More than 200 private landowners from across the country gathered in Bangor Thursday to talk about conservation and how they can collaborate to protect wildlife while also expanding commercial forestry.
Finding a balance between conservation economic interests remains a big challenge, but stakeholders from both sides say there’s room for middle ground.
One place for middle ground is a conservation easement. Typically purchased from or donated by a landowner, easements extinguish development rights and protect public access, but they also allow the same landowner to continue to farm or cut the land.
During the Private Lands Partners Day conference, Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Maine currently protects about 20 percent of private lands through easements or other agreements. She said increasing that percentage remains a challenge as landowners consider development and other restrictions.
“Private landowners, particularly the large private landowners, obviously have economic interests — they own big swaths of land, mostly in the North Woods, and they’re interested in making a profit,” she said.
Jim Robbins, whose family company manages about 28,000 acres of land in the Searsmont area and in the Nicatous Lake region of northern Hancock County, said stricter regulations governing the use of the property can dramatically increase the value of an easement. And he said that’s an advantage for landowners who can use the money to defray lumbering costs on other portions of the property.
“We’re very much in favor of conservation easements — in fact, we did the first really big conservation easement in the state of Maine back in 1999,” he said. “We put a conservation easement on 23,000 acres around Nicatous Lake and west lake and since then we’ve done three smaller conservation easements, one on the Union River and then one in Appleton and one in Warren, Maine.”
While many landowners and timber harvesters support public access to their properties through easements and other mechanisms, others remain leery, in part because of outdoor enthusiasts who don’t respect private property.
“It doesn’t take very much to destroy a road during the spring season, and if you’re a small landowner with a pickup truck or an ATV that goes down your road in mud season when everyone else is off the road, you do quite a bit of damage,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, who works with private landowners to try to balance competing interests. “That liability, that environmental liability, for putting sediment into a stream, also stays with the landowner.”
The Private Lands Partners Day event held in Bangor is the 10th such workshop to be held nationally and is dedicated to community-based conservation efforts.