NORTHEAST WILDERNESS TRUST
17 STATE STREET, SUITE 302
MONTPELIER, VT 05602
info [@] newildernesstrust.org
PRESS RELEASE, MAINE, SAVE THIS LAND
For immediate release: March 10, 2022
Bangor, ME – The Forest Society of Maine (FSM) and Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT) announce the completion of the Grafton Forest Conservation Project. An area that encompasses some of the most spectacular scenery and finest remote hiking in Maine has been permanently conserved. This result came from several years of working with Wagner Forest Management, the state Bureau of Parks and Lands, and many groups in the Bethel, Maine region. FSM now holds a conservation easement on 15,000 acres of sustainably managed forests, and NEWT now owns 6,045 acres of critical watershed and high elevation habitat to be passively managed as wilderness. The Project is adjacent to the state-owned Mahoosuc Unit, the Appalachian Trail, and Grafton Notch State Park. Together these lands fill what had been an unprotected gap in a conservation corridor and connect hundreds of thousands of acres in the western Maine mountains to New Hampshire conservation lands. Project success protects these lands, which are rated highly for their resiliency to climate change, from conversion to non-forest uses in an area experiencing strong development pressures.
The conservation easement on 15,000 acres, held by FSM, allows for forest management that is protective of identified natural resources and habitats. It also permanently conserves public access including two Appalachian Trail side trails, known as the Notch Trail and the Speck Pond Trail, and ensures permanent public vehicular access on the main woods-road that leads to them. Access to these trails is important not only for hikers, but for trail maintenance and for search and rescue. According to Karin Tilberg, FSM President/CEO, “The Grafton Forest easement brings permanent conservation to a working forest that supports local economies, provides important fish and wildlife habitat, and hosts well-known recreation destinations. The area is known as the ‘people’s back yard’ and it will now remain a forest forever.”
NEWT acquired sensitive high elevation lands adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and a significant lowland forest that forms the headwaters flowing into the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. The lands will be managed as wilderness, beginning a process of rewilding. NEWT’s focus was on the Grafton Township lands that contain elevational variability that make them highly resilient to climate change and a grand stage for rich biodiversity over time. According to Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of NEWT, “Rewilding is a way to help nature heal by giving it space and time to rest. Wild places are essential to ecological health and at the same time, store and sequester amazing amounts of carbon, making them wildly beneficial to people, too.”
A portion of the conserved Grafton forestlands fall within the US Congressionally authorized acquisition boundary for the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. “The Grafton conservation project, a truly collaborative effort, has helped us meet our conservation objectives for the Refuge, benefiting fish, wildlife, and the woods we all cherish,” commented Refuge Manager, Paul Casey. “I am so pleased that the Forest Society of Maine and the Northeast Wilderness Trust have conserved the headwaters of the Swift Cambridge River, which flows through Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. This is a great example where working at a landscape scale can help achieve multiple local, state, and federal goals.”
“The Grafton Forest Conservation Project will protect important wildlife habitat, assure sustainable forest management, maintain important multi-use recreational trails, and improve public access to some of the state’s best recreational areas, including a rugged stretch of the Appalachian Trail and the Mahoosuc Public Land Unit,” said Governor Mills. “I thank The Forest Society of Maine and Northeast Wilderness Trust for continuing Maine’s proud history of conservation and environmental stewardship. The State will continue to do all we can to support public and private partnerships like these that protect our precious natural resources for the benefit of all Maine people.”
“The Grafton Forest Project supports and enhances national treasures such as the Appalachian Trail and the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge while at the same time allowing the forest products industry to continue the sustainable harvest of timber,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “We are especially pleased that traditional recreational activities and public access will be supported by this Project, which will help preserve Western Maine’s stunning beauty for the enjoyment of all and ensure the region continues to be a destination for outdoor enthusiasts for many years to come.”
To complete this project FSM and NEWT jointly raised $10.7 million in private funds. The help of numerous supporters made this project successful. Essential funding included leadership grants from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Wild East Action Fund, Bailey Wildlife Foundation, The Betterment Fund, The EJK Foundation, Maine Community Foundation Funds, Open Space Institute’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, Sweet Water Trust, and The Nature Conservancy. FSM and NEWT also recognize the critical support provided by more than a dozen other foundations and organizations and more than 100 individuals.
The Forest Society of Maine and Northeast Wilderness Trust extend their deep gratitude to all the people and organizations whose help resulted in permanently conserving these thousands of acres of woodlands and wildlands in Maine’s North Woods.
The Forest Society of Maine, established in 1984, has helped landowners, families, and communities to conserve more than a million acres of forestland across the state for sustainable forest products, recreation, habitat for fish and wildlife, and historic and cultural values. More information about the Forest Society of Maine can be found at www.fsmaine.org.
Northeast Wilderness Trust conserves forever-wild landscapes for nature and people. Founded in 2002, the non-profit focuses on rewilding landscapes for biodiversity and climate resilience while also celebrating the benefits of wildlands to people. The Wilderness Trust safeguards more than 64,000 acres of wildlands in six states. Learn more at www.newildernesstrust.org.
Photography: Autumn aerial photography by Harry White | Summer photography by Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography