Outstanding Environmental Education
MA Keystone Project
Conservation is local. The Keystone Project (originally Coverts) was started in 1998 by UMass Extension as a means to provide private woodland owners with conservation information. With one Extension Forester, and thousands of private woodland owners, the model was designed to invest in peer owners and inform community leaders, and have them make connections and disseminate information in their respective towns. Training involves three days at the Harvard Forest with field trips and classroom talks by a variety of conservation professionals. Early on, it was recognized that in addition to forest owners, conservation commissioners and others could be excellent conduits of information. Since 1988, 26 classes have been held, with over 500 people participating as Keystone Cooperators. They collectively own over 36,000 acres, and through their community or organization are involved with over 500,000 acres.
Acres and people are only part of the Keystone Story. Cooperators are expected to volunteer a minimum of 30 hours to advance conservation at the local level. Recent evaluation results indicate that in a one-year period Keystone Cooperators made contact with 15,033 people about forest conservation, and 1,742 referrals to conservation information resources. Keystone Cooperators contributed 44,636 hours to conservation-related activities, 63% of which were volunteer hours. This is equivalent to more than 22 full-time conservation positions, of which nearly 14 positions were volunteer.
Over the years Keystone has received invaluable financial support from a number of generous organizations, without which the training would not occur, including: Massachusetts TNC, Massachusetts DCR, Mass Wildlife, and Harvard Forest.