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Maine

Moosehead Forest Project: Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to some frequently asked questions about the Moosehead Purchase and Sale Agreement.

March 15, 2012:
Big News: The Maine Law Court has cleared the way for a 363,000-acre Moosehead Forest conservation easement, the largest contiguous forest easement in Maine. Read our statement..

  1. What does the Moosehead Forest Conservation Project accomplish?  
  2. What price will be paid for these conservation lands?  
  3. Where is the process now? 
  4. Has the Plum Creek Concept Plan changed dramatically since its first version?  
  5. Have there been changes to the conservation easements? 
  6. Has The Nature Conservancy weighed in on the LURC process? 
  7. Does the Conservation Framework place pressure on the Land Use Regulation Commission to approve the Concept Plan submitted by Plum Creek? 
  8. What do you think of Plum Creek’s plan? 
  9. Would a decision not to approve the Concept plan mean no development will ever take place around Moosehead Lake? 
  10. What are the differences between the Balance Easement and the Moosehead Legacy Easement?
  11. Will funders be getting their money’s worth?
  12. Does the Conservancy have the funds to pay for this?
  13. Will the conservation easement qualify for state funding under the Land for Maine’s Future Program?
  14. Aren’t some conservation easements donated?
  15. Some folks have identified areas they wish had been included in the Conservation Framework. Why aren’t those areas protected here?
  16. How will the Agreement be affected by debate over endangered Canada lynx?
  17. What are the terms of the conservation easements?
  18. What will happen to motorized vehicle (ATV and snowmobile) access on the easement property?
  19. What will happen to leaseholders on these lands? 
  20. Will any portion of the Conservation Framework lands be purchased regardless of LURC's decision on the Concept Plan? 

    Skip to Glossary 
  1. What does the Moosehead Forest Conservation Project accomplish?
    The Project permanently guarantees public access, sustainable forestry, and wildlife habitat protection on about 400,000 acres. This total comprises the 363,000-acre Moosehead Region Conservation Easement, the 15,000 acre Moose River Reserve, and the 29,500-acre Roach Ponds Parcel. This links some 2 million acres of conservation lands across northern Maine.
     
  2. What price will be paid for these conservation lands?
    The total purchase price for fee and easement components is $30.4 million. The easement component price of approximately $10 million total is based on a rate of $37.00 per acre, the same per acre price paid ten years ago for a forest easement with less stringent restrictions. This discounted rate results in a discount from fair market value of $10 million dollars (est.). The lands to be purchased are priced at $15.1 million for 44,500 acres, and an endowment for ongoing stewardship on these acquired lands is set at $5.3 million. 
     
  3. Where is the process now?
    After three years of deliberations, LURC approved Plum Creek’s revised and final plan in late September 2009. 
     
  4. Has the Plum Creek Concept Plan changed dramatically since its first version?
    Yes. The Concept Plan first submitted in 2005 has undergone major revisions. Each revision has addressed concerns brought forward by Maine people and LURC staff. A side by side comparison shows the dramatic nature of the changes. In contrast with the first submittal and in concert with the Moosehead Conservation Framework, some 97% of the area under consideration would be placed in permanent conservation status, an area far larger than Androscoggin County.

    It is important to note the significant extent of these changes, because a great deal of the information still being circulated deals with criticisms of the original proposal. Since many of these criticisms have now been addressed, this information may mislead those seeking current information. LURC held several public hearings on Plum Creek's Concept Plan, receiving extensive comments from hundreds of Maine citizens. Hearings for the Commission and staff to question subject matter experts and interested parties were also held. Following these hearings, staff consolidated all feedback, and the Commission proposed plan amendments which would be required for approval of the plan.
     
  5. Have there been changes to the conservation easements?
    Yes. Plum Creek has responded to those who sought clarification of the terms in the Balance Easement and the Moosehead Legacy Easement and those who felt additional protections would strengthen the easements (see questions 10, 15, 16, 17 and 20 below for information about the two easements). From the announcement of the Moosehead Conservation Framework in March 2006, the Conservancy and its partners have made clear our willingness to incorporate appropriate changes in the easement documents that met Plum Creek and LURC approval. A summary of these changes may be viewed here.
     
  6. Has The Nature Conservancy weighed in on the LURC process?
    LURC has designated The Nature Conservancy an Interested Party in these proceedings. We applied for such status to ensure that we have the time and opportunity to provide as much information as LURC requires as it reviews the Concept Plan. We have limited our involvement in the process to answering questions LURC staff or commissioners have about the rationale for and the provisions of the Conservation Framework. We have also shared information regarding the conservation values The Nature Conservancy has identified within the plan area. We submitted formal testimony on August 31, 2007 and rebuttal testimony to address misconceptions found in other parties’ testimony in September 2007. In December 2008 Nature Conservancy staff responded to questions from interveners, interested parties, and the Commission during extensive party hearings. We were able to clarify outstanding questions regarding the Conservation Framework, its specific details, and how we would pay for it.
     
  7. Does the Conservation Framework place pressure on the Land Use Regulation Commission to approve the Concept Plan submitted by Plum Creek?
    As we have made clear from the outset, the Conservancy’s work with Plum Creek is not intended to pre-empt in any way the independent analysis and decision-making of Maine’s regulatory body, the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC). We understand how the plan review process works and respect the important roles that the LURC staff and commissioners play and the importance of broad public input. For that reason, the Purchase and Sale Agreement was structured to allow LURC and Plum Creek flexibility during the plan review process. It is still up to LURC, and only LURC, to decide whether the Plum Creek Concept Plan is compatible with its planning goals for the State of Maine.
     
  8. What do you think of Plum Creek’s plan?
    The Nature Conservancy has taken no position on the Concept Plan that Plum Creek has submitted to LURC. Our work with the company has addressed conservation that aligns with our scientific analysis of the needs of North Woods habitats and species. That said, we do believe that the Moosehead Conservation Framework represents an outstanding conservation opportunity that LURC should consider in making its decision.
     
  9. Would a decision not to approve the Concept plan mean no development will ever take place around Moosehead Lake?
    No. Development can and will take place in the absence of any concept plan. We need to ask how much development is inevitable and whether piecemeal development would offer similar protections for wildlife habitat and public access. No matter what LURC decides on the pending proposal, existing law already gives the company the ability to develop extensively across the 400,000 acres covered by the plan.

    So, this is not a question of development versus no development. Rather it is a choice between a planned development proposal with clearly stated conservation benefits—a proposal that is open to public inspection and comment—and unplanned development with no agreed-upon game plan and no assurance of comparable conservation.
     
  10. What are the differences between the Balance Easement and the Moosehead Legacy Easement?
    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. (once called the “Balance easement” plus 266,000 acres being purchased by the partners at the remarkable bargain price of $37 per acre (once called the “Legacy Easement.” The two easements are being developed under one process and are nearly identical in their terms and protections.
     
  11. Will funders be getting their money’s worth?
    This is a unique opportunity to capture permanent conservation at a favorable price. With the experience the Conservancy brings to this process, we simply would not go forward if we felt the price was not fair. We have policies that would prevent that, and we are answerable to our donors and to our public and private partners. We have independent appraisal data which document that the public would be getting a significant bargain sale with the Conservation Framework. The Nature Conservancy is committed to funding the Conservation Framework entirely through private fundraising; no public funding will be sought.
     
  12. Does the Conservancy have the funds to pay for this?
    Since we are fully committed and legally bound to close this transaction, we will need to mount a private fundraising campaign. We have kept this in mind throughout the negotiation process so that we can be confident that this represents a good deal for private funders. The funds required are significant, but we have no doubt we can accomplish this goal, the same way we funded the $35 million St. John River project with private funds in the late 1990s.

    We have also been pre-approved for bridge financing to ensure we can close in a timely manner. We are legally committed to find the money and go through with the Agreement.
    We will be raising funds in partnership with the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Forest Society of Maine. 
     
  13. Will the conservation easement qualify for state funding under the Land for Maine’s Future Program?
    The Nature Conservancy has agreed that it will fund the Legacy Easement entirely from private donations. No public monies will go toward the easement.
     
  14. Aren’t some conservation easements donated?
    Certainly, and while the Conservancy is delighted to accept gifts of land or interests in land when owners are able to offer them, we believe that landowners have every right to seek fair value for their land. That is the essence of a willing buyer/willing seller transaction, familiar to anyone who has ever purchased a home. The Conservancy has a long history of purchasing conservation easements when necessary to make sure important lands are permanently conserved. That being said, the Legacy Easement purchase includes a substantial bargain sale (donated) component, estimated at $10 million.
     
  15. Some folks have identified areas they wish had been included in the Conservation Framework. Why aren’t those areas protected here?
    In evaluating areas that should be protected from development, we used assessments of biological values as a baseline and then considered public access and sustainable forestry. We looked at connectivity as a major value—the connections, for example, of conservation lands to each other over the landscape and to major features like Big Spencer Mountain, Moosehead Lake and Baxter Park. As with the terms of the easements, we have remained open to the LURC process and ready to incorporate changes agreed upon by LURC and Plum Creek.
     
  16. How will the Agreement be affected by debate over endangered Canada lynx? The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is currently reviewing the final boundaries and management guidelines for lynx in Maine. Each of the eventual landowners within the Framework will need to make a determination on how USFWS policy would impact their land management plans. Information submitted to LURC by the recognized Canada lynx expert in Maine, Dr. Daniel Harrison of the University of Maine, supports the benefits of the Conservation Framework in maintaining lynx habitat, but also notes the large scale anticipated negative impacts of global warming on lynx habitat in Maine.
     
  17. What are the terms of the conservation easements?
    The conservation easements will limit development to those activities necessary for forest management. The easements will ensure public access for traditional uses like hunting, hiking, motorized access and overnight camping, protect important ecological attributes, and require the continuance of sustainable forest management under strict third-party review and with State oversight. Limited exceptions will be allowed to meet local community needs(e.g. gravel extraction for public road maintenance), and there is an opportunity for renewable wind power on the easement property, as long as the easement Holder determines that it will not significantly damage the conservation values of the easement area.
     
  18. What will happen to motorized vehicle (ATV and snowmobile) access on the easement property?
    ATV and snowmobile access will continue to be maintained on Plum Creek lands. Plum Creek will donate to Maine’s Bureau of Public Lands approximately 57 miles of road easements granting to the public the right to use major forest access roads throughout the protected property for public recreational use (including use for commercial recreation such as rafting, outfitters, and traditional outdoor guides) free of any public use fee.
     
  19. What will happen to leaseholders on these lands?
    This is always an important question when interests in large land holdings in Maine change hands. There are only a few leases on the lands that will be purchased and we do not anticipate any changes in those leases as a result of this sale.
     
  20. Will any portion of the Conservation Framework lands be purchased regardless of LURC's decision on the Concept Plan?
    Yes, the Moose River Reserve and the Roach Ponds Parcel will be purchased regardless of whether the concept plan is approved or not.
Glossary

Conservation Framework — the plan for conservation in the Moosehead region agreed upon in March of 2006 by The Nature Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Club, Forest Society of Maine, and Plum Creek. The Framework includes the conservation easement to be sold by Plum Creek, as well as that which would be provided to balance development. Also included are the Moose River and Roach Ponds fee purchase parcels.

Purchase and Sale Agreement — the agreement signed in October of 2006 by The Nature Conservancy and Plum Creek. This agreement details the easement and fee lands to be purchased by the Conservancy and sets their prices. The Purchase and Sale Agreement solidifies the details of the Conservation Framework, but does not include the easements to be provided by Plum Creek to balance development.

Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) — the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission is part of the state Department of Conservation and serves as the planning and zoning authority for the state’s townships, plantations and unorganized areas. The Commission has land-use regulatory jurisdiction over these areas because they have no form of local government to administer land use controls, or they have chosen not to administer land use controls at the local level.

Concept Plan — a long-range plan submitted to LURC for development and conservation, usually involving changes to zoning regulations in the effected area. Concept plans are initiated by a landowner and must be approved by LURC. The LURC standards and procedures for reviewing concept plans are fairly different from those used to review specific development proposals.

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