Alan Hutchinson’s name may not be familiar to many Mainers.

Yet the names of the places that Hutchinson quietly helped to protect – such as the West Branch of the Penobscot River, Big Spencer Mountain and the northern shorelines of Moosehead Lake – will be known to generations of people who hike, hunt, fish, paddle or work in the vast forestlands of Maine.

A “champion” of land conservation, Hutchinson died unexpectedly Sunday at his home in Orono. He was 70.

During his 20 years as executive director of the Forest Society of Maine, Hutchinson played a major role in conserving more than 1 million acres in Maine at a time when the state’s timber industry, land ownership and outdoor recreation trends were changing dramatically. He also built the Bangor-based Forest Society of Maine from a small nonprofit into one of the nation’s largest land trusts.

“He was incredibly effective, a very, very gracious man and a gentleman at every turn,” said Tim Glidden, who worked with Hutchinson for several decades, first as director of the Land for Maine’s Future program and more recently as executive director of Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Glidden said Hutchinson never sought credit for his work, but his efforts to balance the importance of maintaining Maine’s working forests with the desire to protect those lands from development yielded long-lasting benefits to the state.

“His tribute is going to be the working forestlands of Maine,” Glidden said.

‘HE JUST LOVED THE NORTH WOODS’

Hutchinson was an avid outdoorsman who worked for 24 years as a wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife before becoming the Forest Society of Maine’s first executive director in 1997. In his new capacity at the young organization, he pioneered the use of “conservation easements” that allowed landowners to retain title and usage of the land while protecting its ecological and recreational values. And over the years, Hutchinson helped negotiate or implement some of the largest land conservation deals in Maine and national history, with the Forest Society of Maine holding or managing many of those easements.

In 2003, for instance, the Forest Society acquired a conservation easement on 282,000 acres along the West Branch of the Penobscot River – and also the north and south branches – that allowed the land to remain in forestry but protected it from development. As part of the deal, the state also obtained 47,000 acres that included historic Pittston Farm, the shores of Baker and Seboomook lakes, and the headwaters of the St. John River.

The Forest Society conserved 8 miles of shoreline along the northern portion of Moosehead Lake as well as 4,000 acres on Big Spencer Mountain, which dominates the landscape north of the lake.

Hutchinson also played a major role in the controversial negotiations with Plum Creek Timber Co. over the company’s massive rezoning request in the Moosehead Lake region. By the time state regulators approved Plum Creek’s development concept plan in 2009, the Forest Society of Maine and its partners, The Nature Conservancy and the Appalachian Mountain Club, had secured conservation easements on 359,000 acres in the Moosehead region.

Other conservation projects completed during Hutchinson’s tenure include 21,000 acres around Nicatous Lake, 36,000 acres in the Debsconeag Lakes region, 22,000 acres in the boundary headwaters of the Kennebago River and, most recently, 13,875 acres in the Gulf Hagas-Whitecap area. The list also includes smaller projects important to local communities, such as Caribou Bog in Bangor, Branch Lake in Ellsworth and the 5,000-acre Amherst Mountains Community Forest.

His death is “such a huge loss to our community,” said Karin Tilberg, a former deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation who has worked as Hutchinson’s deputy director since 2011.

Tilberg said Hutchinson’s approach to conservation respected the diverse “public values” of Maine’s forests, such as their recreational lands, wildlife habitat and economic benefits.

“He had the ability to bring different perspectives together around shared goals, and his quiet leadership kept people working together on projects until success was achieved,” Tilberg said. “And he just loved the North Woods.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Hutchinson “devoted his life to preserving working forests and Maine’s pristine environment.”

“Alan’s invaluable contributions to the forestry community will be deeply missed, but he will long be remembered for his leadership and vision,” Collins, who worked with Hutchinson to secure millions of dollars in federal Forest Legacy Program grants for Maine, said in a prepared statement. “His tireless work to preserve Maine’s forests has created a rich legacy that will be enjoyed by residents and visitors to our state for many years to come.”

‘LEGACY OF PROTECTING A LOT OF SPECIAL PLACES’

In terms of acreage, the Forest Society of Maine is the fourth-largest land trust in the United States and the eighth-largest conservation organization when including national groups such as the The Nature Conservancy, according to the Land Trust Alliance. Sylvia Bates of the Land Trust Alliance said Hutchinson was a soft-spoken but influential member of the Leadership Council that serves as an advisory board to the national organization.

“He was very well-respected, and the Forest Society of Maine is an organization that has been looked up to by other organizations around the country,” said Bates, the director of standards and educational services at the alliance. And on a personal level, Bates said she has many fond memories of discussing with Hutchinson – a longtime acquaintance – different places to paddle in Maine, some of which are now permanently protected because of his work.

“He leaves a very important legacy of protecting a lot of special places that are very dear to many of us,” said Bates, a New Hampshire resident.

A memorial service for Hutchinson is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at Brookings-Smith Family Reception Center, 163 Center St. in Bangor.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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