March 18, 2010

Conservation a key to Plum Creek plan

— The recent editorial (''New challenges come with Plum Creek plan,'' Nov. 11) struck a strong chord at the Forest Society of Maine, an organization created to serve as Maine's land trust for the North Woods.

We currently oversee 600,000 acres of conserved lands.

Shedding light on the monumental changes underway in Maine's North Woods is important -- after nearly two centuries of remarkable stability, global economic pressures are forcing change upon these lands.

And as the editorial referenced, Plum Creek's plan for their Moosehead Lake lands is not the cause of, but rather a result of those pressures.

The choice we see before the Land Use Regulation Commission is not between Plum Creek's proposal and no further development. Growth is upon the North Woods and Moosehead Lake, whether people think that good or bad.

The real choice is between planned growth with significant conservation, or unplanned, sprawling development with little conservation.

Maine's North Woods are extraordinary -- globally unique in the diversity and abundance of wildlife and forest communities contained in the largest tract of undeveloped land remaining east of the Mississippi River.

Plum Creek's original proposal to LURC for their 400,000-plus acres around Moosehead Lake included only 11,000 acres permanently conserved and 382,000 acres in a 30-year, no-development zone.

The public reacted strongly against the small amount of permanent conservation, development in the backcountry and no guarantees of public access.

FSM, with The Nature Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Club and others, saw the shortcomings but also saw opportunity, so we entered into discussions to influence the future of these lands. We can report that the current proposal is significantly improved.

The amount of land proposed for permanent protection in the current plan has increased to 94 percent of the total plan area versus 2.5 percent originally.

The land will be protected with strong conservation easements and the acquisition of two tracts of high conservation value: Moose River/No.5 Bog and the Roach Ponds.

Access and recreation will be guaranteed, fish and wildlife habitats and other ecological values will be protected and sustainable forestry assured, while development will occur in developed areas, addressing concerns over sprawl.

The immensity of Maine's North Woods and Plum Creek's lands is arguably the most important and challenging attribute relating to conservation at such a large scale.

At a similar scale, if this plan had guided development and conservation in the Portland region, development would be concentrated within a Route 1 corridor from Portland to Brunswick.

Meanwhile, a block of land two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, stretching from Route 1 to Sebago Lake and west to the New Hampshire border, would be conserved forever for wildlife and recreation.

The 431,000 acres currently proposed for protection also connect to existing conservation lands, forming a 2-million-acre network of protected lands linking the St. John River to Baxter State Park.

In a southern Maine context, this in total equates to all the land lying within the area from Kittery northeast to Brunswick and north to Bethel.

The alternative is more fragmentation of forestland and piecemeal development of the Moosehead Lake region.

This is a very important issue for Mainers to understand.

We do not see such an opportunity to protect a huge tract of land with immense conservation and recreational value coming again.

— Special to the Press HeraldThe real choice is between planned growth with significant conservation, or unplanned, sprawling development with little conservation.

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