Several western York County organizations hope their campaign to protect that region’s timberlands will gain the same kind of national attention as similar efforts in Maine’s North Woods.

The group Forest Works! has formed to keep western York County woodlands in timber production rather than lose them to development. The woods contain a lot of eastern white pine, a valuable source of construction lumber.

Forest Works!, a collaboration of local groups and state and federal agencies, recently landed $90,000 in startup grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation. The money will help the group teach communities and landowners to use easements and other methods to keep land open for timber production, recreation and wildlife habitat.

The effort is similar to that of Maine Farmland Trust, which works to preserve Maine’s agricultural lands, said its founders. “It’s the same idea,” said Carl Davis, president of Three Rivers Land Trust.

The group is the brainchild of Everett Towle of Buxton, a retired U.S. Forest Service executive, who has grown concerned about the increasing amount of land that has been subdivided or posted with no trespassing signs.

“It begins to look more like Boston all the time and, from a forestry standpoint, it makes it really difficult for lumbering,” Towle said.

Towle said his experience on 65 acres of land he owns shows it is possible to keep land open for recreation while earning money managing it as a working forest. Forest Works! aims to show private landowners and communities how to do the same, Davis said.

Forest Works! plans to work with owners who want to protect their land by selling or donating development rights, which can lower property taxes, while retaining the right to work it for maple syrup production, lumber, firewood and other uses.

The group also plans to work with communities to create community forests like the Shapleigh Town Forest, a 500-acre woodland next to the 5,000-acre state-owned Vern Walker Wildlife Management area.

By keeping land undeveloped, the group will also protect the area’s watersheds, said Bill Hutchins, chairman of the Shapleigh Conservation Committee.

The group is seeking foundations and other sources of funding to help it map areas to focus on, and later to protect.

Landowners in western York County are typically private individuals with tracts of 30 to 300 acres, rather than large timber companies, which own most of the North Woods. Many of the region’s wooded parcels have been owned by the same families for generations, said Hilary Wallis, director of the Francis Small Heritage Trust, which operates in Limington, Cornish, Newfield and Parsonsfield.

Protecting large tracts of woods is important to wildlife, Wallis said. “The land we want to protect can also be habitat for endangered insects, amphibians and birds,” she said.

The project area includes Acton, Alfred, Cornish, Lebanon, Limerick, Limington, Newfield, Parsonsfield, Sanford and Shapleigh.

Other participants in the project include the Maine Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, York County Soil and Water Conservation District, Maine Association of Conservation Commissions, Alfred Conservation Commission, Shapleigh Conservation Commission, Maine Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Resources Conservation Service.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]