Community Forest Fund

A 19th century model for forest protection is gaining new popularity throughout northern New England and New York. To encourage and accelerate this locally-based movement, and to preserve local culture, provide economic stability and protect valuable natural resources, OSI launched our Community Forest Fund in 2010.  

To date, OSI has approved grants to community forests that will conserve over 33,000 acres in 21 towns. These projects illustrate how the Fund helps move community conservation forward, especially in small communities with tight budgets and limited volunteer capacity. Supporting transaction costs or a forest management plan can turn a tentative idea into an on-the-ground success. 

What Is a Community Forest?

Beginning in the late 1980s, global market forces led timber companies to sell millions of acres of forestland. This transformation upended local economies and threatened to fragment the vast wild forest stretching across northern New England. Towns saw lands that had long been open — for hunting, fishing, camping and boating — divided and sold to distant landowners.

A groundswell of concern led to a renewed interest in community forests. In this land-use model of the 19th and 20th centuries, towns themselves own and manage forestland and directly benefit from its natural resources. Sustainably managed, community forests can provide jobs, wood and other forest products, water protection, outdoor recreation, and revenues to support education and other town services. OSI and other land conservation organizations joined in to support this budding movement with research, training and funding. 

By giving towns control over their own natural resources – and by building civic participation as town leaders, nonprofits and citizens work together to purchase, conserve, and steward the land – community forests are a powerful force for strengthening rural communities and encouraging long-term forest conservation in the region.

Community volunteers help rebuild trails within the Ascutney Mountain Community Forest, site of a former ski resort.
Community volunteers help rebuild trails within the Ascutney Mountain Community Forest, site of a former ski resort.

Impact of the Fund

To date, the Fund has helped create or expand 21 community forests covering 32,000 acres in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont – preserving access to outdoor recreation, protecting water, and providing direct economic benefits. By focusing on lands that are part of larger forest corridors, the Fund also helps to slow the fragmentation of wildlife habitat across northern New England. 

A grant from the Community Forest Fund can provide the essential spark that kindles a homegrown effort to purchase and permanently protect forestland. OSI grants give projects credibility, helping land trusts and towns raise funds from public and private sources—leveraging $6 for every $1 invested. In small towns with tight budgets and limited volunteer capacity, our help  Catalyzes cooperation and action. The federal Community Forest Program brings a similar approach to sustaining working forests. Combined these two programs focus scarce funds and attention on this emerging conservation and economic development tool. Read more about the federal program here. 

Summary Report of the OSI Community Forest Fund

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Conservation Easement Standards

Conservation Easements must be consistent with the Fund’s goals and, at a minimum, include the following: enforceable standards for permanent protection of forest values (such as wildlife, wetlands, recreation, drinking water, timber); workable monitoring and enforcement provisions; process for communication between the easement holder and landowner; provisions ensuring sustainable forest management; process for community involvement in property stewardship; public access guarantees appropriate to the forest values; a stewardship or management plan process; and, baseline documentation provision.

Because there are multiple ways to craft a conservation easement that meets the same goals, OSI does not require specific easement language but we can provide examples and guidance. OSI staff must approve the final CE prior to distribution of grant funds.

Geographic Focus

The Fund awards grants in the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Our Community Forest Fund helps residents recapture local forests as assets for tourism, recreation and other uses.
Our Community Forest Fund helps residents recapture local forests as assets for tourism, recreation and other uses.
Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman


Land trusts and towns are eligible to apply to the Fund. OSI works with municipalities, economic development organizations and land trusts and makes loans and grants to municipalities and to nonprofit organizations that demonstrate they are working in active partnership with towns and relevant local community organizations.

Eligible Uses of Funds

The Fund awards matching capital grants to support the purchase of conservation easements and fee interest in land.

Smaller support grants (under $30,000) are available for planning, transaction and stewardship activities directly related to community forest projects, such as: community planning; resource inventory and mapping; timber cruises and forest management plans; and, appraisals, legal expenses, title exams and environmental assessments. The Fund also makes low-cost loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding.

Grants funds cannot be used for fundraising expenses, staff time, buildings, advocacy, or stewardship endowments.

Grant Awards

An advisory committee, composed of experts from the community economic development, forestry and conservation fields, helped OSI develop the Fund and reviews individual projects against funding criteria. OSI staff and board of trustees make the final funding decisions.  

Once OSI has approved a grant, we will provide the grantee with a checklist of items required for OSI to prepare a grant agreement. When all required information and documents are received, OSI will forward a grant agreement to the grantee. OSI releases support grants after receiving an executed grant agreement from the grantee while we release capital funds at the time the transaction closes. Capital projects must close within 18 months of OSI’s grant approval.


Six years ago, OSI launched the Fund with $1.6 million that supported 15 exemplary projects.

Thanks to lead support from the Thomas W. Haas Fund and the Tarleton Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Fund, Jane’s Trust, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, and several generous anonymous donors, OSI has secured an additional $825,000 and continues to seek additional capital to support the most deserving projects.

Next Steps to Apply

Application Process and Deadline

OSI is not accepting grant applications at this time. 

To be notified for future grant deadlines, sign up here

Application Inquiries

All applications and the financial summary (pdf download) must be submitted through our online service here. We encourage applicants to contact OSI staff before preparing a proposal. For questions regarding the grant program and the application process contact:

Jennifer Melville  

Vice President, Conservation Grants


If you would like more information on the Fund, please sign up here

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