Wednesday, April 23, 2014
PORTLAND — Representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society of Maine and the Plum Creek timber company came together Tuesday to celebrate a new conservation easement that's considered one of the largest ever in the United States.
Mount Kineo rises near Moosehead Lake. The conservation easement covering 363,000 acres in the region is one of the largest in U.S. history, according to participants in the deal. They also hope the agreement will boost recreational tourism and improve the area’s struggling economy.
2007 photo by Fred Field
The parties say the easement they negotiated on 363,000 acres in the Moosehead Lake region connects existing lands to create one of the nation's most extensive conserved working forests. It links a landscape of more than 2 million acres stretching from the St. John Valley to Moosehead Lake to Mount Katahdin, an expanse roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Beyond conservation, participants hope the deal will boost recreational tourism and lift the struggling economy around Greenville. They say businesses can promote the area with an assurance that land will remain open to the public, to accommodate the long tradition of recreation and sustainable forestry in the Maine woods.
"For more than a century, local foresters and hunting and fishing guides have built a livelihood from this forest," said Mike Tetreault, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. "The plan for balancing community goals with the needs of nature will allow that long tradition of multiple-use forests to continue."
Tuesday's event also helped mark the end of a long battle for Plum Creek, the Seattle-based timber company that owns and manages 883,000 acres in the Moosehead Lake region. It first introduced a Moosehead Lake conservation and development plan in 2004.
More than two years ago, Plum Creek won state approval for a concept plan to rezone more than 400,000 acres as part of the largest single development in Maine history. The plan rezones 16,900 acres for development, including 821 residential units and two resorts – a 1,852-acre resort at Lily Bay with 404 units and a 4,200-acre resort at Big Moose Mountain with 800 units.
The units are expected to be built over 30 years.
Plum Creek's development ideas were opposed by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Forest Ecology Network and RESTORE: The North Woods. The groups fought it all the way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled in March that state regulators followed proper procedures in approving the plan.
Opponents continued to be critical as they reacted to Tuesday's news.
"The easement deal is great for Plum Creek shareholders, who are getting $10 million, as well as millions more for selling other lands for conservation," said Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of RESTORE: The North Woods. "Whether it is a good deal for the people of Maine and for the land and wildlife in the region, time will tell."
St. Pierre's group continues to push for protecting the land within a Maine Woods National Park.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine said it remains concerned about the size and location of Plum Creek's development, particularly on the Lily Bay section of Moosehead Lake. The group's future involvement may hinge on whether the company seeks permits to build near Greenville, which already is developed, or on Lily Bay.
"If and when that time comes, we may choose to be involved in the permitting phase to help protect the lands, water and wildlife in the Moosehead region," said Lisa Pohlmann, the group's executive director.
With the housing market flat, residents and visitors won't see any activity for years, said Luke Muzzy, the former Greenville real estate agent who is Plum Creek's senior land asset manager.
Plum Creek has set no timetable to seek approvals for a specific subdivision plan, he said. "We've always seen this as a long-term plan."
In Greenville, a real estate broker said he thinks current land values will make it difficult for Plum Creek, or any large developer, to recover the cost of putting in roads and utilities.
(Continued on page 2)