In the remote forests of northern Maine, The Nature Conservancy has linked together a 50-mile stretch of protected river in the upper St. John watershed, from Baker Lake to the Seven Islands. The process began with a 1998 purchase encompassing 40 running miles of the river, and added 10 more miles this week with an exchange with Stetson Timberlands.
The Conservancy traded just over 5,000 acres of timberland with low conservation value for conservation on more than 9,000 acres of forests, wetlands and river corridors owned by Stetson Timberlands. Of these lands, The Nature Conservancy will own 1,780 acres and hold a conservation easement on the remaining 7,280 acres.
"The upper St. John River watershed is an ecological gem of national significance,” said Mike Tetreault, The Nature Conservancy’s Maine State Director. “These newly-protected lands include nearly five miles fronting the main stem of the St. John River, and more than six miles on its Southwest Branch. These lands connect to existing preserved areas and create a 50-mile continuous stretch of protected river in the upper St. John watershed.”
The lands also include nearly 500 acres around an internationally recognized example of a rare peatland type. The patterned fen straddles the Quebec-Maine border and is home to the rare Quebec emerald dragonfly.
In 1998, The Nature Conservancy purchased 185,000 acres along the St. John, in the largest land deal the group had done in the United States to that date. Since that initial purchase, the Conservancy has continued to make conservation in the St. John River watershed a priority, preserving extensive areas around the river’s headwater ponds and Baker Lake.
Keeping the corridor in or near its natural condition is key to maintaining the ecological services that the river – and the trees and plants that grow alongside it – provides, such as clean drinking water and stable banks. It is also essential habitat for the North Woods wildlife that use the river corridor to drink, find food and move through the area.
“This transaction builds upon our initial purchase, where we acquired lands to manage for conservation forestry as well as the important ability to strategically trade land for additional areas of high conservation value within the watershed,” said the Conservancy’s associate state director Tom Rumpf. “The ability to trade land is an invaluable asset in an era of intense investor competition for timberland.”
The St. John River is the longest free-flowing river in the eastern United States, and among its wildest and most remote; the upper St. John River flows for 130 miles without passing a single settlement. Here, Canada lynx and black bear roam through stands of old-growth black spruce while rare yet hardy plants sprout at the river’s edge.
A 1981 study by Maine Rivers gave this watershed its highest rating for ecological, recreational and wild features. The area contains a healthy and diverse mix of forest communities, and the shores of the St. John provide habitat for more than 20 rare plant species in Maine. Only Mount Katahdin harbors a higher concentration of rare plants.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.