The York County Working Forest Protection Project: http://www.forestworksme.org
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Forest Works! is a regional conservation partnership with a mission to conserve large tracts of working forest, to promote sustainable forestry, and to connect communities to the woods of western York County.
Forest Works! is an initiative of Three Rivers Land Trust, Francis Small Heritage Trust and a host of national, state and regional conservation groups working together for the first time.
The group is concerned that the fragmentation of large tracts of woods through landownership changes and development is threatening the woods’ long-term viability as a source of wood products, as critical habitat for a range of wildlife, and as a place where outdoor recreation is allowed.
“The quality and importance of forest in this area has been going downhill,” said Everett Towle of Buxton, a retired US Forest Service executive and a prime mover of the project. “This program will improve the quality of the forest while meeting landowner objectives.”
The initiative recently received two years of start-up funding from the US Forest Service and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.
The project area encompasses Lebanon, Sanford, Alfred, Shapleigh, Acton, Newfield, Limerick, Limington, Cornish and Parsonsfield. The area includes some of the largest remaining tracts of unfragmented woods in southern Maine. Most of the land is owned by private individuals, who have historically contributed significantly to the quality of life in western York County: jobs, lumber, firewood, Christmas trees, maple syrup, as well as elbow room for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.
But the woods are being broken up by ownership changes and development. “As the land does get divided up into smaller tracts, it’s not as feasible for loggers to make a living at it,” said Carl Davis, president of Three Rivers Land Trust. “If we want to continue the working forest as part of the landscape, we need to work at keeping the larger blocks of contiguous forest land.” He noted that Southern Maine and New Hampshire provide the best growing conditions for the eastern white pine, the Maine state tree. “This is where it grows best. It would be a shame to lose that to fragmentation.”
Forest Works! plans to work in two primary areas:
• Working with willing landowners to encourage best forestry practices and conservation easements. A conservation easement is a legal agreement that allows a private woodland owner to retain ownership and receive compensation while the protecting the land from future development.
• Working with willing towns that own property to create Community Forests and to manage their woods as demonstrations of sustainable forestry.
“We recognize and support the objectives of landowners. We’re not telling them to do something they might not want to do,” said Towle.
Similar efforts at preventing the fragmentation of the forest are being pursued in other parts of Maine and New England. “I was thinking southern Maine needs something like this because our forest is at least as important as theirs,” said Towle.
Beside the two land trusts, participants include the Maine Forest Service, US Forest Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, York County Soil and Water Conservation District, Maine Association of Conservation Commissions, Alfred Conservation Commission, Shapleigh Conservation Commission, Maine Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and others.
Two Grants are supporting this project. One is from the U.S. Forest Service and the other from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.
Abstract: The main goal of this grant is to conserve as working forest land thousands of acres of private land in a 10-town area of northern York County.
The following outcomes are expected:
- An outreach program for engaging private landowners and confirming interest in a working forest conservation easement program and other options that enable continued private ownership and management of working forests.
- Workshops and an educational brochure to educate and encourage towns and private landowners to develop sustainable forest management plans; use best management practices to protect habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need based on Maine’s Wildlife Action Plan, rare and unusual natural communities and plant habitats found in this region, water resources, etc; and to consider conservation easements.
- A Landscape Plan to outline long term conservation objectives for the area based on an assessment of current forest conditions, habitat linkages, and priority habitat and species occurrences.
- Partner organizations will work with Three Rivers Land Trust (3RLT) and Francis Small Heritage Trust (FSHT) to increase organizational capacity for these two trusts to engage in landscape-scale land conservation activities.
Scope of Work: This project will address all three of the National State and Private Forestry priorities:
1) Conserve and manage working forest landscapes for multiple values and uses.
2) Protect forests from threats.
3) Enhance public benefits from trees and forests.
This project will address several goals identified in Maine’s State Forest Assessment and Strategies:
- Keeping forests as forests (p. 145);
- Continuing efforts to establish working forest conservation easements;
- Providing information, technical assistance, and financial assistance to family forest owners interested in maintaining and improving their forest land holdings;
- Providing information, technical assistance, and financial assistance to municipalities interested in maintaining and improving their urban and community forest resources;
- Continuing to support a stable Tree Growth Tax Law program for current use valuation of managed forest lands;
- Protecting forests from harm (p. 150);
- Maintaining effective and proactive water quality protection programs;
- Encouraging proactive efforts at the municipal level to maintain healthy urban and community forests.
- Maintaining healthy trees and woodlands in urban and community areas (p. 153);
- Encouraging proactive efforts at municipal level to maintain healthy urban and community forests;
- Providing information, technical and financial assistance to municipalities;
- Encouraging municipalities and others to reduce the impacts of land use change, fragmentation and urbanization of forest landscapes;
- Encouraging municipalities and others to manage and restore trees and forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change;
- Building and enhancing partnerships that increase the effectiveness of state urban forestry programming, and improve Maine’s urban and community forests.
- Increasing the environmental literacy of Maine citizens (p. 157);
- Expanding capacity building efforts to increase effectiveness of collaborating organizations;
- Focus on the use of adult learning concepts and effective teaching techniques.
- Maintaining and enhancing forest biodiversity (p. 160);
- Providing advice and training to landowners and land managers on best practices to conserve biodiversity.
Because of its location at the intersection of two ecological zones, York County has the greatest biodiversity of any county in Maine. The project area is a Priority Landscape Area identified in Maine’s State Forest Assessment; contains 20 Focus Areas of statewide ecological significance identified in Maine’s Wildlife Action Plan, and is a Conservation Focus Area in the Piscataqua Region Estuary Partnership’s Strategic Conservation Plan. Eleven Focus Areas lie in the 10 towns covered by this proposal. Thousands of acres of private forest lands surround these focus areas. In the northeast and in York County, the greatest threat to woodlands is fragmentation through the conversion of forestland to residential housing and other non-forest uses.
According to the Brookings Institution’s report “Charting Maine’s Future,” southern Maine experienced the largest population growth in Maine outside traditional regional hubs, causing increasing suburbanization and loss of rural land. Development pressures have decreased during the recession, but York County’s proximity to Portland, Portsmouth, and Boston portends continued growth and loss of forestland.
York County depends on forestry related activities as a component of its economy and contributes to Maine’s forest economy. For example, in 2009, York County was fourth in white pine and red pine sawlog production in the state.1 The region continues to rely on forestry as a major source of value added products and employment.
Maine’s Southern Forest Inventory and Analysis MegaRegion, which includes York County, had the highest percentage of loss of timber land and forestland and corresponding conversion to new developed land use in the state. If this trend continues, the risk of forest fragmentation will only increase. Protecting the forest resource through proper management and conservation are essential for the economy, habitat protection, and the other public benefits of working forestland.
The 11 Focus Areas of statewide ecological significance in this region contain high value habitat including rare and endangered species, unique natural community types, and diverse riparian and wetland areas. There is strong interest in protecting these ecologically important areas. Some of these Focus Areas may need full protection through fee conservation ownership, but there are many opportunities to protect these resources with conservation easements on private land. Easements would support sustainable forest management that protects the high-value habitat. A mosaic of core reserves protected in fee and thousands of acres of working forest protected by easements could provide a large, relatively unfragmented conservation landscape in York County.
The York County Working Forest Protection Project (YCWFPP) is a collaboration between Three Rivers Land Trust, Francis Small Heritage Trust, Maine Forest Service, US Forest Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Alfred Conservation Commission, Shapleigh Conservation Commission Maine Association of Conservation Commissions, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, York County Soil and Water Conservation District, Maine Non-point Education for Municipal Officials, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and others. YCWFPP seeks to work on a landscape scale to conserve and protect private working forestland in ten towns of northwestern York County.