Committed to conservation, Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy elects new board president

Margery Feldberg sets ambitious goals for Connecticut's largest land trust.

October 4, 2023, 12:27 AM
The Board of Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy elected Margery Feldberg to serve as president for the next three years.
The Board of Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy elected Margery Feldberg to serve as president for the next three years.
Wendy Carlson

In 2007, Margery Feldberg set out to protect 400 acres of land next to her farm in New Milford, Connecticut, a New England town on the banks of the Housatonic River in the western half of the state.

She eventually partnered with her neighbor and what’s now called the Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy (NCLC), a conservation organization dedicated to safeguarding natural and working lands in Northwest Connecticut.

Though she had spent decades in land development - including as a founding partner of the largest commercial real estate developer in Massachusetts - the experience of working to protect open space rather than developing it sparked a genuine interest in conservation.

“I had always understood the importance of protecting the environment, especially open lands that we all benefit from,” Feldberg says during a visit to the 120-acre hilltop farm she owns with her husband, Jeremy Levin, in a rural pocket of New Milford.

The couple purchased the non-working dairy farm in 1983 and four years later opened De Hoek Farm, a farm-to-table producer of grass-fed, additive-free Black Angus beef. “But that early experience really broadened my understanding of what it took to actually move from the idea of conservation to the reality of protecting land.”

The experience also altered the arc of Feldberg's own path.

Impressed with NCLC’s commitment to preserving land, she eventually joined its board of directors and in April she was elected its new board president. Prior to joining NCLC, she spent a decade serving as a director and officer of Crested Butte Land Trust, a local nonprofit in Colorado dedicated to land conservation.

“Margery is the embodiment of dedication to land conservation,” says Catherine Rawson, NCLC’s executive director. She says Feldberg’s personal and professional experience gives her a unique vantage point from which to lead. “She is not only a farmland owner and operator but also a land donor who has helped to protect the lands surrounding her farm in perpetuity.”

As board president, Feldberg says she sees a rare opportunity to accelerate the nonprofit’s conservation goals while expanding its reach across Northwest Connecticut.

“I think my own path to this role is instructive in guiding how we approach, and really renew, our conservation efforts and reach the goals we’ve set,” says Feldberg.

Founded in 1965, NCLC is the largest land trust in Connecticut, and the 13th largest conservancy in the U.S., protecting some 13,300 acres of vast, connected natural areas. The group’s conserved lands include 21 public hiking preserves, 48 working farms, and over 3,000 acres of habitat for rare and endangered species.

Working with the communities of Litchfield and northern Fairfield Counties, NCLC occupies an increasingly critical role in protecting land and water habitats in a wildlife corridor for hundreds of threatened species.

The group’s work has become even more vital in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as rural areas like Litchfield County become more appealing to home buyers and property developers catering to them.

Despite its growing impact on the region, Feldberg expects her three-year tenure as board president of the NCLC to coincide with the nonprofit’s most ambitious period yet.

Like other conservation groups around the world, NCLC has joined the “30 x 30” global conservation initiative, a goal to protect 30 percent of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030. About 143,000 of Litchfield County’s 633,000 acres are currently protected. But reaching the “30 x 30” goal means safeguarding another 47,000 acres in the county over the next seven years.

“We recognize how daunting that goal is,” says Feldberg. “But we’re scaling up and working with others who are just as committed as we are about conservation so we really believe this will ultimately lead us to success.”

Some of that success is already playing out in Northwest Connecticut.

NCLC recently agreed to acquire Milde Farm, a 670-acre swath of land that straddles the towns of Litchfield and Torrington in Litchfield County to protect it from development in perpetuity. One of the region’s most significant remaining farmland and forest properties, the land includes extensive woodlands and panoramic hay meadows.

The group also reached an agreement with a regional water commission this summer to ensure that 5,500 acres of land in northwestern Connecticut and Massachusetts remain undeveloped. The deal is thought to be the biggest area of land preserved in Connecticut in two decades. It keeps the land open for the public and averts development on a critical piece of land that feeds into the Farmington River. The area includes 4,300 acres in Connecticut and about 1,200 acres in Massachusetts.

Other newly conserved lands by NCLC include properties in the Northwest Connecticut towns of Bridgewater, Kent, Sharon, and Washington, including a public nature preserve, working farmland, and habitat for rare species.

Feldberg says these kinds of agreements draw a straight line between land conservation and tackling the larger challenge of climate change.

“Put simply, protecting and conserving our lands helps fight climate change and makes our communities more resilient to its impacts,” says Feldberg. Though environmentalists have long highlighted the importance of conserving land with trees and grasses as a way to increase carbon storage and allow plants to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, Feldberg says educating the public on the importance of land conservation is still a priority.

“We’re seeing more and more examples of how climate change affects us,” says Feldberg, pointing to the increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storms caused by a warming planet. “And we know that conserving and restoring natural spaces is essential for adapting to an already changing climate so the goals we’ve set couldn’t be more important to achieve.”