Conservation Of 21 Lakeshore Miles In Eastern Maine Balances Public Access, Community Needs And Wildlife Habitat

WESTON, Maine — The Conservation Fund announced today completion of the East Grand Watershed Initiative, an effort spanning more than a decade to protect nearly 12,000 acres of forestland and over 21 miles of prized shoreline along five lakes, including 16 miles on East Grand Lake. The land along Maine’s eastern border with Canada, which comprises the viewshed of the famed Million Dollar View Scenic Byway, will continue to be privately owned, remain on tax rolls and be sustainably managed for timber.

Supported by more than one dozen public and private entities, the East Grand Watershed Initiative launched in 2011 with The Conservation Fund’s purchase of the shoreline and timberlands from Wagner Forest Management. Bridge financing from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and others enabled the Fund’s acquisition through its Working Forest Fund® program, which is dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests.

The Conservation Fund worked over the last 13 years in collaboration with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to protect a total of 11,812 acres in phases using conservation easements and transferring other lands to the Bureau for its stewardship. The final 4,327 acres of shoreline were protected on Feb. 24 with a conservation easement on East Grand, Deering/Longfellow, Bracket and Sucker lakes. Now completed, the East Grand Watershed Initiative is providing lasting access for guiding, hunting, snowmobiling and ATV riding, as well as fishing on the revered East Grand Lake along with conservation of significant deer wintering habitat at Monument Brook.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime project with benefits that extend far beyond the acres that have been protected,” said Tom Duffus, vice president and Northeast representative for The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to conserving land and building vibrant communities. “The community input and support that emerged for this initiative was key to creating outstanding outcomes for the land and this region — and it’s what powered this collective effort to completion.”

Recognizing that permanent protection of this area would restrict development on a large portion of land within the borders of Weston and Orient, The Conservation Fund worked closely with both towns to incorporate the needs, interests and concerns of local residents in order to create economic development projects that benefited youth, health and well-being as well as provide community growth opportunities. To that end, five acres of adjacent land were donated by The Conservation Fund to Weston for a public park on East Grand Lake with the assistance of Judy and Elbridge Cleaves of Weston, and limited areas were reserved for future growth on other lands.

Coming out of this collaborative approach — which combined discussions with a host of project supporters — was a vision for the land that won broad support at the local, state and national levels.

“This project is a great example of collaboration between the town of Weston, The Conservation Fund and numerous interested parties to achieve a balance between conservation and the economic interest of the area,” said Dwayne Young, administrative assistant to the selectboard of Weston. “The project has been in the works for a long time, but well worth the time invested.”

To complete the project, The Conservation Fund partnered with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which used funding from Land for Maine’s Future Program, private grants provided by The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program (FLP) — a conservation program administered by the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with state agencies to encourage the protection of privately owned forest lands through conservation easements or land purchases. This program is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The purchase price for the final easement was $4 million. Additional program support was provided by the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and others.

“The state of Maine’s Land for Maine’s Future was an important part of the solution here,” Duffus said. “It provided a significant opportunity to leverage a recent and large influx of federal funding for conservation, bringing more resources to Maine for the East Grand Watershed Initiative and other critical conservation projects. The people of Maine can be proud of what Land for Maine’s Future is achieving on their behalf.”

The East Grand Watershed Initiative was the largest of five Land for Maine’s Future conservation projects announced by Gov. Janet Mills in January 2022. The projects, totaling more than $3 million, were the first to be selected by the Land for Maine’s Future Board since Mills and the legislature reinvigorated the program with $40 million in new state funding under the governor’s biennial budget. The four other projects announced in January 2022 were the Buck’s Ledge Community Forest, Kennebago Headwaters, Kennebec Highlands and the Caribou Stream Deer Wintering Area.

“The Bureau of Parks and Lands is thrilled to be part of this collaborative effort to conserve a spectacular piece of land and shoreline,” said Bureau of Parks and Lands Director Andy Cutko. “This project provides immeasurable benefits to Maine’s people and wildlife. We thank The Conservation Fund and many project funders for their enduring vision, support and leadership over the past decade.”

“Threats to healthy, resilient and productive forests diminish the social, economic and environmental benefits they provide,” said Gina Owens, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service’s Eastern Region. “Through our Forest Legacy Program, the Forest Service directly supports keeping forests forests for future generations to benefit from and enjoy.”

The first phase of the East Grand Watershed Initiative, completed in 2016, focused on the protection of 5,992 acres of deer wintering habitat at Monument Brook and 1,493 acres of working forestland in Orient. The second and final phase protected 4,327 acres of forested lakeshore and wildlife habitat in Weston.

LWCF, which supports the federal FLP program, is funded annually by Congress, with the support of Maine’s U.S. Congressional delegation representing the East Grand Watershed area: U.S. Senator Susan Collins, U.S. Senator Angus King and U.S. Representative Jared Golden.

“Maine’s woods are among our state’s greatest assets, whether they’re providing a place for a quiet hike or sustainably supporting our forest products industry,” said Senators Collins and King and Congressman Golden. “The completion of the East Grand Lake Watershed Initiative is an excellent example of the benefits and promise of conservation. This permanent preservation of thousands of acres of forest and miles of shoreline will improve recreational opportunities, maintain wildlife habitats, continue traditional logging use and protect scenic vistas. We are grateful for the work done by The Conservation Fund and its partners, and we are proud to have helped secure funding for this project.”

The region surrounding and encompassing the East Grand Watershed Initiative is known for its traditional sporting camps and guide services, a central part of the local economy. It is revered by sportsmen and women for its landlocked salmon, trout and bass fisheries, with East Grand Lake boasting the highest number of angler days of any lake in Maine’s Downeast region.

“The Richard King Mellon Foundation has a long history of investing in Maine’s forestland and waters to protect habitat, support outdoor recreation and to promote sustainable community development,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “This project demonstrates how patient capital from philanthropy can catalyze positive environmental and economic-development outcomes, benefitting current and future generations in East Grand Lake and conserving a precious national resource.”

Benefits of the East Grand Watershed Initiative also include critical habitat protection for 27 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, as identified by Maine’s State Wildlife Action Plan, such as migratory waterfowl found in the extensive wetlands and river corridor along Monument Brook. The Million Dollar View Scenic Byway draws visitors from near and far.

About The Conservation Fund

At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.8 million acres of land, including over 485,000 acres in Maine.

About the Land for Maine’s Future Program

The Land for Maine’s Future Program is the State of Maine’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for its natural and recreational value. The program was established in 1987 when Maine citizens voted to fund $35 million to purchase lands of statewide importance. In 1997, new priorities were set forth by a commission of Maine citizens. Since that time, the program has administered multiple bonds and even instances of general fund appropriations.

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