Royal River Conservation Trust’s four-town hot-spot, areas that are already conserved and what’s in store for this year are highlighted on this map. Contributed / Royal River Conservation Trust

Royal River Conservation Trust has targeted New Gloucester, Pownal, Durham and Auburn as a “four-town hot-spot” in its 2022 Conservation Plan and is hoping local residents will donate their land to the cause.

The conjunction of the four towns “contains the greatest concentration of conservation values in the Royal River watershed,” according to the Yarmouth-based nonprofit trust. It includes large areas of unfragmented habitat, one of the highest concentrations of freshwater wetlands in greater Portland, and a significant portion of lands rated with the “highest” or “above average” climate resiliency scores from The Nature Conservancy.

Durham and Auburn also have significantly less conserved land and public access to open space than many other towns in the state, according to the release.

“Most simply put, that corner of the watershed has forests that capture the most carbon, streams that are the healthiest and a diversity of landscape, meaning hills, valleys and cliffs that cause The Nature Conservancy and us to say it’s special in the context of the unknown of the future climate,” said Alan Stearns, the trust’s executive director.

The trust hopes landowners will donate parcels of land to be protected through a voluntary conservation program, although those who don’t have the financial means may be compensated. In that case, the trust raises money to buy the land when it’s a “high priority parcel,” Stearns said. Sources include state funding through the Land for Maine’s Future program, funding from towns that want to see more open space in their community and local donors.

One example of a hot spot is Runaround Pond in Durham, and Stearns said the trust is already in talks with several landowners near the pond “to expand the conservation that we’ve done in recent years.”

In Pownal, a watershed abutting Bradbury Mountain State Park has an “exceptional stream” the trust would like to see protected, Stearns said, and in New Gloucester, the trust is working with landowners along Meadow Brook to expand the Big Falls Preserve at the New Gloucester and Auburn town lines.

“I’m a Maine native and I grew up on a farm in Southern Maine and I watched that community that I grew up in become fairly heavily developed,” said Mark Power of New Gloucester, a current RRCT board member who’s volunteered for more than a dozen years. “I wanted to see what I could do to at least guide (conservation) in New Gloucester so we could preserve some of the unique areas and open space.”

Power said volunteers and staff have done a great deal of analysis and study to come to the hot-spot conclusion for its 2022 Conservation Plan. He said by identifying a specific, prioritized area, volunteers can “proactively go out and seek out landowners to try to work with” rather than waiting for landowners to reach out to them.

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