Tamarack trees on the Oxford tract of land, Nov. 2020

AREA — Western Foothills Land Trust and The Conservation Fund announce that on October 15, the Western Foothills Land Trust purchased the first of three former Chadbourne Tree Farm tracts from White Pine Forest LLC (a subsidiary of The Conservation Fund). The tract is comprised of three wooded parcels totaling 494 acres in Oxford, near the Webber school house neighborhood. The Western Foothills Land Trust (WFLT) is dedicated to the conservation and protection of native ecosystems, farm and forestlands, watersheds, and scenic landscapes for the benefit of wild and human communities in western Maine. The Trust was founded in 1987, protects 8,500 acres of land by ownership or easement in the greater Oxford Hills, and manages 32 miles of recreational trails on six preserves including Roberts Farm in Norway.

The purchase is part of an extraordinary regional conservation partnership that coalesced in 2019 when over 15,000 acres of the Chadbourne Tree Farm forestlands were listed for sale. The size, connectivity, and quality of these iconic working forests drew the interest of The Conservation Fund (TCF) a national non-profit land trust which works to partner resources, expertise, and passion to public agencies and local land trust partners to conserve significant landscapes across America. Since 1985, TCF has protected more than eight million acres of land across the U.S., including 466,000 acres of working forests, coastal landscapes, and aquatic habitats that define Maine’s environment, communities, economy, and way of life.

Working with the U.S. Forest Service, Maine Bureau of Public Lands, Inland Woods + Trails, Mahoosuc Land Trust, and the Western Foothills Land Trust, TCF purchased the 15,408-acre Chadbourne Tree Farm in April of 2020 to provide time to assemble permanent conservation with local partners. Nearly 11,000 acres are anticipated to be conserved with a working forest conservation easement funded by the US Forest Service Forest Legacy Program. Key tracts will be added to Bethel’s Community Forest and Inland Woods+ Trail’s recreational trail system. Other lands are to be permanently conserved by Mahoosuc Land Trust, and the U.S. Forest Service’s White Mountain National Forest. The Western Foothills Land Trust will be acquiring the Edward Mills Tract in Norway/Harrison and Otisfield, the Staples tract in Oxford in addition to the Oxford tract: 1,298 acres in total. WFLT anticipates completing the acquisitions via grants and privately donated funds in the next two years.

Funding for WFLT’s purchase and long-term stewardship of the Oxford tract was provided by the Maine Community Foundation’s Land Protection Grant program, The Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program (MNRCP), and a grant from TCF. MNRCP is a grant program that awards funds collected through the state’s In Lieu Fee Compensation Program, a program that allows entities seeking state and federal permits for impacts to natural resources to make a payment based on the amount and type of impact. Due to the Oxford parcel’s extensive wetlands (185 acres) and other natural resource values (the largest of the three comprising the tract includes 2,814’ of the Webber Brook and 4-miles of frontage on the Little Androscoggin River) the project was provided with generous funding from MNRCP.

WFLT is currently working to complete the management plan for the tract, including a forest management plan for a portion of the property that could be commercially harvested in the future. Given the extent of wetlands and other natural resources to be protected, the bulk of the land will be managed for the health of the forest and wildlife, not for timber revenue. Logging roads, including a discontinued public road, will transition to non-motorized recreational trails. There are two recognized snowmobile trails through the tracts that are maintained by the Rock-o-Dundee Snowmobile Club that will be continued. ATVs will not be allowed. The logging roads have been used historically by equestrians; a use that will continue to be permitted as long as there is no damage to the resource. The Trust aims to name the preserve, name trails, install signs, a trailhead kiosk, and a small parking area in 2022. The permanent protection of the parcel represents significant shoreland protection along the Little Androscoggin River, as well as substantial wetlands protection. It will also provide the Oxford Hills community with additional user-friendly trails for walking, running, bird watching, and nature studies.

WFLT relies upon the generosity and skills of volunteers to oversee preserves and to help manage our trails. If anyone would like to become involved with the Oxford tract, please contact Lee at [email protected], or contact the trust via Facebook.

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