Editorial: Anonymous donor, one loud statement

As they stare at the reality of smaller government, organizations dependant on state and federal support are scrambling to extend critical work as funding dries up. One such program is the Quabbin to Cardigan Initiative, which for the past three years has used federal funds to jump-start land conservation on a 100-mile stretch from the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts to the Mount Cardigan area in the southern tip of the White Mountains National Forest. This two million-acre stretch of ecologically significant forestland cuts right through the heart of the Monadnock region.

The project has been well received, backed by a widely applauded mission and a growing list of tangible results.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests received federal funding in 2009 from then U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes as part of a larger appropriations bill. Since then, earmarks that bring federal dollars to representatives’ home states have been sworn off by many in Congress, and the political will to fund this particular grant project has disappeared. Recently, the program that has protected more than 12,000 acres in New Hampshire over the past three years faced shutting down. The solution, though, wasn’t political but rather private. That is, very private.

Anonymous donations usually come from well-connected benefactors who want to stay out of the spotlight. While the general public may not get the details, the organization receiving the money almost always knows who that person is. So it came as a rather large surprise — and with a whole lot of gratitude — when the Forest Society was approached by a philanthropic adviser whose anonymous client was interested in making a $500,000 donation to preserve the grant program.

The talks with a representative of the donor laid the groundwork that will fund the grant program for two more years. And it will deepen our access into this vast stretch of land by creating a separate grant program that will blaze new trails while restoring existing paths.

The $250,000 for the land conservation program will help offset many of the costs associated with land deals — things like appraisals, surveys and title searches. These costs can accumulate, and they can often dissuade a landowner who would otherwise be interested in donating property for conservation. From most perspectives, this will be money well spent. So far, $500,000 in federal money for the Quabbin to Cardigan Initiative has been matched by $13 million in state, local and private funding, including the value of the land donated.

The other $250,000 from the $500,000 donation will fund grants to expand an already extensive trail network. What this does more than anything is allow the Forest Society and its 28 partners, including the Harris Center and the Monadnock Conservancy, to create a grand vision for the region.

In both cases, the conservation and trail grants will require the input of local organizations and communities. The efforts will be built mostly through the hard work of committed volunteers. And the by-products will give us cleaner water, a healthier habitat and more abundant recreational opportunities.

All thanks to the goodwill of a private donor who stepped in when government would not.

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