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Maine Land Easement to Protect 363,000 Acres
05/15/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

It's taken eight years, but the Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society of Maine and the Plum Creek Timber Company announced today that they've completed an historic conservation easement on 363,000 acres near Greenville. The Moosehead easement will prohibit most types of development, require sustainable forest practices and preserve public access for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling. The agreement assures not only the largest contiguous easement in the country, it also connects more than two million acres of land already conserved in Maine.

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The easement is historic, not only for its size and location, but for what it includes. Mike Tetrault of the Nature Conservancy says it includes protection of 80 ponds, 30 sites containing rare or endangered plants, 200 miles of shoreline and--his favorite statistic--800 miles of rivers and streams.

"So I went on Mapquest to see how far that would get you if you drove west from Portland: It gets you to Detroit, Michigan," he says.

The easement was part of a hard-fought effort by Plum Creek to win approval from the Land Use Regulation Commission for a plan to rezone nearly 400,000 acres of the Moosehead Lake region. The plan includes development of two resorts and several hundred houselots, which await separate approval.

Luke Muzzy is a lifelong resident of Greenville whose family roots go back nine generations. He's also the senior land asset manager for Plum Creek, one of the largest landowners in the country with nearly 900,000 acres in Maine alone. Muzzy worked on the project and took some personal heat for it. Both his home and former office were vandalized in 2005.
Muzzy, on hand at a press conference announcing the agreement, says it was courageous of his employer and others not to give up. "As someone that lives right in the middle of it, I'm sure glad that people had the preserverence to see it through."

Susan Sharon: "Why did they stick with it, do you think, and would they do it again elsewhere?"

Luke Muzzy: "We looked at this as a long-term predictability, for not only the local economy, but for us as a company. It was worth sticking through. Now you have a land base of 363,000 acres that's guaranteed to be a working forest. And we're a timber company. That meant something to us."

Residents of the area are hoping it will give them some predictability too. Former Greenville town manager John Simko says the population of about 1,600 is aging and relatively stagnant, making it difficult to sustain the small, local hospital and the schools. Two lumber mills have closed in the past two decades, putting more than 120 people in a woods-dependent economy out of work. Other manufacturing jobs have also been lost.

"Does that mean that the town's going to fold up and go away? Well, no," he says. "No, that's not going to happen, but it's going to have to transform, and an important piece to how it will have to transform is to make the most of this opportunity."

The 363,000-acre easement, which will be managed by the Forest Society of Maine, includes some lands donated outright by Plum Creek and additional acreage that was purchased for $10 million by the Nature Conservancy. Fundraising for the project is ongoing.

Sherry Huber, active in both conservation groups, says Plum Creek's rezoning plan was often mischaracterized as being strictly about development, when she says it was also about unparalleled conservation and public access.

"It's a good example of managing forest for multiple use," Huber says. "Its working forest easement can't be stressed enough. It will mean good jobs in the future. It will also mean recreation and wildlife habitat going forward. And the future of Maine's forest and our forest-based economy requires that we seek this balance."

The new easement will serve as a link to existing conservation lands, including the 100-Mile Wilderness, the Moose River Reserve, Baxter State Park and the Pingree Easement lands.

The group RESTORE: the North Woods issued a statement saying it still believes a better alternative to an easement is to permanently protect Maine's large and unfragmented forest by creating a Maine Woods National Park. Until that happens, Jym St. Pierre says his group will be watching to see how the terms of the easement are implemented.



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