Forest Legacy Program
The Forest Legacy Program is a potentially valuable tool for conserving working forest in York County. The federal program is specifically aimed at preserving working forests threatened by conversion to other uses. Maine has been very successful in attracting Forest Legacy Program funding. Since 1994, Maine has secured more than $51 million and permanently protecting through fee or easements more than 700,000 acres of working forest. To be eligible for funding in Maine, a project must be located within the jurisdiction of the Forest Legacy Committee. Its boundaries have traditionally conformed to the study area of the Northern Forest Lands Council, which did not include York County. In 2001, the Forest Legacy Committee amended its boundaries to include Parsonsfield and Cornish and a dozen other towns. In its 2010 Assessment of Need, the Forest Legacy Committee created formal criteria for amending its boundaries.
On Feb. 27, 2012, members of Forest Works asked the Forest Legacy Committee to amend its boundaries again to include the ten-town Forest Works! region. Below is the written material presented to the committee. A decision is pending.
Three Rivers Land Trust, Francis Small Heritage Trust, York County Soil and Water Conservation District, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Maine Forest Service, Maine Association of Conservation Commissions, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials
Forest Works! is a regional conservation initiative operating in a ten-town area of western York County, Maine. The region includes the service center community of Sanford, population 20,798, as well as nine smaller towns: Alfred, Lebanon, Acton, Shapleigh, Newfield, Limerick, Limington, Cornish and Parsonsfield. Historically, forestry has been a maintstay of the local economy and today nine sawmills still operate. A rigorous approach to land conservation is needed in this region for two key reasons: first, the region still contains exceptional unfragmented natural areas of significant size to support many critical wildlife populations and maintain high water quality; and second, these natural areas face very real threats associated with rapid population growth and development. For multiple reasons, this region should be eligible for protection under the Forest Legacy program. Cornish and Parsonsfield are the only towns currently within the boundaries of Maine’s Forest Legacy program, but the entire region deserves to be included because it meets the criteria spelled out in the 2010 Assessment of Need report. Specifically, the region meets the following criteria:
1. It includes forest land threatened by conversion to non-forest uses;
Based on the findings of a 2006 Brooking’s Institution report, between 1980 and 2000, southern Maine saw home construction and other development change the character of 100,000 of its rural acres—some 30 percent of its total. If present trends continue, it is projected that Cumberland and York Counties will lose 195,000 acres of private timberlands and 46,000 acres of agricultural land by 2050, according to the Woods Hole Research Center. These lands will go into an estimated 208,000 acres of new urban land (Plantings et al. 1999), an increase of 56 percent. Poorly planned commercial and residential development has been a major cause of losses of open space and habitat fragmentation.
2. It provides opportunities for traditional forest uses and contains the following public values:
a. the production of timber, fiber and other forest products;
Maine Department of Labor figures show that at least 370 were employed in the region’s forest and outdoor recreation industry in 2011. These jobs were in: logging; support activities for forestry; sawmills; wood container and pallet manufacture; miscellaneous wood product manufacture; wood kitchen cabinet and countertop manufacture; wood office furniture manufacturing; RV parks and recreational camps. The DOL does not count self employment, which may include woodworkers, foresters, and firewood dealers. Local mills produce beams, timbers, boards, clapboards, studs, decking, siding, chips and shavings. Eastern white pine is the premiere product, but red pine, hemlock, cedar and oak are also shipped.
b. economic benefits from non-timber resources;
The region supports 11 maple syrup producers and five Christmas tree farms.
c. public recreation opportunities, including tourism activities;
The region contains more than 20,000 acres of conserved woodland open to fishing, hunting, hiking and some motorized vehicle use. This includes the 8,600-acre Leavitt Plantation, the 5,500-acre Vernon Walker Wildlife Management Area, the 3,700-acre Massabesic Experimental Forest, the 2,100-acre Waterboro Barrens, and the 1,100-acre Little Ossipee Wildlife Management Area. Eleven snowmobile clubs maintain trails in the region; The AMC River Guide provides paddler information for seven rivers in the region: Salmon Falls River, Mousam River, Great Works River, Ossipee River, Saco River, Little Ossipee River and Little River; DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer identifies 16 boat launches and seven campgrounds. The region includes one of Maine’s 22 Important Bird Areas.
d. high value plant and animal habitat as identified by state, regional, or federal programs; habitat for rare, threatened or endangered plant or animal species; and rare or exemplary natural communities;
The region includes 11 of Maine’s 140 Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance as identified in the Maine Wildlife Action Plan; known occurrences of one third of all animal species listed under Maine’s Endangered Species Act; 18 animal species included on the Maine Special Concern list and a full 75 of Maine’s 213 Species of Greatest Conservation Need as included in the State Wildlife Action Plan. Plant diversity in this critical region is comparable with 50 rare plant species tracked by the Maine Natural Areas Program known to occur; 11 of the 57 natural community types considered rare in Maine by the Maine Natural Areas Program; and 12 mapped exemplary ecosystems and natural communities.
e. water supply and watershed protection, and/or important riparian areas, wetlands, shorelines, or river systems;
High value riparian habitats and exemplary wetland communities are found throughout the area. Seven towns lie within the Saco River watershed, the source of drinking water for 250,000 people in 35 towns, including 14,500 in Saco, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach. Three towns lie within the watershed of the Salmon Falls River, the source of drinking water for 28,000 people. Salmon Falls River and other rivers in the Piscataqua Region are identified as the most threatened in the nation with regard to a potential decline in water quality due to conversion of private forested lands to housing, according to the U.S Forest Service 2009 report “Private Forests, Public Benefits.” Many households rely on private groundwater wells within this region to provide clean drinking water.
f. scenic resources (such as mountain viewsheds, undeveloped shorelines, visual access to water, and areas along state highway systems
Mount Hope, Fort Ridge, Abbott Mountain, Sawyer Mountain and Cedar Mountain, all of which are accessible to hikers, are well known for their views of both Mount Washington and the Atlantic Ocean. All seven rivers identified above are known for scenic vistas, some of which are visible from state and local roads. Pequawket Trail Scenic Byway along Route 113 has many fine views of the region. DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazatteer highlights the Parsonsfield-Porter covered bridge (1876) and a scenic waterfall at Steep Falls.
g. historic/cultural/tribal resources of significance;
Among the exhibits at Willowbrook 19th Century Village in Newfield are historical tools and equipment used in logging, maple syrup production, box making, woodworking, carriage making, cabinet making. There are many reminders of the 1947 Forest Fire, a significant event in the state’s history, which wiped out the village of West Newfield and 130,000 acres of woods in York County. Both the Shapleigh Community Forest and Sid Emery Demonstration Forest, which today are models of exemplary forestry, were created from tax-foreclosed property acquired following the fire. The fire towers on Mount Hope, Fort Ridge and Ossipee Hill are legacies of this earlier era of forest fire protection, when manned lookouts were often the difference between a localized brush fire and a devastating conflagration. As further evidence of the continuing importance of forestry to the region, volunteers continued to staff York County fire towers following the state’s discontinuation of paid staffing in the 1990s, the last region of the state to do so.
3. It contains parcels on which more than 50% of the land meets the definition of commercial forest land (the Maine Forest Legacy Program also assures compliance with the requirement that compatible non-forest uses account for “less than 25% of the total area” as described in the federal Forest Legacy Program Implementation Guidelines).
Based on 2006 Maine Land Cover Data, more than 85% of this region remains forested. Many of the mapped undeveloped forest blocks in this region exceed 4,000 acres.