loss of projected carbon sequestration. Put more simply, the carbon credits are issued by a 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 on the property, then some of the carbon credits that have already been issued (or the equivalent dollar amount) have to be refunded.

Not through the Wildlands Partnership. Northeast Wilderness Trust is investing time and resources in the Wild 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 Wild Carbon program with zero financial risk or liability.

Other options to enroll in a carbon market 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, land with a forever-wild easement may only be enrolled in the carbon market 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. Future carbon projects cannot be developed on the same land because the trees have already been permanently protected from logging. For this reason, enrollment in the Wild Carbon market 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.

Participating in the Wildlands Partnership does not mean your land trust has to enroll in our Wild 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.

The main reasons land trusts choose not to develop their own projects are:

  1. 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.
  2. Economies of Scale: The Wild Carbon program works in an aggregated project model, where different properties that are geographically separate and sometimes not owned by the same entity are rolled into one carbon project. Credits are sold for that bundle of properties rather than one, large property. Aggregated projects 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. Northeast Wilderness Trust 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.

There are several  benefits to the Wild Carbon program that are not found in other forest carbon programs.

  1. Wild 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 Wild 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 Wild Carbon projects have a unique story to tell. Buyers, as well as your supporters, can have confidence in the permanent conservation value of your carbon project.
  2. Working with businesses that are committed to a sustainable future. Forever-Wild Carbon credits are developed for the voluntary carbon market, which, unlike the compliance market, 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.
  3. Retaining the highest possible percentage of your carbon revenue. The Northeast Wilderness does not plan to make any money on the Wild 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.
  4. 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 Wilderness Trust makes this initial investment (up to $5,000) on behalf of its Wildlands Partners.
  5. 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 sophie@newildernesstrust.org or 802.224.1000.

Wildlands Partnership Staff

Partner Organizations

Photography by Shelby Perry

Sophie Ehrhardt

Sophie coordinates the Wildlands Partnership program of Northeast Wilderness Trust, while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Environmental Law and Policy at Vermont Law School. Her desire to be involved with environmental policy at a local level and to spend as much time as possible outdoors led her to work with conservation land trusts. Her passions for wilderness and wildlife, combined with a desire to play a role addressing the challenges of climate change, made Northeast Wilderness Trust a natural fit. Sophie has a Bachelor’s degree in Classics from St. John’s College and a prior career as an educator. In her free time Sophie enjoys paddling, walking among trees, and spying on birds. Indoors, she is obsessed with food, strategy games, and family.

Lillian Howell

Lillie was born and raised in Nashville, TN and then went on to receive a BA in Environment and Sustainability from Sewanee: The University of the South. After college, she completed an AmeriCorps term at Asheville GreenWorks, a non-profit in Asheville, NC that focuses on improving the community’s urban environment. After finding her way to an internship at the Land Trust for Tennessee, Lillie decided to leave the South to pursue her passion for land conservation in Vermont. She is currently earning a master’s in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School and an MS in Natural Resources from UVM. Lillie is looking forward to assisting the Wilderness Trust team and learning about the beautiful ecosystems and communities of the Northeast.