BETHEL, Maine – A newly created “forever wild” conservation area in Albany Township, Maine, is part of an effort that aims to have far-reaching conservation impact in both Maine and New Hampshire.
The Mahoosuc Land Trust, based in Bethel, has closed on 295 acres that will combine with its Flint Farm Preserve for a 500-acre conservation area that will be accessible to the public for low-impact recreation and nature study.
The new Flint Mountain Wilderness Preserve is a small part of the land trust’s 22,000 acres in western Maine and northern New Hampshire (including the Shelburne Riverlands), but a significant one.
Active management, including timber harvesting, farming, trail creation and motorized recreation use, is allowed on most of the trust’s land. The new Flint Mountain Wildlands Preserve will be the trust’s first to allow public access through minimal impact non-mechanized uses – walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and nature observation and study.
“It’s an exciting idea for people when they realize that they will experience places like this in a different way,” said Kirk Siegel, MLT executive director.
Landowner Ken Wille, of Albany Township, which is in western Oxford County’s unorganized territory, near the Gorham, New Hampshire, border sold the Flint Mountain conservation land at a discount to the trust.
The project is also “a strong first step toward extending habitat connectivity between large Maine private lands conserved by MLT and the White Mountain National Forest in both Maine and New Hampshire,” Siegel told Manchester InkLink.
The New Hampshire state line is not far from the site. “It is a two-state project that in the future will provide connected lands for wildlife habitat and recreation,” he said.
MLT is partnering on the project with Northeast Wilderness Trust, which holds the forever-wild conservation easement.
“Forever-wild forests are allowed to grow old, acting as carbon stores while providing critical habitats for many species,” said Caitlin Mather, NEWT land protection manager at NEWT. “It gives me a great sense of relief knowing that the signs of wildlife observed during our visits to the land will continue to be part of its story.”
The organization, based in Vermont, has 76,239 acres of forever wild easements in New England and New York, including 17,520 at 15 sites in New Hampshire and 33,328 at 13 sites in Maine. The easements are held in perpetuity and aim to protect the ecological integrity and wild character of the land.
The conservation easement also recognizes that the land has been a home to the Wabanaki people for thousands of years, and the easement allows the land trust to enter into tribal cultural respect agreements.
The property has unmarked trails with views of the White Mountains, and the trust plans to work with NEWT on a trail improvement plan, details of which will be made public later this year, the news release said. Deer and hunting for other non-predator species will be allowed once a management plan is developed.
The property’s wildland status will also protect state-identified wild brook trout habitat on streams that feed the Crooked River.
The land has large hardwood stands that include abundant century-old red oak, and pasture oaks “of very significant girth” that may date back to the 1800s, when the land was actively farmed.
Because there has been little or no harvesting in decades on much of the site, the trust says the land is well on its way “toward healing and restoration from human impact.”
“The Flint Mountain Wildlands will be a modest first step to demonstrate how undeveloped and minimally managed lands play an essential role in forest ecosystems,” the trust said. “The land will serve as a benchmark to understanding the benefits of wildlands within a landscape of managed forestlands.”
Small parcel, big impact
While the 295 acres of the forever wild area is relatively small, the project is part of a bigger-picture conservation effort in more ways than one.
Dartmouth College’s environmental sciences department, under professor Flora Krivak-Tetley and her undergraduate students, has established long-term monitoring plots on the property.
Baseline data from the plots can be used to monitor change in the forest and ecosystem services the forest provides, such as carbon sequestration, Siegel said.
The parcel is also part of the effort to conserve land around the Sebago Lake watershed, a 440-square-mile area that stretches 50 miles along western Maine’s border with New Hampshire. The lake, Maine’s second-largest, supplies water to 16% of the state’s population.
Sebago Clean Waters, a coalition of 10 organizations, including Mahoosuc Land Trust, contributed money to buy the Flint Mountain Wilderness Preserve parcel. The coalition is looking to protect 25% of the Sebago Lake watershed over the next 15 years.
“This project is an important part of a broader vision to create an expanse of conserved lands in the Sebago Lake watershed to protect drinking water, wildlife, and quality of life,” said Karen Young, partnership director of Sebago Clean Waters. “Each time we add a piece of protected land to the puzzle, these impacts deepen.”
The Portland Water District, founding member of Sebago Clean Waters, also provided funding.
“The Portland Water District supports the work of Mahoosuc Land Trust because Sebago Lake, our source of drinking water, is downstream of the forests they conserve,” said Paul Hunt, the district’s environmental manager. “These woods naturally treat the water our customers drink, and this property will remain wooded forever. This means cleaner water, healthier fisheries, more habitat for animals and birds, and outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors — all things that make Maine ‘The Way Life Should Be.’”
Other funding for the land purchase came from donors to MLT’s Ken Hotopp Wildlands Fund and Maine Mountain Collaborative.