The 17-acre parcel of untouched land on Westport Island is home to a black spruce bog, full of pine trees and a freshwater pond, which will show the effects of climate change over time. Photo courtesy of Jack Witham 

WESTPORT ISLAND — The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust has a new tool to track the impact of climate change on the Maine coast thanks to a nuclear power company.

Last week, Maine Yankee, a decommissioned power plant in Wiscasset, donated 17 acres of untouched habitat on neighboring Westport Island to the trust to serve as a wildlife preserve.

While the land was previously used by the public for recreation, Carrie Kinne, the trust’s executive director, said the land’s main purpose will be tracking the effects of climate change.

The land, near the corner of Main Road and Greenleaf Road, is primarily a black spruce bog — Maine’s most common type of forested bog but a rare habitat type in Midcoast Maine, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The bog contains primarily black spruce trees and peat, a marshy soil made from partially decayed vegetation. Black spruce bogs serve as habitats for bird species including olive-sided flycatchers and three-toed woodpeckers. The land also includes a small freshwater pond surrounded by rose pogonias, a species of orchid.

“(The land) has a unique ecosystem because it’s never been touched,” said Kinne. “Any change in vegetation can indicate climate change … I think it can tell us what’s going on in our area.”

Bogs naturally have wet soil, which allows changing water levels to be easily tracked because of the way it affects plants within the bog, according to Jack Witham, chairman of the trust’s land acquisition committee.

“The species found on that land could start to change if the temperature changes because they can’t adapt quickly,” said Witham. “If water levels go down it could cause vegetation to change because of drought. It’s not something that is going to happen tomorrow, but perhaps 25 years down the road we’ll start to see the changes.”

Maine Yankee purchased the land in 1974 with a plan to build a cooling discharge tunnel for the nuclear power site that never came to fruition, according to Eric Howes, Maine Yankee’s director of public and government affairs.

The power plant was decommissioned in 1996 after the company’s board voted to cease operations rather than invest in fixing expensive safety-related problems to keep the plant running. The site now holds 64 canisters of spent nuclear fuel, totaling 542 metric tons.

“Because Maine Yankee never used the (Westport Island) parcel, they were conservationists without knowing it, and that’s a great thing,” said Kinne.

The 17-acre parcel adds to the land trust’s 330 protected acres on Westport Island and 3,900 acres in the estuary region.

“This is a type of bog that is not present on any of the trust’s other protected lands, so it is exciting to see that we are still able to complete new and surprising land protection projects after 30 years,” said Kinne.

A statement from the trust said public access is limited until trails and parking can be established.

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