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In Maine: pristine miles of coastline

August 8, 2011 — In coastal Maine, the home of just under 600,000 year-round residents, August is one of the most pleasant months of the year, as warm temperatures and miles of beautiful shoreline draw scores of visitors into the region.

Stretching from Kittery to Lubec, the state's coastal zone—the longest of any Atlantic coast state at 3,478 miles—is critically important for wildlife populations as well. Sand dunes, tidal marshes and coastal wetlands, sculpted by centuries of natural shoreline evolution, provide the diverse breeding and feeding grounds that sustain a variety of migratory shorebirds, waterbirds and waterfowl.

However, Maine's shorelines are threatened on two fronts. Coastal structures, such as seawalls, associated with development can stop natural shoreline erosion in its tracks, while rising sea levels, accelerated by climate change, also threaten to disrupt the shore's natural erosion and migration patterns.

Both scenarios impede natural processes and eliminate habitat, making coastal conservation more important than ever.

Through its Saving New England's Wildlife initiative, the Open Space Institute just helped the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) establish the 237-acre Chase Reserve on Maquoit Bay, 20 miles north of Portland. The property is a key project in BTLT's efforts to preserve the unfragmented shoreline and forested watershed of Maquoit Bay, part of a federally designated "estuary of national significance."

Supporting nine key habitat types and 60 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including many migratory and resident birds, the parcel lies within a focus area identified by both the Maine State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) and the Rural Brunswick Smart Growth Plan.

"The Chase Reserve is part of Brunswick's largest remaining unfragmented coastal forest block," said Angela Twitchell, BTLT's executive director. "Previous BTLT efforts that were assisted by OSI helped to secure another portion of this important coastal block, also on Maquoit Bay. With these core areas protected, we can now work with smaller parcel owners to protect more of the habitat linkages."

Protection efforts on Maquoit Bay—which OSI also supported in 2010 with a SNEW grant that helped secure a conservation easement on 54 acres of coastal property—are in part designed to implement the town of Brunswick's planning efforts. The town's plan, adopted in 2004, calls for the conservation of an interconnected network of large forest blocks and wildlife corridors throughout rural portions of the town while incentivizing creative development approaches that accommodate habitat protection.

This conservation-heavy approach is Maine's best bet for preserving wildlife connectivity and hedging against the impacts of climate change on wildlife. Advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine have warned that climate impacts could lead to a dramatic rise in sea level and, ultimately, major damage to municipal infrastructure and wildlife habitat throughout the coastal region.

"BTLT's work in Maquoit Bay has resulted in the protection of significant undeveloped shore frontage," said Peter Howell, OSI's executive vice president. "By precluding residential development along these shores, natural erosion that allows for the upward and landward migration of fringing marsh habitat will continue. This is critically important for the dozens of species of shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl that rely on these coastal resources for food and shelter."

Since launching SNEW in the fall of 2009, OSI has helped local, regional and national land trusts protect 14,000 acres in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In addition to its work on Maquoit Bay, OSI has assisted in the conservation of 1,400 acres of threatened coastal habitat through three projects in Downeast Maine.

The Pleasant River Wildlife Foundation led a multi-partner effort to protect eight properties with 4.2 miles of intertidal shorelines and 656 acres of coastal wetlands and surrounding uplands. In conjunction with other conserved properties, this project protects 1,078 acres of contiguous lands, either directly abutting or joined at low tide via salt marsh or mudflat. Mason Bay's wetlands and upland buffer provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including Black Ducks, numerous shorebirds, bald eagles, sea-run brook trout and upland songbirds.

With OSI's help, Maine Coast Heritage Trust conserved six properties in Cobscook Bay, including a nationally significant coastal nesting island. Over 5,800 acres have been protected within the Cobscook Bay Focus Area, which made this project a high priority for state and federal wildlife agencies. Because of its irregular and largely undeveloped shoreline, extreme tides and high productivity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers Cobscook Bay to be one of the most outstanding habitats in the northeastern United States.

At Grain Point, OSI helped the Downeast Coastal Conservancy permanently protect the largest undeveloped and unfragmented parcel in Maine's Back Bay, near the mouth of the Narraguagus River—one of only 8 U.S. rivers that support the federally endangered Atlantic Salmon. The project area includes 1.54 miles of high-value coastal shorefront with habitat for wintering and migrating waterbirds, as well as 204 acres of wetlands and upland buffer.

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