Wildlands & Woodlands Website

Highstead works to inspire curiosity and build knowledge about plants and wooded landscapes in order to enhance life, preserve nature, and advance sound stewardship practices.

Conservation Program Initiatives

Conservation > Initiatives

Hudson to Housatonic Conservation Initiative


H2H Map

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The Hudson to Housatonic Initiative is a collaborative effort of more than two dozen local and regional partners aimed at protecting drinking water sources and plant and wildlife habitat.

The program focuses on engaging landowners across Fairfield County in Connecticut and Westchester and Putnam counties in New York to drive the conservation of watersheds and habitats that are likely to adapt to climate change. The first H2H workshop was held at Highstead December 11 and featured a mix of presentation and activities to help participants see conservation through a climate change lens. Click here for presentation videos from the workshop.

This project is funded in part through a grant awarded by the U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. H2H is part of the Landscape Scale Restoration Program of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture.

H2H is lead by Highstead (on behalf of the Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership), along with Westchester Land Trust, Mianus River Gorge, and Housatonic Valley Association.

Click here for presentation videos from the H2H workshops.




Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative Coordination and Conferences

The Highstead Conservation Director is also the Coordinator of the W&W Initiative and works to convene W&W leaders quarterly and to help advance a suite of synergistic initiatives focused on accelerating the conservation of New England’s natural landscapes. Highstead also convenes an annual meeting of W&W partners every year, and encourages people and organizations of all geographies and sectors to join in as a W&W partner in support of accelerated and concerted forestland conservation in New England. And Highstead convenes a major annual conference for the RCP Network (see below) in order to provide technical training and opportunities for peer exchange. For more information, please visit the Wildlands and Woodlands website, or contact Cheryl Daigle cdaigle@highstead.net if you would like to be more involved.



Regional Conservation Partnerships

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Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP) Network

Across New England, people are banding together to achieve conservation at a larger scale. These collaboratives, called “regional conservation partnerships” (RCPs), vary in size and scope, but are generally informal networks of people representing private and public organizations and agencies that implement shared long-term conservation visions that cross town and sometimes state boundaries. The 30-plus RCPs in New England play an increasingly important role in achieving landscape-scale conservation that is also firmly woven into the needs and interests of the local communities. Check out our interactive on-line map of RCPs on the W&W website  as well as other web resources available for RCP Network members.

In the 1990s, there were 2-5 such partnerships; today there are more than thirty. The diverse members of RCPs roll up their sleeves and work together to create expansive networks, knit together partner agendas and activities, build trust, and craft and implement shared conservation strategies – and the end result is accelerated and community-informed conservation. Today, RCPs are actively working on more than 55% of New England's forested landscape.

Highstead has convened regular RCP meetings since 2008 for peer exchange and technical training in order to help build robust RCPs and develop innovative strategies to increase the pace of conservation in accordance with the W&W vision. Highstead also works individually with specific RCPs to help them build capacity and to share its region-wide analysis regarding what structural components and strategies will help create a more effective RCP initiative.

These conservation practitioner meetings have now evolved into a more structured RCP Network that institutionalizes the value of regular peer exchange and technical training and provides an important community of learning for the rapidly evolving field of landscape-scale collaborative conservation. The RCP Network holds a yearly meeting with in-depth workshops, supplemented by a webinar series, a Linked-in Group, and access to an extensive collection of resources on the RCP Network section of the W&W website. 

Highstead has also done extensive research on what constitutes a successful RCP that informs the technical assistance we provide RCPs working to come together and build an enduring and effective collaborative conservation initiative.  Bill Labich and colleagues have written a peer-reviewed article that describes this research, currently in review at the Journal of Forestry





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Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership (FCRCP)

Highstead plays a leadership role in the Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership (FCRCP), where this collaborative group has been busy developing their first-ever regional strategic conservation map. Based on goals for open space shared by the region’s ten towns, and compiled with Highstead’s assistance, the draft map was immediately employed to support the Town of Bethel’s vote to purchase 72 acres of woodlands and fields on the Bethel/Newtown CT town line. The resulting 150 acres of contiguous woodland is a critical link in the open space that extends between the centers of these adjacent towns.

In 2011/2012, with the assistance of Brian Hall a biologist and analyst skilled in the application of geographic information systems (GIS) with Harvard Forest, FCRCP members worked with Highstead’s  Bill Labich to gather information in map form that show which lands are permanently protected and focus areas that include and connect undeveloped and unprotected lands of highest conservation value as well as local  priorities. As a result, member land trusts are having new conversations with their town boards and commissions, land trusts are talking to each other about shared priority areas, while others are inspired by the regional mapping effort and are starting their own strategic planning and capital campaigns.

Most recently, Highstead Intern, Christina Gibson, and a working group of FCRCP members developed a draft case statement for the region explaining what’s so important here and why over 20 groups are working together to increase the pace of conservation to protect it from future development. The case statement tells a story about the bigger connections that each town’s woodlands, wildlife habitat, water resources, and recreational trails have with their neighbors and why through voluntary collaboration, towns and landowners can knit something bigger that is better able to strengthen kinds of connections ever more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

For more information on FCRCP activities, please visit the partnership’s website.



Forest blocks in NE map

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MassConn Sustainable Forest Partnership

Invited to attend an early meeting of the then just-emerging MassConn Sustainable Forest Partnership (in late 2007), which now serves 37 towns in south-central Massachusetts and northeastern Connecticut, Highstead began a five-year effort to assist members to get organized and equipped in order to double the pace of conservation. Highstead encouraged them to choose one of their own to serve as their first coordinator; to have regularly scheduled meetings at which members would have time to share their own updates, concerns, and goals for collaboration; to convene, and to write grants, with other RCPs; to form a representative steering committee; to hire a part-time coordinator; and to begin efforts to plan their regional and strategic conservation efforts. 

In addition, Highstead has helped the group secure just under $70,000 in grant funding (with another $30,000 proposed) enabling continuous coordination, capacity to reach, train, and engage woodland owners and municipal officials about land conservation, to organize multi-parcel Forest Legacy projects, apply for a new Forest Legacy area in Massachusetts (the Heritage Forest), and to develop their own strategic regional conservation map and plan with focus areas. Highstead continues to serve on the MassConn Steering Committee.

Priorities Landscape Initiative


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Highstead is coordinating the six-state NY-New England Family Forest Owner Outreach Initiative within four inter-state priority landscapes identified by the New England Governors Conference in 2010. Encouraged by the participants of the 2010 RCP Gathering who wanted to fundraise together, collaborate across state lines, and support the NEGC‘s efforts, RCPs were convened and crafted a proposal that became the keystone activity of a three-year $450,000 US Forest Service grant to the North East State Foresters Association (NEFA).

Across southern and central New England, Highstead works with the North East State Foresters Association, state foresters, and over 20 conservation organizations to cultivate three new partnerships of people working in the same large contiguous landscape that exist in more than one state (the Taconics, the Deerfield and West River watersheds of Southern VT and Western MA, the highlands stretching from the Quabbin Reservoir in central MA to the Whites in NH, and the coastal forests that stretch from Long Island Sound in eastern CT and western RI north to the Quabbin). The overarching objective of the initiative is to find new and effective ways to bring land management and conservation information to family forest owners, and to thus help replace the recent trend of land sales and habitat fragmentation with a new trajectory of permanent land conservation and sustainable forest stewardship.

Each partnership has received training in various landowner outreach and engagement strategies and in how best to communicate with which specific landowner type (based on the National Woodland Owner Survey results). Highstead helps to organize each partnership based on its needs by convening early meetings, developing collaborative action plans, and coordinating their individual contracts with NEFA. With Highstead’s and others’ support, three new RCPs have emerged out of this process: Taconics Partnership, MA-VT Woodlands Partnership, and the Southern New England Forest Heritage Partnership. In each of these cases, the partnerships represent new collaborations between government and private conservation organizations across state lines.

For more information on the project, please click here.

New England Forest Policy Group

Since 2011, Highstead has convened conservation groups across the region in the New England Forest Policy Group to highlight the critical importance of New England’s forests and to advocate for increased federal funding and improved policies to conserve them. The group’s annual publication, A Policy Agenda for Conserving New England Forests, makes a compelling case that our region’s forests provide valuable and irreplaceable benefits—from ecosystem services including clean air and water to economic benefits including tourism and the wood products industry. In 2012, 85 organizations endorsed the forest agenda, and this influential effort continues to build momentum in Congress and beyond for redoubling our forest conservation efforts.

The Forest Policy Group, including 60 conservation and forestry organizations, submitted testimony this spring to both the Senate and House Interior Appropriations Subcommittees regarding priorities for New England in the FY14 budget, and is in the midst of updating a more comprehensive Forest Policy Agenda for the New England Congressional Delegation.