With more than 80 percent of New England in private hands, the future of the regional landscape depends, in large part, on the willingness of family landowners to conserve their land. Many owners are interested in protecting their land and are willing to donate a conservation easement in order to ensure its conservation in perpetuity. In some cases, owners are even willing to donate fee title to the land. Many people consider these low and no-cost easements and land acquisitions (versus raising all the capital necessary to acquire full fee lands or easement) the “low hanging fruit” of regional conservation and an area ripe for additional success.
However, a major hurdle exists: many landowners cannot afford or are unwilling to cover the transaction costs (also called due diligence costs) associated with the deal, including appraisals, surveys, title searches, closing costs, etc. which can often exceed more than $20,000. In many cases, the inability to cover these transaction costs has prevented priority projects from being completed. A handful of RCPs have launched transaction cost funds and results have been promising, with some achieving significant conservation gains and returns on investment of up to 25 to 1.
Q2C Land Conservation Fund: This Land Conservation Grants program underwrites transaction costs on key land conservation transactions. Over the past three years, the Q2C transaction grants program has awarded nearly $500,000 to 36 separate projects in New Hampshire that have conserved 12,360 acres of land — an average cost of $40/acre. These grants have been matched by an additional $13 million in state, local, and private funding and donations of land value, a match ratio of almost 25 to 1.
Orange Country Headwaters (OCH) Initiative: This Vermont initiative focused on net-zero cost conservation easements and raised money for the transaction costs. Working with approximately 30 interested landowners, this volunteer effort protected 6,000 contiguous acres in a three-year period at an overall cost of only $55/acre.
Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership (Q2C):
Great Bay Resource Protection Partnership (GBRPP):
Massachusetts Forest Conservation Due Diligence Grant Program