Cold Hollow to Canada (CHC) declared it to be a vulnerable time for forests in their Fall 2018 newsletter, citing an intergenerational shift in land ownership and negative impacts associated with climate change. In their programming, initiatives, and research, Cold Hollow to Canada is gearing up to address these ownership and climate changes in creative ways.
Using their deep ties to the local community, Cold Hollow to Canada partners are engaging private landowners through citizen science, educational programs, and forest management and stewardship. Charlie Hancock, CHC co-founder and board member, believes the community of seven towns in the Cold Hollow Mountains is deeply connected to the landscape and therefore must act as stewards of it, a reality that informs everything Cold Hollow to Canada does. A forester himself, Charlie is trusted and respected by the community and local foresters, enabling them to successfully work collaboratively to address the challenges facing their region.
In the next five years, one third of family forest owners in the Northeast will be making decisions about the future use and ownership of their land (Catanzaro et al.). As these properties change hands—often sold or passed down to a family member--the future of the land and the benefits they provide are uncertain. Anticipating this shift in land ownership, CHC hosts Woodlots Programs to engage local landowners and help inform these critical decisions of ownership and management. Participants gather with peers to discuss their wishes and hopes for their land in the future, while learning about a variety of estate planning tools and conservation options including easements, wills, and trusts to meet their goals. Getting groups of neighbors together to learn and collaborate on the management of their forested properties fosters strong community relationships and creates a more significant cumulative impact than outreach to individual landowners alone. Last year, Cold Hollow to Canada received grant money from the US Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program to expand the Woodlots Program by funding management best practices, and breaking down financial barriers to doing good stewardship.
Keeping forest ownership affordable by increasing the economic benefits and viability of sustainable forestry is another strategy to combat forest loss and fragmentation and keep forests as forests. CHC sees voluntary forest carbon markets as a way of incentivizing sustainable forest management that serves to mitigate the effects of climate change. CHC participated in a feasibility study, in partnership with the University of Vermont and the Vermont Land Trust, considering the viability of carbon aggregation as a way to open a new stream of income to forest landowners. The study found that voluntary carbon market participation is viable for landowners in Vermont, particularly through aggregation of parcels, and where projects demonstrate substantial co-benefits valued by communities and the state.
At the same time, the increasingly visible impacts of climate change on Vermont forests are prompting CHC to address this threat through other avenues. Researchers, foresters, and community members alike are noticing an increase in disturbance events, and northward shifts in species range and composition. Cold Hollow to Canada incorporates climate-informed forest management into their work with Woodlots Program members. Specifically, this means guiding private landowners to implement forest adaptation strategies like creating structural complexity in their woods, maintaining and protecting “climate refugia,” or diverse landscape areas where species are predicted to persist, and anticipating and even facilitating transitions in species composition. CHC also implements two citizen science programs aimed at documenting and understanding shifts in wildlife activity. WildPaths engages community members by monitoring road crossings, which provides data to contribute to maintenance of important connections between wildlife habitats. The Keeping Track Monitoring Program trains participants to identify and monitor resident wildlife populations on a seasonal basis.
One of Charlie Hancock’s favorite quotes, “attention is the beginning of devotion,” describes the ideas and actions of Cold Hollow to Canada. A shared sense of connection and stewardship to the forests strengthens their community’s dedication to conservation and research. In the face of change, CHC is tracking patterns, updating management, continuing research, and engaging landowners in a vision of a healthy and intact forested landscape that supports a strong and sustainable local economy.