NORTHEAST WILDERNESS TRUST
17 STATE STREET, SUITE 302
MONTPELIER, VT 05602
info [@] newildernesstrust.org
In Western Maine along the New Hampshire border, the Mahoosuc Range compares only to Mt. Katahdin in its vast, unbroken high-elevation forest. As northbound travelers on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) cross into the Pine Tree State, the green sea of the Mahoosuc Mountains stretches before them.
The 6,045-acre Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve builds on a legacy of wildness in Western Maine. These mountains, also known as the Mountains of the Dawn in honor of the Wabanaki of Maine, or the People of the Dawnland, are some of the first mountains to greet the rising sun as day breaks over this continent.
The Western Maine Mountains are of high conservation importance, and the Wilderness Trust has turned its attention to protecting more land in this eco-region in recent years. Grafton Forest is a keystone area linking a vast public Ecological Preserve and a 15,000-acre, well-managed woodland conserved by The Forest Society of Maine. From the Preserve, a few days’ hike north on the A.T. brings one to the outskirts of Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Lone Mountain and Redington Wilderness Sanctuaries, which cumulatively protect 4,455 forever-wild acres near Bigelow Preserve.
To complete this conservation project, The Forest Society of Maine and Northeast Wilderness Trust jointly raised $10.7 million in private funds. The sale of the land was made possible by Wagner Forest Management, a wonderful partner throughout the conservation process.
People seeking to enjoy the solace of a remote adventure aren’t the only ones benefitting from the vast forestland of the Mahoosucs. The high-elevation forests are home to myriad bird species, including Bicknell’s Thrush, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, White-winged Crossbill, Black-backed Woodpecker, many species of warblers and even nesting Peregrine Falcons. Mammals like American marten, long- and short-tailed weasels, fox, snowshoe hare, and Canada lynx find refuge here, and the region is home to the largest population of moose in the lower 48 states. The high ridgelines are used as migratory routes by songbirds, raptors, and bats.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve also protects different kinds of high-elevation forest: Fir-Heart-leaved Birch Subalpine Forest, a rare forest type, and Spruce-Fir Montane Forest.
Here, people are visitors to this wild place who find solitude, peace, and beauty in its surreal realm of moss and conifers. The southern parcel of the Preserve sits just west of a two-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the Grafton State Forest. An official A.T. side trail, the Speck Pond Trail, traverses the Grafton Wilderness Preserve for more than 1.5 miles. What’s more, the viewshed that will be protected by the Wilderness Preserve and the FSM easement is ranked as fifth out of 3,144 viewsheds along Maine’s A.T.
–Janet McMahon, M.S., Ecologist
As the planet sits at the precipice of rapid climate change and biodiversity loss, the Northeast is poised to play an important role over the next several years with regards to climate stabilization. A 2020 study published in Science Advances identified the Northeastern United States as part of a ‘Global Safety Net’ where, if sufficient ecosystem protection and restoration occurs—quickly—we may have hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve stores incredible amounts of carbon within its mature, high-elevation forests. In the lower elevations of the property, where more recent logging has occurred, the forest will regenerate, capturing and retaining carbon.
When selecting lands to conserve, Northeast Wilderness Trust places an emphasis on climate resiliency—the capacity of a place to support diverse flora and fauna as they move, migrate, and adapt in the face of a warming climate and more extreme weather events. A landscape evaluation tool developed by The Nature Conservancy ranks the resilience of Grafton Forest as well above average. It also considers the entirety of the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve a “Climate Flow Zone with Confirmed Diversity.” This means that high levels of plant and animal movement occur here, and there are known locations of rare species and unique natural communities.
The proposed Preserve lies within a 102,000-acre forest block, which is part of a five million-acre stretch of globally significant forest. This region includes more than half of the United States’ largest globally important bird area—providing habitat and breeding grounds for 34 northern woodland songbirds.
This vast expanse of habitat is an important wildlife corridor. Animals who roam or migrate long distances or have territories that are miles wide rely on large forests in order to forage, hunt, find mates, and raise their young. When wildlife corridors include lands that are left in their natural state, they allow species to adapt in the face of a rapidly changing climate. The Mountains of the Dawn are the critical ecological link between the western portion of the Northern Forest (the Adirondack, Green, and White Mountains) and its eastern stretches, which reach into New Brunswick and the Gaspé peninsula.
Such a forest complex is incredibly rare to find in the Northeastern U.S. Northeast Wilderness Trust is proud to partner with Forest Society of Maine (FSM) to protect the forested landscape of the Mahoosucs. Together, the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve and the Forest Society of Maine conservation easement cumulatively protect 21,000 acres from development. This collaboration represents an on-the-ground realization of the goals laid out in Wildlands & Woodlands, an initiative of Harvard Forest and Highstead Foundation. Wildlands & Woodlands calls for 70% of New England’s forests to be legally protected by 2060, and for at least 10% of those forests to be protected as wilderness. Currently, less than 3% of all conserved lands across the Northeast are protected as wilderness. Forever-wild conservation of the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve is another step in the right direction on a path towards creating a healthier, more resilient landscapes and communities across all of New England.
FSM is a nationally accredited land trust that has helped conserve approximately 1 million acres of Maine woodlands for their many ecological, recreational, cultural, and economic values. The organization has been at the forefront of developing and implementing effective means of overseeing compliance with harvesting best practices and ecological standards, along with other terms of large forestry easements. FSM is a longtime partner of the Wilderness Trust’s work in Maine and holds forever-wild easements on our Alder Stream Wilderness Preserve in Atkinson, Maine.
To complete this conservation project FSM and NEWT jointly raised $10.7 million in private funds. The conservation project was supported by the Bailey Wildlife Foundation, The Betterment Fund, The EJK Foundation, Maine Community Foundation Funds, Sweet Water Trust, and The Nature Conservancy. Additional funding came from the Wild East Action Fund, which seeks to accelerate the pace of conservation within the Appalachian Trail landscape, and the Open Space Institute’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, which supports the protection of climate resilient lands for wildlife and communities. The Fund is made possible thanks to major support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. FSM and NEWT also thank more than a dozen other foundations and organizations and 100 individuals for generously supporting this project.
Photography: Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography