Most days, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

We know the woods we live in, or near — a favorite trail, a brook, the ridge that hawks circle, a frog-and-heron swamp.

It takes maps and aerial photography to show the big picture — the sweep of eastern hardwood and evergreen forest that extends from New York and Connecticut north into Canada. It’s one of the largest woodlands of its type in the world.

Now the Cornwall-based Housatonic Valley Association is joining with several other groups to insure that it remains a vital place. Its Follow the Forest Initiative hopes to identify and preserve not only large blocks of intact forest, but also the corridors that link them together.

You can find its website by going to www.hvatoday.org and scrolling down to Follow the Forest.

“What we want to have is a multi-state initiative,” said Tim Abbott, the association’s regional land conservation and Greenprint director. “We’re looking on the west side of the Hudson River and the east side of the Housatonic River. We’re looking north to Massachusetts and Vermont to Canada.”

This follows a simple principle: Landscapes and the animals that live in them don’t abide by the lines on the maps humans draw up.

“If a moose is moving through Connecticut, it doesn’t come to the New York state line and think ‘I’d better stop here’,” said Katie Blake, a conservationist at the Highstead Arboretum in Redding and coordinator of the Hudson to Housatonic Regional Conservation Partnership, which is a partner in Follow the Forest.

Follow the Forest’s big picture involves 4.88 million acres, with about 1 million acres of forest in the Housatonic River watershed. It centers on finding ways to connect core forests of 250 acres or more.

These large forest blocks provide habitat for wildlife that smaller tracts can’t. These forest are vitally important for protecting wildlife, filtering groundwater and absorbing heavy rains to prevent erosion.

“The Great Swamp is a great example of this,” Abbott said of the 6,000-acre forest wetland that straddles Putnam and Dutchess counties in New York’s Hudson Highlands. Along with providing a unique wildlife corridor, he said, the swamp also filters the water that ends up coming out of the faucets in New York City.

Follow the Forest builds on The Nature Conservancy’s Staying Connected Initiative, which looks at the links between huge forest tracks that run from Pennsylvania and New Jersey north to Nova Scotia and the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec.

“When you look at the maps, you can see all this green,” said Laura Marx, forest ecologist with the Massachusetts chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

These links allow wildlife — migratory birds, mammals such as black bear, bobcat, lynx and fishers — to move unobstructed.

With climate change occurring, these links are increasingly important.

“When species move, they can move to different elevations within an area,” said Paul Elconin, land conservation director for the Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, the state’s largest land trust and a partner in the Follow the Forest initiative. “Or they can move to the north.”

“With climate change, species are moving farther and faster than they ever have before,” said Marx of The Nature Conservancy.

The Housatonic Valley Association is using different mapping programs to identify these links at the local level.

Some of this land is protected. Some isn’t. A lot is in private hands.

Elconin of the Weatinoge Land Trust said the state of Connecticut’s goal of preserving 21 percent of the state’s open space by 2023 lacks scientific underpinning. Nor has some of the preservation work looked at regional links.

“Some towns are at that level. Some towns are below it. Some towns are way above it,” Elconin said.

Follow the Forest’s goal is to preserve 50 percent of the core forests throughout the multi-state region. In the Housatonic River watershed, it hopes to preserve 50,000 acres.

But Abbott said that not all the links can be done by land preservation. In some places, it may mean building culverts and passageways to allow wildlife to move under roads.

“We’re not going to be able to move I-95,” said Blake of Highstead Arboretum.

Abbott said the Follow the Forest Initiative is an a way for land trusts, towns and the state to start looking at ways the core forests can be preserved and linked together. Small pictures can expand into bigger ones, trees to forests.

“It’s a story about hope,” he said.

Connecticut Media Group