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2019 Conference Asks Questions, Seeks Answers

The 2019 Maine Land Conservation Conference felt warm and familiar, as we returned to the Brunswick-Topsham area. The annual two-day event, held on April 5 and 6, provided practical learning and inspiration for anyone passionate about the importance of green spaces in our communities and in our lives.

Exploring the theme “actions that benefit all”

Spirits seemed high as attendees from all over Maine, New England, New York, and even as far as Wisconsin, arrived in town for a variety of indoor and outdoor events on Friday and the main event in Topsham on Saturday.

Workshop and discussion topics ranged from A to Z, but many connected with an overall theme of exploring actions that benefit all. Nationally renowned keynote speaker Majora Carter underlined this idea in her thought-provoking talk about how we can build proud communities, creating neighborhoods that attract and retain residents to create a prosperous future. View her talk here.

Friday offers outdoor and in-depth workshops

On Friday morning, a hearty group bundled up against the early spring chill and met at Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s Sewall Woods Preserve in Bath for Timber Harvesting on Conservation Lands. Attendees learned about matching harvesting techniques to specific land use goals, and the importance of community outreach ahead of the harvest. Participants particularly valued hearing from people involved in all stages of the project – the former owner, the land trust, the forester, and the logger.

Meanwhile, more than 50 people gathered together to think about The Art and Science of Communications for Social Change. Presenter Lynn Davey, of Portland, Maine-based Davey Strategies, helped the mainly land trust audience consider how the words and concepts we use when we talk about land conservation are received by people with different backgrounds and values. Dr. Davey discussed biases, schema, and shared a great deal of interesting research on how our brains form opinions. She explained the basics of framing messages, and shared ideas for building persuasive communications that will be remembered correctly.

Friday afternoon featured two hands-on workshops: Using Data to Explore Carbon Pools on a Forested Acre, and Managing Ash (trees) with the Threat of the Invasive Emerald Ash Borer. Attendees at the session for exploring carbon pools, held at Tardiff Forest in Topsham and sponsored by Project Learning Tree, set up a permanent forestry research plot and learned about ways to measure carbon within the plot. (The concepts presented were explored further in a session at the Saturday conference as well.)

Photo by Julia Harper

At the same time, others gathered to hear from members of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet tribes within Maine about the importance of ash trees to native cultures and basketmaking. After an ash pounding demonstration, the audience learned about the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB). EAB, Agrilus planipennis, is one of the most serious invasive species threatening our ash resources and forests. Representatives from Maine Forest Service discussed the damage inflicted by these pests, and steps that can be taken to slow the progression of the devastation to ash stands in Maine. One attendee noted, “The cultural significance of the trees really helped to contextualize the possible effects of losing ash trees.”

 

On Saturday, 22 workshops span a wide variety of topics

Our main event on Saturday at the Mt. Ararat Middle School and Orion Performing Arts Center drew in nearly 400 people. These included land trust staff and members of their boards, students, representatives from local, state and federal government, and community members.

In 22 workshops that addressed issues in land stewardship, fundraising, equity, and local food systems, participants gained important knowledge for on-the-ground efforts, and considered ways conservation – and access to land – coincides with other social and cultural values.

A highlight of the day was the presentation of the Espy Land Heritage Award, which was given this year to Burnham Martin. Upon presenting the award, MCHT President Tim Glidden remarked, “Burnham has worked for three decades to improve Mainers’ access to the outdoors in almost every part of our state. This work has been with, for, and about an exceptionally diverse group – landowners, hunters, bird watchers, snowmobilers, fishermen and fisherwomen, loggers, mountain bikers, hikers, and more. He is truly deserving of this special award.”

Invigorated and inspired

Our day wrapped up with group discussions, providing an opportunity to share experiences and think together about the challenges ahead. As we said goodbye, tired from the day but invigorated and inspired for the season ahead, we were filled with gratitude for the amazing and talented presenters who volunteered their time and expertise, and for the dedication of land trust staff, volunteers and board members who spend their time with us for these two special days each spring.