The Downeast Lakes Community Forest, one of the nation’s largest community forests, was expanded in 2021 and is now 57,693 acres. Courtesy of Downeast Lakes Land Trust

Every year conservation groups in Maine work to protect tracts of land for recreation, access, wildlife and, more recently, to stem the effects of climate change by creating corridors of open land to help maintain biodiversity.  

One of the biggest conservation stories of 2021 took place when the state legislature approved $40 million for Land For Maine’s Future. The program, started in 1987, has helped to improve the quality of life of Maine residents by permanently protecting the state’s woods and waters and access to them. 

That was just one of the conservation success stories in Maine over the past 12 months. Here are several others:

The Appalachian Mountain Club plans to protect the headwaters of the Pleasant River. Jerry Monkman photo

ATLANTIC SALMON HABITAT 

A milestone was reached in October when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded $4.1 million to the state of Maine for the Appalachian Mountain Club, one of several partners working to raise $25 million to purchase 26,740 acres outside Greenville. That land abuts 75,000 acres AMC owns.

The large swath of land to the east of Moosehead Lake is important because it includes the headwater streams of the West and Middle Branches of the Pleasant River, where Atlantic salmon started to return to spawn in 2016.

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More than $22 million has been raised together by the conservation partners, including AMC and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, according to Steve Tatko, the AMC’s director of Maine conservation and land management. 

Now the protection of these headwaters for an iconic endangered species is within sight, Tatko said. And the salmon’s return to the Pleasant River means it again is migrating – as it had centuries ago – 130 miles from Penobscot Bay up to the woods near Moosehead Lake.

“It’s been a few generations since this was happening. We need to capitalize on the moment and try to right the wrong,” Tatko said.

The Crooked River Headwaters easement helps maintain water quality and carbon sequestration. Sebago Clean Waters Photo

CROOKED RIVER HEADWATERS

Larry Stifler and his wife, Mary McFadden, put 12,268 acres of their land in western Maine into a conservation easement this year. It’s the latest achievement for the couple who realized in 1978 they wanted to preserve land together. After they bought their first parcel, they kept buying land around it. Twenty years later they had trails developed on the land to welcome the public – 70 miles worth.

“We were thinking of doing this in our will. Then we thought, why don’t we just do this now?” said McFadden, 71, of the easement they created with the help of The Conservation Fund, Mahoosuc Land Trust and Sebago Clean Waters.

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McFadden and Stifler, 81, permanently protected 6 miles of the Crooked River – the largest tributary to Sebago Lake – seven ponds, and 11 mountains. 

The Conservation Fund put together a series of grants to raise $2.21 million to purchase the easement. But it was a bargain.

“It’s worth roughly three times that in total value,” said Tom Duffus of The Conservation Fund. “These landscapes in western Maine are so important to mitigate climate change.”

The Downeast Lakes Community Forest is now 57,693 acres. Photo courtesy of Downeast Lakes Land Trust

DOWNEAST COMMUNITY FOREST

The Downeast Lakes Community Forest already was one of the largest community forests in the nation at 55,678 acres. Downeast Lakes Land Trust, with The Trust for Public Land and the Forest Society of Maine, expanded its size this year.

The addition of 2,015 acres prevented the development of dozens of lakefront lots on Sysladobsis Lake and includes 2 miles of shorefront on the big lake as well boat access for the first time on nearby Horseshoe Lake. 

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The $2.1 million acquisition was funded in part with $710,000 from the Land For Maine’s Future, making it one of the first projects to close since the LMF was refunded. It also was paid for with federal grants and private donations, said Betsy Cook with the Trust.

Local residents are involved in decisions about the land stewardship of a community forest. And the Downeast community forest is in a region rich with eco-tourism offerings. Grand Lake Stream boasts the most Registered Maine Guides per capita in the state. The new parcel offers fishing, camping, hiking and a paddling water route.

PINE ISLAND, OR KUWESUWI MONIHQ

Important land acquisitions are not always about protection from development. More recently, land preservation success stories have been about the return of land to Indigenous people. 

Last spring, the Passamaquoddy Tribe reacquired 140 acres of their ancestral territory on the largest island in Big Lake in Washington County, known to the Passamaquoddy as Kci Monosakom. The island was originally known as Pine Island, or Kuwesuwi Monihq.

First Light, a coalition of conservation advocates, and The Nature Conservancy worked with the Wabanaki community to help the Passamaquoddy Tribe reacquire the island.

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“After it was sold (years ago), the Passamaquoddy Tribe was banned from going onto the island. The Tribe felt this land loss was an injustice,” Indian Township’s Chief William Nicholas said in a news release last spring. He added: “There is no doubt that the Ancestors are jumping all over the place over there.”

ROQUE BLUFF STATE PARK

Since the start of the pandemic, Maine state parks have set new attendance records in 2020 (3.1 million visitors) and again in 2021 (3.3 million and counting).

So the acquisition of 50-acre Pond Cove Island to Roque Bluffs State Park near Machias this fall was an apt addition to the state park system. The island features 2 miles of winding shoreline and cobble beaches. Remote camping is planned for it.

Funding for the $525,000 acquisition came, in part, from the LMF Program with help from Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

While the current surge in outdoor use made the acquisition an exciting one, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry had wanted to purchase the island for many years. Maine Coast Heritage Trust stepped in as the island’s interim owner while the department worked on the acquisition.


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