Maine’s natural environment has been part and parcel of its identity for more than 400 years, and Mainers are justifiably proud of the state’s natural wealth. By percentage, Maine is the most forested state in the nation, and the abundance of the Gulf of Maine is legendary.
But Maine is also one of the least economically diverse parts of America. We have long relied on nature, turning to our forests, our farmlands, and our coasts to support our families. If we want to be able to continue these traditional industries, we have to work together to protect nature, not just for its beauty, but for the important role it plays in Maine’s culture and economy.
So, on this 42nd Earth Day, I am supporting The Nature Conservancy’s effort to raise $100 million to support the protection of Maine’s forests, open spaces, rivers and coasts through the ongoing Sustainable Maine, Sustainable Planet campaign. More than 14,000 people — about one percent of Maine’s population — have already joined me, and as the campaign becomes public this week, I hope that thousands more will follow our lead.
The Moosehead Conservation Project, which will protect more than 400,000 acres of forestland in Western Maine, while allowing for responsible forestry and recreational access, is a prime example.
That vast area is a key portion of the conservation efforts included in the concept plan for the Moosehead Lake region, as approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission. When completed this May, the project will create a corridor of conserved land that will stretch for more than 2 million acres, from the North Woods to Moosehead Lake, to protect both habitat and opportunity for recreation and forestry.
I have been honored to lead Maine’s Nature Conservancy through this project, and I feel a responsibility to seek the best balance between the needs of Maine people and the needs of the forest itself. To me, the answer lies in connecting existing forest preserves with this sort of landscape-scale effort.
Globally, we are fast approaching the capacity of nature to meet our needs. Droughts in all parts of the world, including our country, threaten water shortages for people, for agriculture and for businesses. In addition, the collapse of fish populations, like cod on Georges Bank, directly impact Maine families.
To succeed against such mounting challenges, we must work at the scale of nature itself. A patchwork of small nature preserves can help protect a species, but to truly make our planet resilient, able to serve people’s needs for generations to come, we must protect globally significant landscapes, such as the Maine woods.
This is a daunting task, and it can be accomplished only through collaboration. I am particularly proud of our work with partners, such as the Androscoggin Land Trust, to protect the special places in my backyard, such as the Jersey Bog in Buckfield, that are important pieces of this larger puzzle. Elsewhere in Maine, we can use the same strategies to safeguard watersheds, forests, the Western Mountains, Kennebec Estuary and Gulf of Maine.
And we must work from within the economy; for example, harvesting trees in Northern Maine to demonstrate how it can be done both responsibly and profitably, or working with fishermen on market-based solutions to help sustain small businesses in our coastal communities.
We all have a role to play in safeguarding Maine. For some, it is skiing a cross-country trail, as I did, to raise money for conservation in February; or running 26.2 miles, as four Mainers did in this spring’s Boston Marathon, raising more than $30,000 for the Penobscot River. For others, it is donating their products, services or financial support through our Corporate Conservation Council, volunteering their time, or providing for nature in their estate.
The Nature Conservancy works in all 50 states and 30 countries around the globe, and the forests, rivers and bays that we are working to conserve here in Maine are truly of global significance, on par with Caribbean coral reefs or Brazilian rainforests. By working together, we can protect globally significant lands and waters here at home and ensure that our families will have a sustainable planet in the future.
Barbara Trafton serves as chairwoman of The Nature Conservancy’s Maine Board of Trustees. She lives in Auburn.