An emerging conservation collaborative is exploring ways to conserve forestland at a regional scale in midcoast Maine. The 12 Rivers Conservation Collaborative - named for the number of river systems that extend from the Kennebec to the St. George River - is a response to the growing awareness that landscape-scale conservation can accelerate the pace of conservation while keeping costs low. The Collaborative's vision is a network of conserved lands that protects the midcoast's ecosystems and ensures multiple human benefits for generations to come. By bundling smaller projects into a shared conservation effort, the Collaborative hopes to expand organizational capacity, attract new funding sources, gain greater economies of scale, and increase the benefits available from the products and ecosystem services that the reconnected land may yield. The partners of the collaborative include: Boothbay Region Land Trust, Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association, Damariscotta River Association, Georges River Land Trust, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, Medomak Valley Land Trust, Pemaquid Watershed Association, Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association, and Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance as well as Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
The Collaborative commissioned a natural resources inventory for the entire region, which helped identify priority focus areas within the region. This strategic conservation plan helped the group to adopt the following Conservation Goals:
• Maintain and promote biodiversity, meaning the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems, as well as the evolutionary and functional processes that link them.
• Promote connectivity of large habitat blocks.
• Support wildland habitat protection and working lands conservation across the landscape, for example managed woodlands and community forests, since forests are key to clean air and water quality, local resource based economy, traditional recreational uses such as hiking, fishing, hunting and snowmobiling, as well as regional biodiversity.
• Integrate regional outdoor trails and other recreational opportunities.
The conservation of private forestland is critical to this region in order to maintain forestry as an important component of the local economy. Wood production continues to be important to landowners, sawmills, furniture makers, coastal boat builders, etc. Tourism is the largest sector of the regional economy and it depends on a large natural infrastructure of forests, parks, clean rivers and streams, ecological reserves, etc. The greatest threat to private forestlands and high value ecological sites continues to be conversion to housing and general development. The future trends for the midcoast area are for increased suburban sprawl due to seasonal and residential population growth.
Conservation easements will be the primary tool used to achieve large landscape conservation with private forestland landowners but fee purchases of regionally important forestlands and significant habitat will be integrated into the program. An outreach program to landowners, foresters, loggers, towns, real estate brokers, wood products industry, etc. will be developed and implemented region wide. The Collaborative believes that this will produce additional long-term interest in regional conservation of forests, farms, significant habitat and heightened awareness of the conservation goals of local land trusts. They recently hired their first staff person and have already won several grants to further their efforts.