Lay of the Land

Photographer - Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson

When it comes to preserving Maine’s open spaces, a new report says quality should trump quantity.

Click here to listen to Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s Irwin Gratz speaking with Ryan Neale of the Maine Economic Growth Council about the future of land conservation in Maine.

[M]aine has conserved a lot of land — so much that the Maine Economic Growth Council (MEGC) stopped tallying the acreage after reaching 3.7 million acres in 2010 (a number that includes acreage protected by conservation easements). Recently, the MEGC collaborated with the Maine Development Foundation and the University of Maine on a report that looks to the future of Maine’s land conservation efforts. The takeaway, says MEGC program director Ryan Neale: future conservation programs should look not at a total amount of protected acreage, but instead at strategic plots to accomplish specific goals.

“Many of the acres that are currently conserved are in the more rural regions in the northern and eastern parts of the state,” explains Neale. “Often those have been the areas of sort of low-hanging fruit, targets of opportunity. They’re great depending on the specific goal of the conservation effort. If you’re looking to preserve wildlife habitat, that’s certainly a central focus of these holdings. If you’re looking for some other benefits, like working landscapes or creating recreational opportunities in and around population centers, that would be something where we’d certainly want to look more at southern and central Maine.”

One strategic goal, says Neale, might be simply to conserve small parklands near Portland. Another involves an emphasis on habitat connectivity, linking those parcels that are already conserved.

“There’s a vast amount of data out there that shows it’s not simply the number of acres that are conserved,” says Neale, “it’s which acreage is conserved. Are you connecting those large tracts of land?”

Right now, the MEGC report explains, there are 88 land trusts in Maine, the sixth highest total of any state — and as Neale points out, they cover a relatively small area, compared to vast western states. Can all 88 land trusts succeed in remaining financially viable and good stewards of the lands they conserve?

“Many of the land trusts we see now were formed around a specific issue, to preserve one specific area,” Neale explains. “One of the arguments we hope the report shines a light on is that it’s important for these organizations to work together to coordinate efforts among themselves and also with municipal and state governments, so that we have a more comprehensive approach going forward.”

This article is provided by our content partner, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN).

Photograph: Michael Wilson