Investing In Our Shared Future by Protecting America's Forests
An Urgent National Opportunity
Forestry experts anticipate losing as many as 37 million acres in the coming decades. These at-risk forests uniquely provide benefits to communities across America that support our way of life.
For the past 10 years, The Conservation Fund has pioneered an effective and financially sustainable model — The Working Forest Fund — to ensure at-risk forests are never broken apart or degraded. Over the next 10 – 15 years we have a chance to rapidly scale this model and save 5 million acres of the most exceptional and highest conservation value forests.
Over the past ten years, The Conservation Fund proved the concept of sustainable forestry investing for conservation outcomes, but the capital base of the Working Forest Fund simply is not big enough to fully address the challenge we face. Over the next 10 – 15 years, the Fund estimates that five million acres of critical, privately-held forests will be at high risk of fragmentation and development. If we act now, we can save these acres before they are lost forever.
To reach this audacious goal, The Conservation Fund aims to raise a combination of impact investment and philanthropic capital to permanently secure the first one million acres of critical forests. This first one million acres will lay the foundation for our ultimate 5 million acre goal. The Fund is confident that it can secure these one million acres within five years, but the Working Forest Fund’s ambition requires bold response from the philanthropic community. Together we can embark on a path to fundamentally transform the conservation landscape. Finally and forever, we can save America’s forests.
Our first step was a bold and innovative issuance of the nation’s first green bond solely dedicated to conservation in the United States in 2019. We leveraged the bond proceeds with funding from other sources, including generous support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, to acquire more than 220,000 acres through the end of 2020.
Impact opportunity from 5 million acres of permanently protected forests
Climate Mitigation: Secure 1 billion metric tons of CO2e. If we were to lose these forests, the climate impact would be equivalent to burning over a trillion pounds of coal.
Economic Opportunity: Generate $5 billion total economic impact from the forestry and recreation economies.
Clean Water: Protect 6,500 miles of rivers and streams.
Fisher Family’s Generous Support for Working Forests
The Fisher family has quietly become one of the leading families in conservation, beginning with Frank Webster, the founder of the Squam Lakes Conservation Society (SLCS) in 1960. Today, the SLCS is one of the premier land trusts in America and one of The Conservation Fund’s outstanding partners. Frank’s daughter, Nancy Grady, picked up the reins and continued her father’s passionate fight to conserve the best of the Squam Lakes region. Today, Nancy’s son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Audrey Fisher, continue the family’s great legacy of conservation, including leading the charge to protect 5,435 acres of the Beebe River watershed. This watershed includes a 950-acre parcel owned by the Fisher family. Restored stream crossings reconnect fish access to nearly six miles of spawning and rearing locations, reduce water temperatures for cold-water fish, and link 15 miles of aquatic habitat. These efforts are especially good news for wild brook trout, which are one of New Hampshire’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need and spawn in only 7 percent of the state’s rivers.
Importantly, the Beebe River Tract, acquired through the Fund’s Working Forest Fund, will continue to be managed as a working forest where trees will be harvested according to a sustainable management plan thereby ensuring that the forest-based jobs and revenue will stay in the region. We are now taking this national initiative to scale. Doing so will make a significant positive impact on our nation’s efforts to address climate change by sequestering more than 10 million metric tons of Co2 annually and supporting thousands of jobs in rural communities that need them. To launch this ambitious growth phase of the Working Forest Fund, the Fund recently issued the nation’s first-ever green bond for conservation, a $150 million ten-year taxable note, with 100% of the proceeds being used to conserve working forests. To reach our forest conservation goal, we intend to raise an additional $350 million in philanthropic support to match the bond.
We are grateful to the Fisher family for once again leading the way. In honor of their son Brooks, who was himself a passionate conservationist and outdoorsman, the family is making the very first charitable investment toward this next phase of the Working Forest Fund. This lead gift will help announce to the rest of the country the importance of conserving our nation’s last, large, intact working forests and the critical role that philanthropy must play. Conserving forests, addressing climate change, supporting good jobs in rural economies – these are values that have been passed down through generations of Fishers, and this gift honoring Brooks Fisher is a wonderful new chapter in their family’s legacy.
The Benefits of Forests
America’s forests generate important life-sustaining benefits that help us rise above the most daunting challenges we face as a nation. By protecting them, we are investing in our shared future.
Forests are our most important natural defense against climate change: Forests in the U.S. sequester over a half-billion metric tons of CO2e per year, 60X more carbon than any other natural land ecosystem.
Forests protect and filter the majority of our fresh water: Forests clean and filter water for more than 200 million Americans across 68,000 communities.
Forests are an irreplaceable economic driver in rural communities: Forests support 8.6 million American jobs through wood products and recreation economies, equivalent to the population of New York City.
Forests provide critical habitat for threatened and endangered species: Forests in the U.S. harbor 60% of the species at high risk of decline or disappearance within the next 20 years.
Why Are We Losing Forests?
Today institutional investors own 41 million acres of forests in the U.S. and trade about 4 million acres of these forests annually. In this ownership environment, there is enormous pressure to maximize financial returns with each sale of forest assets. The result is that forests frequently follow a predictable pathway from large, intact and ecologically significant forests, to parcelized and fragmented forests that ultimately are converted to non-forested uses as successive owners chase greater financial returns. This loss reflects the fundamental tension between a for-profit model with the permanent goals of conservation. Forests took generations to create. Without a better alternative we will miss the opportunity of our lifetime to save them and permanently protect their life sustaining benefits.
The Path to Forest Loss
1. Parcelization Although broken into parcels, land remains forested
2. Fragmentation Some forest cover is lost, and some forest cover remains
3. Conversion All forest cover is lost, as land is coverted to non-forest use
In this operating and ownership environment, we need a countervailing force that can compete at the speed of the market and that is motivated by the belief that intact forests are more valuable than their cumulative financial return to investors.
The Working Forest Fund: Ten years of fighting forest loss
The Conservation Fund, through its Working Forest Fund, has pioneered an effective and financially sustainable model to ensure at-risk forests are never broken apart or degraded, forever protecting their multiple, life-sustaining benefits.
Here's How it Works
The Working Forest Fund identifies and buys the most important at-risk private forests with vital support from the philanthropic community and state and federal agencies. Once it owns a forest, the Working Forest Fund develops a sustainable harvest plan along with wildlife and habitat restoration plans. These protect the forest while also maintaining local forestry jobs.
Simultaneously, the Working Forest Fund begins the process of securing a permanent conservation easement that will forever block fragmentation or commercial development of the forest. These easements provide for public access and recreation along with continued timber harvesting according to sustainable forestry best practices. Once the easement is secured, the Working Forest Fund resells the permanently protected forest to a private or public buyer, recovering all its invested capital for redeployment in another forest acquisition.
“We were founded in 1985 on a simple but enduring principle: that environmental protection and economic vitality are inseparable. In fact, they are mutually reinforcing — and every aspect of our work reflects this balance.” – Larry Selzer, President & CEO of The Conservation Fund
Why the Working Forest Fund is Unique
Mission for permanent conservation outcomes and financial sustainability
Secured more than 761,000 acres of forests and deployed $594 million in acquisition capital
Ten-year track record with quantified impact results
Secured 179 million metric tons of CO2e, generated $620 million in annual economic impact, protected 1,347 miles of rivers and streams
Blended philanthropic and commercial capital to generate compound impact returns
2.5X leverage on new philanthropic capital, average redeployment every 5 years and perpetual reinvestment
Leverages The Conservation Fund’s long-standing, trusted relationships with public agency partners
Completed 39 projects across 18 states and raised $182 million dollars from government agency partners
Nonprofit model avoids pressure to maximize financial returns
No fund expiry, fees, or investor incentives to cut more trees, subdivide property, or limit public access
Working Forest Fund Acquisitions to Date
North Coast Forests
Ownership Period 2004 – Present
Opportunity Ownership of high growth California redwoods; light-touch management for biomass growth, forest health, and economic viability
Regional Forest Threat Subdivision and vineyard conversion
Opportunity Secure supply chain of local mill that supports a two-county region and bolster billion dollar statewide recreation and tourism initiative, contributing to 600,000 contiguous acres of conserved forest.
Regional Forest Threat Forest fragmentation from unsustainable forest management