In the remote forests of northern Maine, the upper St. John River flows for 130 miles without passing a single settlement. The St. John grows from a stream at the St. John Ponds to a major river before crossing into Canada and stands as one of the great wilderness canoe rivers in the eastern U.S. This was an important river for Native people, and early European settlers made a difficult living establishing now-vanished settlements and logging camps along the banks. For generations, Mainers and visitors have plied its remote waters and hunted, fished, and camped along its shores.
In December 1998, The Nature Conservancy purchased 185,000 acres, including 35 miles of frontage on the upper St. John River, from International Paper for $35 million. This acquisition, the largest carried out by TNC anywhere in the U.S. at the time and the largest conservation land purchase in the northeast ever, changed the way much of the conservation community approaches land protection. A massive $10 million fundraising effort in just six weeks ensured the deal could move forward and proved that a dedicated group of caring, resourceful and generous people can accomplish conservation at a scale never thought possible before.
Protecting Maine Heritage
TNC has been working with private landowners to protect this great river, from the headwaters to the small town of Allagash—more than 100 miles of wilderness paddling. To date, 70 miles of the corridor have been protected on both banks, and 6 miles on one bank.
An Ecological Gem
Over the years, our ecologists have made findings that confirm the wisdom of our bold investment: previously unknown populations of rare plants, sightings of Canada lynx with kittens, and ponds with full complements of native minnow populations (important in a state where water bodies are increasingly compromised by alien species). Among the finds was the largest population of purple false-oats in the United States, stands of black spruce over 300 years old, and a dozen rare dragonfly species—one entirely new to science.
Providing places for nature to thrive
About half—80,000 acres—of the Upper St. John Forest is designated as reserve land, where natural processes are uninterrupted by human management and disruption. Set aside for conservation and study of Maine’s ecosystems, reserve land provides important information about how old growth forests respond to natural challenges and support wildlife species. And big, old trees hold a lot of carbon.
TNC has enrolled a significant portion of the preserve lands in a forest carbon storage project. This involves is a long-term commitment by TNC to increase carbon stocking, accelerate the restoration of the forest, and increase the acreage we have dedicated to ecological reserves. The project also demonstrates the opportunity for landowners to blend carbon and timber revenue to achieve their objectives.
Producing maple syrup and maintaining mature hardwood forest
Recently, TNC has added maple syrup production in the Upper St. John Forest. A new sugarbush lease works to protect ideal habitat for warblers and songbirds while generating revenue and a sweet and sustainable forest product. Taps are expected to exceed 60,000 within two years—enough to produce 25,000 gallons of maple syrup annually!
Modeling conservation-minded timber harvest
Under TNC’s ownership, limited, carefully designed and sustainable timber harvests help maintain regional economic opportunities, encourage new forest products development, and capture and hold carbon within the products themselves.