Piecing Together the Puzzle

Piecing Together the Puzzle:  Farms, Forests and Water
GWRLT Strategic Conservation Plan

It is not about land, or acres, or projects, but about all the life that occurs in that thin layer from a few feet underground to the tops of the trees.

Farms, Forests, and Water is the title of the Land Trust’s just released Strategic Conservation Plan providing the guideline for the organization’s land protection efforts over the next 15 years. Why farms, forests, and water? Because these three landscapes provide what we and our communities need to thrive; clean air, clean water, and food. When we depend on the resources of natural communities it is our responsibility to manage those communities in a sustainable way. Land conservation accomplishes this goal by protecting these resources for generations to come.

This document is the result of two years of work, dozens of meetings, and includes the input from 179 people in our communities. The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve was a key partner in the development process as well as producing all the maps in the final copy. The Plan will help Board members focus their work and communicate to funders and the six towns the Trust’s top priorities and why. Summary

The Coastal Maine National Wildlife Refuge’s purpose when it was first established in 1966 was to find and conserve land to prevent the overdevelopment of land. Later renamed in honor of Rachel Carson, the Refuge continues to work towards its goal. As a result of the Refuge’s efforts, there are currently 10,492 acres of conservation land in the Eliot, South Berwick, Berwick, North Berwick, Wells and Ogunquit communities. Great Works Regional Land Trust is responsible for almost 40% of that total, through it’s work over the past 23 years. This growth in conservation lands occurred even as the population of the six towns more than doubled since 1960.

Interviews and surveys with 179 individuals conducted for this plan show that many of the same issues and trends that inspired the formation of GWRLT are still very much affecting the region. These include the loss of “rural qualities,” such as wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, farms, and scenic views, which many feel characterize their communities. One emerging issue is the importance of water quality, which has made its way into one of the top five concerns.

A central question of the effort to permanently protect land has emerged: how much conservation land is enough? This proposal does not contain an exact answer, but GWRLT believes there should be, at a minimum, enough natural and working landscapes to ensure that our communities remain desirable and healthy places to live. This means that our water is clean, wildlife and wild places are abundant and accessible, our landscape is pleasing to view, and there is ready access to fuel, food, and lumber.

To move toward this vision, GWRLT’s goal is to double the amount of conservation land in our towns by 2025 through work with landowners, partners, and municipalities. This will add 10,000 acres of permanently protected land that will keep water clean, wildlife abundant, support recreation, and allow farms and woodlots to sustain themselves. GWRLT also recognizes that options for permanent protection will not suit all landowners and will seek other strategies to assist them in keeping their properties in a natural and productive condition.

"In a time of dwindling resources the GWRLT Strategic Conservation Plan can provide a much needed focus for conservation in our region. The ability of GWRLT to cross municipal boundaries with their land conservation efforts is a tremendous resource for the towns in one of the most rapidly growing regions in Maine. It is a benefit to not only the Land Trust and its members but to the towns where GWRLT works."
Paul Schumacher, Director
Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission
Land Uses
By the 1970s, Southern Maine was once again 85% forested where just a century before it had been 85% open. Since the 1970s, there has been a second transition from forests, but this time to roads, roofs, lawns, and parking lots. The impact on water quality and wildlife is profound.

"Southern Maine has the largest number of species, most rare and endangered species, highest concentration of people, least amount of conservation land in the state."
Mark McCullough
Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (1988)
Conservation Priorities
If GWRLT can ensure clean water, large intact forests, and productive farms it would largely accomplish what residents feel are the critical environmental resources, also the ones most at risk to damage and loss.

In our six communities, there is a total of 8,474 acres of riparian buffer. 407 acres are already developed, 424 acres are impaired (lawns, etc.), which leaves 7,613 acres intact. Currently, 914 acres (10.8% of total) are permanently protected.

The six rivers in our region are all on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection list of Nonpoint Source Priority Watersheds due to impacts of development, bacteria and low dissolved oxygen. Land use changes, particularly in the riparian buffers and wetlands are having negative impacts in the ecosystem.

Large undeveloped forest blocks offer conservation opportunities that include wildlife habitat, water protection, wood products and recreation.
Four undeveloped blocks greater than 5,000 acres occur partially within the GWRLT service area – two in the Mt. Agamenticus area, one in North Berwick and one in Berwick. Within these large forest blocks (total 17,975 acres) identified by Beginning with Habitat, 5,274 acres are conserved.

Farms and Farm Soils
Southern York County has a vibrant yet threatened agricultural community. In the recent past, there were hundreds of local farms. Today there are 29 commercial farms. Our longterm goal is to permanently protect Prime agricultural soils for future conversion back to farmland.

34.45% of our six towns, or 41, 348 acres,
has soil types good for farming.
4. 3%, or 1,785 acres, have been conserved.

Read the entire Strategic Conservation Plan to find out more about GWRLT’s conservation priorities and strategies for implementation.