Forest Society of Maine works with Maine Land Conservation Task Force

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This year a group of 20 individuals and organizations formed the Maine Land Conservation Task Force to review the accomplishments and challenges of land conservation during the 30 years since the creation of the Land for Maine’s Future Program, and to lay groundwork for the future.

The Forest Society of Maine (FSM) is a statewide land trust focused on the North Woods — roughly 12 million acres with few public roads and an abundance of woods, wildlife, and clean fresh water. Earlier this year FSM participated in a panel convened by the task force. We reported that forestland owners continue to seek out the Forest Society of Maine and other partners to explore conservation options.

Imagine a future in which millions of acres of remote forests in Maine’s North Woods are split into parcels, posted with “No Trespassing” signs, and taken out of forest management. This scenario may be difficult to imagine. We are fortunate that the northern half of Maine is still defined by its vast tracts of forests and its tradition of responsible public access to private lands. But we don’t even have to look beyond Maine’s borders to find examples of tradition giving way to gates and sprawl.

Private landowners in Maine have conserved more than 2.1 million acres of forestlands since the 1980s using permanent conservation easements. Easements are an effective tool for keeping forests as forests that grow valuable products, store carbon, support fish and wildlife, and provide recreational opportunities for hunters, hikers, fishermen, and snowmobilers, among others. But for millions of acres in Maine’s North Woods the future is yet uncertain. There may still be special places and features where landowners and the public may decide that permanent conservation is appropriate.

We hear stories about the benefits — the certainty — that working forest conservation easements provide to the forest products industry and people living and operating businesses in Maine. Landowners can focus on and invest in forest management. Mill owners and managers can find a reliable stream of wood. Professional guides, retail businesses, and restaurant, hotel, and sporting camp owners can expect the woods and waters around them to be available for recreation. Their voices, and the voices of thousands of others who treasure the integrity of Maine’s traditions and rugged forest landscapes, tell us that there is still work to be done.

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