Landowners Seek Grants to Protect Skiff Mt. (CT)

August 16, 2004
Connecticut

Kent and Sharon, CT, 8/17/04: The Trust for Public Land, a national, non-profit conservation organization, submitted applications on behalf of several private landowners to the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to permanently protect nearly 1,000 acres of forestland on Skiff Mountain. The applications were directed to the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program (FLP), a federally funded program that provides competitive grants to private landowners willing to sell conservation restrictions on their forestlands. The State of Connecticut DEP administers this federal grant program in Connecticut.

The Skiff Mountain Forest project is a cooperative effort involving nine landowners working with the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to preserve a network of forested properties that straddle the Kent-Sharon town line in northwestern Connecticut. All nine landowners have reached tentative agreements with TPL to sell conservation restrictions on their land under the FLP. The Kent and Sharon Land Trusts have both been instrumental in identifying landowners with an interest in the program. The nearly 1000-acre project area will be protected for forest management and watershed protection, and provide important linkages to over 6,000 acres of existing protected land in Kent and Sharon.

Tim Northrop, CT State Director for TPL, noted that, "We are really excited about this project as it builds upon our recent success in preserving 450 acres formerly owned by the Kent School on Skiff Mountain. We are thrilled to be working in close partnership once again with the Kent Land Trust, Sharon Land Trust, State of Connecticut, and the residents of Skiff Mountain to preserve a regionally significant landscape. It is very unusual to have so many private landowners cooperating in a conservation initiative of this scale."

Skiff Mountain Forest provides important habitat for species that require large tracts of unfragmented forest, including Connecticut's larger mammals such as bears, bobcats and coyotes. The property also contains a wide variety of migratory bird species, reptiles, plants, and amphibians, including at least 16 species that are listed as threatened, endangered or as species of special concern in the State of Connecticut.

Larry Power, President of the Sharon Land Trust, said that, "the hardy folk who live on Skiff Mountain are amazing. First they ban together to fight off development of their highlands and then they spearhead the fundraising effort to raise the money to protect it. Now a group of key landowners are working together to protect an additional 1,000 acres -- 250 of which are in Sharon. Kudos to the vision and commitment of all those involved. If their actions can inspire others in the Northwest Corner, we can truly preserve our rural environment."

F. Anthony Zunino, President of the Kent Land Trust, said "we are extremely excited about this application for several reasons. A Forest Legacy grant would create an easement over the properties which our Town Plan of 1990 recommended for preservation. It also would connect three Park properties and three Land Trust properties to create an 7000-acre wildlife habitat. We couldn't do this without the cooperation and enthusiasm of the landowners in Kent and Sharon, who care so very much about being able to preserve their lands for future generations."

U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Johnson (Republican, Fifth District), whose district the project lies within, has given her full support for the project, as have U.S. Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman. Other supporters include Senator Andrew Rorabeck, the Housatonic Valley Association, and the national river conservation organization, American Rivers.

The State of Connecticut Forest Legacy Committee will review the Forest Legacy Program applications on August 19, and will then rank all projects for the Northeast Region in order of priority. The proposed projects will then be submitted to Congress for funding in the FY 2006 budget. The estimated cost of the project is $3,454,500, of which 75% or $2,500,000 is expected in the form of a grant from the federal government, and the remaining 25% coming through landowner donations.

Skiff Mountain Forest and its surrounding landscape are located in an area of significant regional and national importance. The 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail, the country's foremost regional hiking trail, directly abuts these lands and will greatly benefit if these forestlands are protected. The properties are also located within the state-designated Housatonic Riverbelt Greenway that extends through 29 towns in Connecticut in Massachusetts and links together existing trails within the river corridor and provides the Housatonic River, one of the nation's Most Endangered Rivers for 2004 according to American Rivers, with an important buffer from surrounding development.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization that works with others to conserve land for people to enjoy as working landscapes, parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 1.9 million acres in 45 states, including over 3,000 in Connecticut. For more information, please visit www.tpl.org/connecticut.

Further information on the Forest Legacy Program can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/spf/coop/programs/loa/flp.shtml.