In late September, after some four years of deliberation and revisions, the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) approved Plum Creek’s final concept plan for the Moosehead Lakes Region. I would like to share with you The Nature Conservancy’s perspectives on this decision. But first, I would like to celebrate the historic conservation outcomes made possible by this process.
A Stunning Collection of Conservation Outcomes
This decision results in the lasting conservation of some 400,000 acres. Imagine that. That is roughly 95 percent of the proposal’s total acreage, with only five percent allowed for development. Envision a two-million-acre “corridor of conservation” across the North Woods, as these new protected areas connect with places already in conservation. Consider dozens of remote ponds removed from the threat of development, all within a landscape with working forests, guaranteed ecological protections, and public access.
This magnificent conservation accomplishment includes the following components:
- The Moose River Reserve represents 15,000 acres of natural and recreational treasures that will be acquired by The Nature Conservancy and managed as an ecological reserve. As a result of the purchase, the last unprotected portions of Number 5 Bog (one of the largest, most diverse and least disturbed peatlands in the Eastern U.S.) and the famous Moose River Bow Trip (among the best-known remote paddling routes in the state) will be completely conserved.
- The Roach Ponds Parcel includes more than 29,500 acres straddling the headwaters of the Kennebec, Penobscot and Pleasant Rivers. With 10 remote ponds and stunning natural scenery, this land completes a corridor of protection along the 100-Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Mountain Club will purchase this parcel to protect special ecological areas and provide access for year-round recreation and sustainable forestry.
- The 363,000-acre Moosehead Region Conservation Easement, one of the largest easements in the U.S., anchors the project. It comprises 97,000 acres contributed by Plum Creek Timber Co. plus 266,000 acres being purchased by the partners at the remarkable bargain price of $37 per acre. Strong ecological protections, sustainable forestry practices and public access for traditional recreation are guaranteed. The Forest Society of Maine will be the easement holder.
The Real Choice: Planned vs. Unplanned Development
It is important to remember that the choice is not between this plan and a “forever wild” protected area. The choice is between this proposal — a landscape-scale, comprehensive plan — and other development plans that Plum Creek could pursue. These other plans may not require LURC approval and could ultimately be far more harmful to recreation and wildlife habitats in the North Woods.
These risks are clear when looking at the current plan alongside other development scenarios that Plum Creek had the right to pursue under current regulations. Under the most likely alternative scenario, Plum Creek could have built 618 houses and one resort with minimal conservation, as opposed to the 821 houses and two resorts allowed today. So, for allowing 203 additional homes and one additional resort — all developed under strict guidelines so as not to pose undue adverse impact to the region or its resources — the people of Maine have secured more than 400,000 acres of conservation. That is the balance that LURC deemed to be consistent with its mandate and standards.
A Thorough Process
In 2005, Plum Creek and the State — who had been negotiating on smaller parcels and development plans in the Moosehead area — decided to take a more comprehensive approach. Instead of piecemeal development, Plum Creek agreed to deliver a landscape-scale proposal across nearly half of their holdings in Maine.
The State invited The Nature Conservancy to join the discussions to help represent conservation interests. The Board of The Nature Conservancy approved our involvement in these negotiations based on two conditions: first, that we identify and preserve the ecological gems of the area and, second, that we arrange a deal flexible enough to allow for improvements within the LURC process.
LURC has been deeply engaged in deliberations over the concept plan. Many stakeholders from many schools of thought have presented their perspectives. The commission called upon specialists in conservation, science, economics and development to testify on every aspect of the proposal. LURC recorded and reviewed all of this input, and considered it in the context of fairness and legal precedents.
LURC’s amendments to Plum Creek’s plan, which include a significant reduction in acreage developed at Lily Bay and the complete elimination of development for the north shore of Long Pond, have greatly improved the original plan. While reasonable people may certainly disagree with the commission’s ultimate decision, LURC staff, consultants and commissioners deserve our respect for their thoroughness.
I encourage you to regularly visit our Web site at nature.org/maine for ongoing news on conservation in the North Woods. We are committed to keeping our members up-to-date on the ongoing conservation opportunities within this globally-significant landscape.
Thank you once again for your time and your continued support of our work.
Michael Tetreault, Executive Director