BETHEL — An outpouring of gifts from family members, colleagues, and friends of Ken Hotopp has created a Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT) fund to conserve lands with minimal human manipulation and disturbance.  The fund honors the late Kenneth P. Hotopp, naturalist, conservation biologist, and defender of wilderness and the climate who understood that minimally disturbed lands are rare in Maine and that these lands provide habitat where certain organisms thrive.  He wanted future generations to know what it feels like to stand alone in a forest, to feel the vitality and vibrance of an ecosystem that is truly wild.

The Ken Hotopp Wildlands Fund complements MLT’s diverse mix of conservation properties which allow greater human management and use, such as working farmland and forest, and more intensive recreational trail development.  For wildlands in the Mahoosuc region in Maine and New Hampshire, MLT’s priority will be to let natural ecological processes take their course.

According to MLT, the majority of conserved land in New England is managed for recreation, timber, or other natural resources with only about 3% conserved as wilderness or wildland.  “While all forests provide the benefits of storing carbon, providing recreation, and filtering water and air, wildlands can act as crucial living laboratories to help us understand how climate change and other environmental stresses affect unmanaged forest and compare the changes to managed forests,” said Kirk Siegel, the trust’s Executive Director. Wildlands designation will also allow for the growth of old and very old trees and the associated specialized habitat that is critical for some birds and wildlife.

“This has to be part of our toolkit to care for our globally important habitat,” says Siegel.  “We are in a region that supports scores of rare plants and animals, is the last stronghold for wild brook trout in the eastern U.S., and is the southern gateway to half of the nation’s largest globally significant forest bird habitat.”  Siegel says that wildlands can play a key role, for example, in maintaining crucial wildlife travel corridors with the greatest potential for adaptation to climate change.

Management for areas conserved by the Wildlands Fund will be limited to restoration of native species, preservation of natural communities and rare species at risk, trail maintenance, and the establishment of new trails where they can be created with minimal disturbance.  People can continue to enjoy the scenic beauty and other wilderness values through minimal impact, non-mechanized recreation, such as walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, canoeing, and nature observation and study.

Hotopp’s wife of many years, Robin Gorrell of Newry, recounts his travel to remote forests, lakes, and mountains throughout the Northeast, where he studied snails, slugs, and butterflies – animals that are often overlooked, but are of great ecological importance and subtle beauty. According to Gorrell, his free time was spent roaming the valley and hillsides surrounding his home or reading books on natural history and ecology. He was always exploring, seeking to learn more about the natural world.  Their daughter, Alice Hotopp, carries on the tradition, as a doctoral student in evolutionary ecology at the University of Maine.

In Hotopp’s own words from a 2018 presentation to MLT, “There is a special role for land trusts and conservation owners in protecting old growth stands and larger wild forest landscapes.” Hotopp urged MLT to identify conservation projects that have special potential as wildlands: “Important focus areas for wild forest conservation are those that are species rich – unique habitats, wetlands, larger river floodplains, waterways, ridgetops, and other landscape corridors.”

The trust points to other values of wildlands–that many people value having places where humans let go of control. “Ken deeply knew the science behind the importance of wildlands,” says Siegel, who was a good friend of Hotopp’s.  “But he also had a deep reverence for wild nature’s inherent beauty and value.”

Contributions to the Fund will support the conservation of land that will be kept in its natural condition in perpetuity. Information on how to contribute can be found at www.mahoosuc.org/donate.  Those interested in getting involved with land trust projects can contact the trust at [email protected] or 207-824-3806.

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