Nancy is the Director of Land Management for The Nature Conservancy in Maine.
Nancy Sferra: Nancy is the Director of Land Management for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. © Phoebe Parker

Our People

Nancy Sferra

Director of Land Management, Maine

Maine

  • Areas of Expertise

    Fire management, terrestrial and wetland restoration, recreational management, invasive species

Biography

Nancy oversees land management activities and legal compliance monitoring work in Maine. This includes ecological and recreational management on our fee lands and ensuring all monitoring is completed and issues addressed for our conservation easements and restricted transfers and tradelands. In addition, she oversees protection projects that are additions to preserves and coordinates our preserve transfer work.

She implements restoration projects including the application of fire to manage sandplain grasslands and pine barrens; invasive species management; and restoration of wetlands impacted by former land use practices.

Her past professional work includes coordinating field research on soil invertebrates for Michigan State University and conducting field research and ecological monitoring for Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Nancy has a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management and a Master of Science in Biology with an emphasis in Wildlife Biology, both from Eastern Kentucky University.

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aerial view of a boardwalk crossing a heath
Saco Heath aerial Aerial view of boardwalk at Saco Heath Preserve © Ian Patterson

Saco Heath: Reflections on a Special Place

Since the start of my career as a land steward for The Nature Conservancy in Maine in 1994, I’ve had the privilege to care for a special place in southern Maine that thousands of people pass by every day without ever knowing it’s there. It is surrounded by busy roads and growing neighborhoods, but still manages to feel remote and otherworldly. Those that do visit—over 35,000 of them every year—are rewarded with an experience like none other in this part of the state.

Located only a few miles from Portland, Saco Heath Preserve features a hike along a forest trail to a boardwalk through an open spongy heath filled with mosses, grasses, and shrubs, and dotted with a unique variety of evergreens. In the spring, the heathland plants bloom, spreading a carpet of lavender, pink, and white across the land.

Yet despite its uniqueness, the conservation of this amazing place was by no means assured. A small peat mining operation began in the early 1970’s—the scars are still visible—and houses continue to be built just beyond the preserve’s borders. Fortunately, many landowners and generous donors have recognized the important ecological value of the heath and have worked with TNC to protect it.

In 1986, Joseph G. Deering donated 475 acres—the first parcel in the creation of Saco Heath Preserve. Bit by bit, more and more pieces of the heath were conserved, until the preserve consisted of two large, protected areas. Contributions of materials and volunteer hours from Deering Lumber, Barrette Outdoor Living, and the Saco Rotary Club led to the creation of the almost mile-long boardwalk.

More recently, J. Thomas and Mary S. Scrivener donated 71 acres of land to create a forested buffer on the south side of the heath. And Lisa R. and Thomas J. Gorman’s contribution secured 46 acres to finally join the two original pieces together. Today, Saco Heath Preserve is 1,348 acres of unique natural communities. Earlier this month, a small group of us gathered at the Preserve to celebrate these generous, ecologically important additions to this special place.

It’s the latest chapter in a long, rich history. Saco Heath formed when two adjacent ponds filled with decaying plant material called peat, made up primarily of sphagnum moss. Eventually, the two ponds filled completely and grew together to form a raised coalesced bog, where the surface of the peat is perched above the level of the groundwater.

The heath features a unique assemblage of plants that are adapted to thrive in its nutrient-poor soils. These include Labrador tea, leather-leaf, rhodora, cottongrass, sheep laurel and scattered pitch pine, Atlantic white cedar, black spruce, and tamarack. These plants grow on a mat of sphagnum moss. This is the southernmost example of this type of raised bog and the only place where Atlantic white cedar grows on a northern raised bog.

The Atlantic white cedar at Saco Heath is one of the largest stands in Maine and supports one of only two populations of Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly in Maine. The caterpillars of this species feed exclusively on Atlantic white cedar. The Heath is also home to deer, moose, snowshoe hare and a variety of other wildlife. The acidity of the heath keeps mosquito numbers low by making the abundant standing water inhospitable to mosquito larvae.

This land is part of the traditional territory of Wabanaki people—the stewards of this land for millennia. I am humbled and honored to have studied, monitored, and cared for this incredible landscape for the last twenty-seven years.

Kuehne, C., J. Puhlick, A. Weiskittel, A. Cutko, D. Cameron, N. Sferra, and J. Schlawin. 2018. Metrics for comparing stand structure and dynamics between Ecological reserves and managed forest of Maine, USA. Ecology.

Jennings, D.T. and N.J. Sferra.  2002.  An arthropod predator-prey-kleptoparasite association.  Northeastern Naturalist 9(3): 325-330.

Wells, J.V., R.G. Dearborn, D.F. Mairs, E.R. Hoebeke, N. Sferra, E.C. Roux, P.D. Vickery, and M.A. Roberts.  1997.  A preliminary list of the insects of the Kennebunk Plains, Maine.  Pp. 251-260 in P.D. Vickery and P.W. Dunwiddie, eds.  Grasslands of Northeastern North America, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln, MA.

Sferra, N.J. and D.E. Ewert.  1994.  Karner blue butterfly research and management in Michigan.  Pp. 195-200 in D.A. Andow, R.J. Baker, C.P. Lane, eds.  Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Miscellaneous Pub.  84-1994.

Dunwiddie, P.W. and N.J. Sferra.  1991.  Loss of rare butterfly and plant species in coastal grasslands.  Natural Areas Journal 11(2): 199-120.

Sferra, N.J. 1986.  First record of Pterodontia flavipes (Diptera: Acroceridae) larvae in the mites Podothrobium (Acari: Trombidiidae) and Abrolophus (Acari: Erythraeidae). Entomological News 97(3): 121-123.

Sferra, N.J. 1984.  Population densities of diurnal raptors wintering in Madison County, Kentucky.  Transactions of the Kentucky Academy of Sciences 45: 128-131.