SKOWHEGAN — Land management and conservation group Somerset Woods Trustees has acquired 192 acres of the ecologically sensitive Canaan Bog in East Skowhegan as part of a land swap with Central Maine Power Co.

The land is to be protected from development as a permanent wilderness preserve, group President Jack Gibson said.

“Central Power is upgrading their power line and in doing that, they are going to destroy some wetlands,” Gibson said. “They have to mitigate that destruction, in other words they have to make it as good as they can in return.”

As a way to “make it good,” the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection required the power company to purchase wetlands for protection in the same general area, Gibson said.

“Bogs have an incredible array of wildlife, right from the amphibians that are so important in bogs,” Gibson said. “Amphibians are kind of the food base of an ecosystem — frogs and salamanders — for all kinds of carnivores; foxes, raccoons, birds, owls, hawks and are very, very important. That kind of habitat supports a tremendous variety of wildlife. It’s wonderful cover for deer and moose.”

Mark Christopher, a biologist with TRC Solutions in Augusta, which assisted the power company with engineering, permitting and licensing for the land swap, said the Canaan Bog is called a kettle bog, a “hole” formed by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago.

“That type of bog, the kettle bog, is not common in Maine — it’s not really common anywhere in the country,” Christopher said. “So to have one that size — 300 or 400 acres — in that Skowhegan area is a unique ecosystem. It’s a rare habitat; very different than any other kind of wetland. Instead of having a firm soil, the bottom of the bog is made of this sort of floating moss layer, that’s part of what makes it a unique ecosystem.”

The power company purchased two large parcels of the James Moore Trust, which includes some of the Canaan Bog, and turned it over to Somerset Woods, power company spokesman John Carroll said. He said the company paid $400,000 for the twin parcels and donated $20,000 to the Somerset Woods stewarship fund.

He said the company is rebuilding power lines from the hydro station in Moscow to a new substation in Benton. The land swap is compensation by the company for wetlands in the area that were destroyed during construction.

Gibson said the swap comes with some restrictions.

“The Corps of Engineers were very stringent in the easement that they have put on the land and they are requiring that we only keep it for preservation purposes,” Gibson, said, noting that some of the land managed by the trustees is logged as part of the group’s endowment and income.

This land, he said, will not be developed or used for timber harvesting, but will be open to the public with controls and restrictions necessary to protect the environment. Motor vehicle traffic will not be allowed on the land.

“There is a significant vernal pool, but there is also high ground where wood has been harvested within the last 10 or 15 years,” Gibson said. As part of the agreement, no future timber harvesting is allowed, he said.

Gibson said the only allowed development is for educational purposes, such as a boardwalk to help people observe wildlife.

There are already trails in the protected land that can be used and a parking area has been cleared for the public just off East River Road, about four miles from U.S. Route 2, Gibson said.

Somerset Woods Trustees was founded in 1927 by special act of the Maine Legislature to protect and preserve land in Somerset County for the benefit of the public.

The organization owns 23 holdings on approximately 842 acres in lots of varying sizes scattered throughout Somerset County, most of them in the greater Skowhegan area. The trustees also hold conservation easements on another 643 acres of fields, forests and wetlands throughout the county.

Land parcels owned and maintained for public use by Somerset Woods Trustees include islands in the Kennebec River, woodlands that are managed for forest products and wildlife habitat, the boat launch and rest area on the Kennebec River on U.S. Route 2 in Skowhegan and a Little League baseball field and a playground in Skowhegan.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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