Governor Announces State’s Largest Conservation Easement (ME)
AUGUSTA, Maine – (April 24, 2000) Governor Angus King, Jr., Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Congressman John Baldacci unveiled the largest conservation easement in state history today at a press conference in Augusta. Governor King announced the purchase of a 20,268-acre conservation easement around Nicatous Lake (pronounced Nic-a-TAO-us) and West Lake by the Maine Department of Conservation that will guarantee public access to the land; protect wildlife habitat including three bald eagle nesting sites; and ensure responsible forest management.
Today’s announcement is being hailed as an excellent approach to meeting both the long-term forest management goals of the landowners, Robbins Lumber and Champion International, as well as the public’s desire for traditional access that includes hiking, boating, camping, hunting, and fishing. This agreement demonstrates that it is possible to ensure public use and protect natural resources while allowing for traditional timber harvesting.
The Nicatous and West Lakes project was championed by a partnership of conservation organizations that assisted the landowners and the state. The Trust for Public Land, the Forest Society of Maine, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust pooled their skills and resources in order to bring the project to fruition.
“By day’s end, three bald eagle nesting sites, 34 miles of shoreline, seven remote ponds, and 20,000 acres of land will be protected forever,” remarked Governor Angus King, Jr. “In my book, that makes today a red letter day for Maine’s environment.”
“The Federal Forest Legacy Project for Nicatous Lake proves that there are excellent ways to protect our privately-owned forests for timber harvesting, wildlife preservation, and recreational access,” said U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). “The Legacy program works particularly well in Maine by uniting-rather than dividing-disparate interests, and I am pleased to have been able to help in securing financing for this project.”
“The Nicatous Lake project is exactly the sort of project Congress envisioned when it created the Forest Legacy Program. This project represents the type of partnership that should be the hallmark of land conservation efforts throughout the country, with cooperation of the government, private landowners, and private organizations,” said U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins (R-Maine).
“This collaborative effort will ensure public access to land along Nicatous Lake and protect wildlife, while honoring the wishes of the landowners who seek to harvest timber. It is truly a situation in which everyone stands to benefit. Maine people can look forward to access that allows for camping, fishing and other outdoor activities in the area,” said Congressman John Baldacci (D-Second).
The Nicatous and West Lakes project was facilitated by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization, which negotiated with the landowners and helped identify funding for the project. “This Lake project stands out nationally as a model of innovative land protection,” commented Whitney Hatch, New England regional director for the Trust for Public Land. “Not only is it the largest conservation easement in Maine to date, it also provides very strong protections for both public access and the management of the property’s natural resources, including habitat for bobcat, moose, black bear, bald eagles, and loons.”
According to Jenness Robbins, president of Robbins Lumber, “Easements are important for wildlife and public recreation and are an integral part of Maine’s working forest. We believe in a balance between ecology and economics. While our primary objective on the Nicatous and West Lakes property will continue to be timber growing and timber harvesting, traditional use of the land will also continue, biological resources will be protected, and Robbins Lumber will pay all local and state property taxes.”
“As land managers and primary timber owners on the property, we are pleased that, through the Nicatous and West Lakes easement purchase, the conservation community recognizes our innovative forest management system, called Forest Patterns, which balances all the resource values of the forest,” commented Steve Sloan, regional general manager for Champion. “That Forest Patterns is being hailed as a model for land conservation is a tremendous compliment to our foresters, who care about the natural environment as well as appropriate timber management.”
Work began on the Nicatous and West Lakes project in 1998. The first phase entailed the State’s acquisition of 76 islands in Nicatous Lake and 204 acres that connects Nicatous Lake to the State’s 25,000-acre Duck Lake Public Reserve Lands Unit. In the spring of 1999, the State purchased these lands with Bureau of Parks and Lands funds.
The Forest Society of Maine led the negotiations of the easement terms with the landowners and will be working with the state of Maine on the long-term monitoring of the easement. “The Nicatous Lake project began with a vision held by Jim and Jenness Robbins,” observed Alan Hutchinson of the Forest Society of Maine, a Bangor-based nonprofit specializing in conservation easements on large tracts of productive forestland. “They believed there had to be a way to keep their lands undeveloped, a place the public could enjoy and wildlife could thrive, while generating a sustained flow of forest products. The Forest Society of Maine is extremely pleased to have been part of making their dream come true, and we now look forward to working with them and the state to ensure that the goals of the easement are met in the years ahead.”
Maine Coast Heritage Trust provided legal expertise for the crafting of the easement and led the effort to secure funding from the Land for Maine’s Future Program. “Funding from the Land for Maine’s Future Program was critical to the success of this project,” remarked Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Caroline Pryor. “The new $50 million bond approved by voters last fall ensures that the public will be able to take advantage of other great conservation opportunities in the coming years.”
Maine’s Congressional Delegation secured $3 million from the Forest Legacy program, and the Land for Maine’s Future Program allocated $750,000 toward the acquisition.
According to Evan Richert, chairman of the Land for Maine’s Future Board, “The conservation of such a diverse and large tract of forestland, maintaining its commercial status as a working landscape, while permanently protecting public access, 76 islands, and numerous ecologically significant areas, is a sound investment in Maine’s conservation and economic future. The Land for Maine’s Future Board is proud to join this private and public partnership, following in a growing tradition of the Program, and protecting state gems for current and future generations.”
Maine is one of 13 states in the Northeast that have elected to participate in the Forest Legacy Program, which is administered by the USDA Forest Service. This voluntary program protects important forests that are threatened with conversion to non-forestry uses. “By protecting places like Nicatous and West Lakes, the partners in the Forest Legacy Program continue to protect the beauty of America, while at the same time keeping working woodlands for the residents of Maine,” noted USDA Forest Service official Michael Rains.
Nicatous and West Lakes are located in Hancock County, and the newly protected property abuts the 25,000-acre Duck Lake Public Reserve Lands Unit that the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands manages.
The Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands manages 32 state parks, 12 historic sites, and more than 480,000 acres of public reserved lands. Information about the public lands is located at www.state.me.us/doc/parks.htm