Land Trusts complete projects in all 16 counties to benefit Maine industries

Maine has the smallest percentage of public land of all the states on the East Coast. The highest percentage is  in Florida, 25.2%, and the lowest percentage is in Maine, 6.5%.

Even Massachusetts, at 10%, has a higher percentage of public land than does Maine. New Hampshire has 17.1%, impressive.

So we are very lucky that Maine has one of the most active land trust communities in the nation, with more land trusts per capita than any other state. Collectively, Maine’s 75+ land conservation organizations have conserved a little more than 2.5 million acres of the state.

600,000 acres owned by land trusts are available to the public for outdoor recreation. 1,900,000 acres are still privately owned, on the tax rolls, and protected with conservation easements. The terms of the easements vary but most limit development and require protection of natural resources. They are also available to the public for outdoor recreation including hunting and fishing.

Most states rely heavily on the government to acquire and manage public lands while in Maine most of that is accomplished by our land trust community. We are very lucky in that regard.

This is the third of my columns reporting on a study conducted by the Maine Land Trust Network to provide important information to the legislature’s Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee which is studying the land trust and conservation land situation in Maine.

In one section of the report we learn about some really good land trust projects that support jobs. Land trusts have completed projects in all 16 counties that benefit important Maine based industries including forest products, fishing, and agriculture.

In 1999, for example, the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust established a farmers market to advance the mission of supporting local agriculture. Located on Crystal Spring Farm, a 320 acre farm owned by BTL T, the market is now one of the largest in Maine with 40 vendors offering a wide variety of local fresh products including vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, baked goods and artists and all and prepared foods.

Downeast Lakes Land Trust’s 55,578 acre community forest supports about 170 forest products industry jobs. A report by the Forest stewardship Council noted, “Numerous products are harvested from the forest and agreements are in place with the community to allow hunting, use of gravel from naturally occurring pits, pine boughs for local crafts, firewood, and wood used by local artisans for specialty products. All forest use is aimed at providing benefits to the community.”

Located in a community where roughly 30% of its residents rely on the fishing industry, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust works in many ways to protect and conserve the Marine resources upon which local shellfish harvesters depend for their living. While four HHLT preserves provide commercial access to valuable flats, other trust conserved properties include areas local diggers frequent by boat.

Up next, I’ll report on how land trusts strength local communities, including schools.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.