Our Story

The Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts is a unique local effort to both conserve our forests and enhance our region’s rural, land-based economy across the Northern Berkshire Mountains, hilltowns, and riverside villages of northwestern Massachusetts.

After meeting for five years, the initial Advisory Committee, supported by Franklin Regional Council of Governments and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, was replaced in fall 2019 by the Partnership Board, whose membership is defined in the 2018 Massachusetts enabling legislation. Over $1.5 million in grants have been distributed through Woodlands Partnership Implementation Grants by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) to date — for projects ranging from town forest plans, trail building, and support for small businesses. The Partnership has also received two U.S. Forest Service grants totaling $120,000 that have helped to leverage two state climate grants totaling over $1.6 million to develop a new climate forestry program.

The State enabling legislation also called for hiring a non-governmental organization to serve as administrator, and in November 2020, the Board approved a contract between the EOEEA and the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) to serve as Administrative Agent for the Partnership, which runs through June 2025. Forming its five Standing Committees over the course of 2021 (when meetings were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the Woodlands Partnership Board has continued to focus on its near- and long-term objectives.

Ultimately, the envisioned federal designation would provide stable Federal and State funding and would also enable private fundraising for the Woodlands Partnership. This funding will be used to conserve forests, increase economic development related to sustainable forestry practices, forest-based business, and recreational tourism, improve the fiscal stability of municipalities, and preserve the quality of life in Northern Berkshire and Western Franklin Counties. The Partnership hopes to further these goals through securing reliable governmental funding, obtaining programmatic grants from government and other funding sources, and being an advocate for improving the fiscal stability of municipalities. We will continue to press our State and Federal legislative delegations to secure a reliable, annual source of funding for the operation of the Woodlands Partnership and its programs — funding that is indicated in the Partnership’s enabling legislation.

Listed below are the primary goals of the Woodlands Partnership and programs we are considering in order to progress toward them.

Goal 1: Forest Conservation & Stewardship

Conserve forestland while keeping it in private ownership to protect the region’s rural character and enhance the role forests play in providing clean water and air, flood control, carbon sequestration and storage, and habitat protection in New England.

  • Promote land conservation in the Partnership Region with recognition of many towns’ low tax bases (and the need for Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes/PILOT reform and natural resource based economic development) and that percentages of conserved land differ in the region’s towns.
  • Provide technical assistance to landowners to foster sustainable forest management, wildlife habitat improvement, climate change resilience, woodland preservation, and to address the issue of tree diseases as well as invasive pests and plants.
  • Promote research on sustainable forestry practices. Partner to increase research on sustainable /exemplary forestry practices in the region’s diverse forests, ways to market and use local forest-based products, and to disseminate the knowledge from applied science that results.

Goal 2: Natural Resource Based Economic Development

Increase economic development and expand employment by nurturing sustainable forest products, outdoor recreation, and natural resource and tourism-based businesses.

  • Strengthen the marketing and branding of sustainable local forest products and ecotourism from the Northern Berkshires and Hilltowns.
  • Provide assistance to improve sustainable tourism infrastructure and associated outdoor recreation businesses.
  • Support research and development of new, innovative wood products.
  • Increase sustainable natural resources-related local jobs, especially for younger residents to help invigorate communities for the future.

Goal 3: Municipal Financial Sustainability

Improve the fiscal stability of municipalities.

  • Provide funding to participating towns for municipal services related to outdoor recreation and tourism, and to address governmental ownership of lands and forest conservation restriction programs related to local tax bases.
  • Provide technical assistance to towns interested in developing carbon credit projects to improve stewardship and receive payments from their town forests.
  • Advocate for equitable and sufficient Payment in Lieu of Taxes to compensate municipalities for State ownership, conservation restrictions, ecosystem services, and other impacts of sustainable practices on local tax bases.
  • Secure sources of funding to support municipal services and tax bases while recognizing ecosystem services and benefits to the Commonwealth and larger region provided by our forests.

Goal 4: Education, Outreach, & Research

Engage in public education and outreach.

  • Develop a collaboration with the Indigenous Peoples of the region to incorporate their participation and knowledge in management of the forests.
  • Collaborate with educational institutions (pre-K through graduate) to promote forest conservation and sustainable forest land uses.
  • Establish demonstration forests on town and private forests to inform the public about best management practices and how forest stewardship can enhance climate resilience and carbon storage.
  • Build a multi-purpose Forest Center, beginning with an online, virtual Forest Center, where residents and visitors can learn about the benefits that forests provide, showcase local wood products, celebrate the Berkshires and Hilltowns, and promote sustainable outdoor recreation and natural resource- based tourism.

Goal 5: Sustainable Funding for the Region

The centerpiece of the Woodlands Partnership vision is attainment of a Special Federal Designation, matched by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which would recognize the unique values that come together in the 21 towns of the Northern Berkshires and Hilltowns region. Such a designation, which would require Congressional approval, would need to go beyond the 2019 Shared Stewardship Framework between the State and U.S. Forest Service to provide seed funding for the Partnership Fund so that sustainable financing (through a trust fund) can be operationalized, as envisioned in the state enabling legislation.

This Special Designation would recognize the Partnership region as an important area and create a new model for forest conservation and natural resource-based economic development. The proposed designation would not create a National Forest, nor would it result in the adoption of the Weeks Act by the state, a requirement to create a National Forest. Rather, the objective of the Special Federal Designation is to enable and support a partnership among the people, nonprofits, businesses, and towns with the Commonwealth and the U.S. Forest Service, primarily the State & Private Forestry and Research & Development branches. This Special Federal Designation would recognize the Partnership region as a crucially important forested region—particularly in an era of rapid climate change—and create a new model for forest conservation and natural resource-based economic development.

Throughout the course of the planning process, public input and conversations with stakeholders shaped the elements that a potential Federal Designation would need to include. This framework, intended to guide the drafting of Federal legislation, as well as the key issues and concerns identified for the region, are outlined in Section 6 of the Partnership’s Ten-Year Plan.

Find out more about what the Woodlands Partnership is doing in the region!