From: John Richardson, Portland Press Herald
Published December 30, 2005 12:00 AM

Nature Conservancy Pays $2.2 Million To Preserve Forestland in Maine

The Nature Conservancy said this week that it paid $2.2 million to preserve nearly 10,000 acres of forestland in Hancock County, Maine, capping a busy year for groups working to conserve open spaces around the state.


The land, called the Spring River block, sits next to state-owned conservation property northeast of Ellsworth and includes land along two rivers that are considered critical habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon.


"We plan to manage a great deal of it as though it is an ecological reserve," said Bruce Kidman, a spokesman for the Nature Conservancy.


The project is one of many that made 2005 a successful year for conservation, according to Kidman and others, despite continuing development pressure, rising land values and increasing competition for funding.


"Sprawl never takes a day off," Kidman said. But Mainers continue to support preservation, too, he said. "There are people who really want to see a conservation balance continue in the state."


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The Nature Conservancy finalized numerous smaller deals throughout the state this year, he said, including a 1,400-acre conservation easement on Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton and four smaller pieces of conservation land in the Mount Agamenticus region of York.


One of the largest conservation projects ever in Maine -- and the nation -- took a major step forward earlier this year when the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership closed on deals to conserve about 330,000 acres in Washington County. Conservation groups are still raising money to finance that deal.


Another high-profile deal was announced in October, when a logging company agreed to a land swap that would preserve more than 10,000 acres of remote forestland east of Baxter State Park.


The Maine Coast Heritage Trust announced this week that it expects to complete nearly 30 land conservation projects in 2005, including the protection of 10 coastal islands.


"It has been an extraordinary year," Jay Espy, the group's president, said in the written announcement.


George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said the deals are good for the state and for Mainers who want to preserve traditional access to undeveloped land. "We've really secured our future as sportsmen through these projects, so we want to keep going," he said.


But Smith also believes tighter competition for funding, both from public donations and government sources, is starting to slow the conservation gains. The state's Land for Maine's Future Program, for example, got no funding last year and has only $10 million to divide among conservation projects that are expected to flood the state with grant applications in February.


"It very definitely is going to be more difficult in the future to raise money," Smith said.


The deal announced Tuesday by The Nature Conservancy was mostly financed by private contributors, and culminated more than two years of negotiating and fundraising.


The former owner, H.C. Haynes Inc., gave The Nature Conservancy a two-year purchase option and agreed to scale back its tree-cutting plans and avoid cutting some areas altogether in order to protect wildlife habitat.


The Nature Conservancy now plans to keep the land open to recreational uses and local camp owners, while shifting ATV trails and other activities away from sensitive wetland habitats and riverbanks, Kidman said.


The Spring River and West Branch of the Narraguagus River run through the conservation area and are considered key Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing habitat. The project received $600,000 in federal funding because of the benefits for salmon conservation.


"Protecting these natural resources is a successful step in our collective efforts to recover the species," said Marvin Moriarty, northeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


A 325-page federal recovery plan for the species was released this month, laying out a strategy to restore salmon runs from the Kennebec River to the Canadian border. The report came out five years after salmon were declared endangered on eight Maine rivers, including the Narraguagus.


To see more of the Portland Press Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.pressherald.com.


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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