This landmark project marked a pair of monumental “firsts” for The Nature Conservancy. It was the first time a conservation group had ever financed a paper mill and the first use of New Market Tax credits to attract an investor to an environmental project. In August 2002, the Conservancy and the former Great Northern Paper Company entered into an innovative agreement to protect more than 240,000 acres of forest land around Maine's Mount Katahdin. This partnership preserved biodiversity and working forests in one of the most beautiful and ecologically important stretches of the 31 million-acre Northern Forest, which extends from Canada to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The forward-thinking financial strategies used to accomplish this conservation have become a model for Conservancy projects around the country and for nonprofit groups throughout Maine
The lands around Mount Katahdin boast thousands of acres of mature forests, some of which have not been harvested in 70 to 100 years or more. The property includes the Debsconeag Lakes region, which contains the highest concentration of remote ponds in New England and encompasses a 15-mile portion of the “Hundred Mile Wilderness” section of the Appalachian Trail.
The Katahdin Forest Project protects some 241,000 acres within the context of Maine's working forests (46,000 acres in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area and 195,000 in the Katahdin Forest Easement). Project lands connect to Baxter State Park, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, the State’s Nahmakanta reserve, and the Conservancy’s Trout Mountain Preserve, creating nearly 500,000 acres of contiguous conservation land.
To the north and west, the broader context for the Katahdin Forest Project includes the 750,000-acre Pingree Working Forest Easement and 329,000 acres protected with a no-development conservation easement under the West Branch Project. The proposed Moosehead Forest Project would conserve over 400,000 acres, some of which are contiguous with Katahdin Forest Project lands.
In 2002 Great Northern Paper transfered 46,000 acres in the fabled Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area to The Nature Conservancy. The company also placed a conservation easement on 195,000 acres of forestland around Mount Katahdin, which guarantees public access, traditional recreational uses, sustainable forestry, and no future development. The Conservancy purchased $50 million of Great Northern Paper’s debt, retiring $14 million of it and refinancing the balance at less than half of the note’s current rate. This provided low-cost, long-term financing to Great Northern Paper with the aim of maintaining the regional economy.
The Conservancy then used New Market Tax Credits to attract an investor who bought the loan from the Conservancy. In 2006, the Conservancy transferred the 195,000-acre Katahdin Forest Easement to the state, along with a stewardship endowment of half a million dollars. The Millinocket area continues to work toward a diversified economic base which includes sustainable forestry, tourism and outdoor recreation, all of which benefit from the conservation of Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area and Katahdin Forest Easement lands.
Download a project map. (642KB.pdf)