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The Open Space Institute Helps Safeguard 10,000 Acres Adjoining Appalachian Trail in Maine

FRANKLIN COUNTY, ME (June 21, 2018)—Grant support from the Open Space Institute (OSI) has led to the protection of nearly 10,000 acres of land along the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of Western Maine. The project, spearheaded by The Trust for Public Land (TPL), will help support Maine’s growing outdoor recreation economy, while protecting critical habitat for the Northeast’s most imperiled songbird and other species along the US-Canadian border.

The newly-protected 9,580-acre Redington Forest tract includes forests, streams and ridgelines. OSI’s decade-old Transborder Fund, the only private conservation fund focused on cross-border wildlife migration along the US-Canada divide, supported this key project. The Fund has been effective in helping conserve an assemblage of land in the area along the Appalachian Trail, including neighboring Crocker Mountain, conserved in 2013, and nearby Orbeton Stream, protected in 2015.

Redington Forest includes critical habitat for the Northeast’s most imperiled songbird, the Bicknell's Thrush.
Redington Forest includes critical habitat for the Northeast’s most imperiled songbird, the Bicknell's Thrush.
Photo Credit: T. B. Ryder, USFWS

Conservation of the Redington Forest also knits together about 60,000 acres of protected land in an ecological corridor that is important for wildlife movement. Much of this acreage is critical for the federally endangered Bicknell’s Thrush, which breeds only in high elevation areas in this region and across into Canada.

“Because the Bicknell Thrush and other wildlife carry no passports and observe no borders, protection along both sides of the US-Canada border is paramount to ensuring their protection,” said Jennifer Melville, vice president at OSI. “OSI congratulates The Trust for Public Land on this important achievement.”

For generations, the Western Maine Mountains have been a favorite destination for hiking, fishing, snowmobiling and hunting. Now, the land will be forever open to the public for these uses, which will help to support Western Maine’s growing outdoor recreation economy. Large portions of the land will continue to be managed as a working forest to support Maine’s timber economy while also providing clean water.

“When you’re hiking in these mountains, it’s easy to think that the views and remote experiences we have will always be there for us,” said Betsy Cook, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land, “but the reality is that much of land is still vulnerable to drastic change or lack of public access.”

The conserved land will also help to protect a hiker’s experience along the Appalachian Trail, through some of Maine’s highest peaks. Though almost the entire Appalachian Trail footpath is protected, much of the land immediately adjacent to the Appalachian Trail is still very vulnerable to development.

OSI has systematically worked for decades to extend the buffer around key, vulnerable portions of the Appalachian Trail, and its effort is taking on new significance in an era of climate change. After completing climate-resilience analyses, OSI concluded that the Trail traverses one of the most consistently intact and resilient corridors in the East, allowing plants and animals to shift patterns and territories in response to uncertain temperatures and rainfall.

These land conservation efforts are especially evident near the northern end of the Appalachian Trail where, among Maine’s highest peaks, the corridor links to vast conserved tracts. Those undeveloped expanses offer abundant habitat, creating a landscape that scientists expect will provide wildlife with refuge from climate disruptions.

In addition to OSI’s grant, much of the funding for the acquisition of the conservation easements came through the U.S. Navy and the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, as the property is adjacent to a Navy remote wilderness training facility. Protection of these tracts prevents incompatible development that could negatively affect the military’s training goals and overall readiness. The REPI program is geared to ensuring dual military and conservation successes in communities surrounding installations.

“This project was an ideal REPI Program candidate as it allowed the Navy to maintain a realistic training environment while also conserving land which supports the public’s continued enjoyment of the wilderness experience,” said Commander, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Capt. David Hunt. “We will all benefit from its successful conclusion now and in the future.” The Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust and the U.S. Navy now co-hold a permanent conservation easement on the property.

Support for the Redington Forest project also came from the Elmina B. Sewall and Summer Hill foundations.

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