Wind turbines can be seen north of Tunk Mountain in Hancock County in this August 2020 photo. The Nature Conservancy has acquired 13,500 forested acres north of Tunk Mountain and plans to add it to its 9,700-acre Spring River Preserve. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

In an effort to preserve wildlife habitat in eastern Hancock County, The Nature Conservancy has acquired approximately 13,500 acres of forested land north of Tunk Mountain and Route 182.

The land, which abuts an existing conservancy preserve to the immediate north of Tunk Mountain and the northwest corner of the state’s Donnell Pond Public Land, will continue to be open to the public for birding, hunting and fishing.

The primary goal of the acquisition is to preserve the land for wildlife habitat, the organization said Thursday. The purchase price for the land, which conservancy officials say was “substantially” lower than its appraised value, was $5.2 million. Overall, the project to acquire the land cost $6.5 million.

This map shows 13,500 acres of land outlined in red that has been acquired and is being added to The Nature Conservancy’s Spring River Preserve in Hancock County. Credit: Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

“Conservation of this property will help maintain a forested connection between the Down East coast and Maine’s north woods, protecting habitat for wide-ranging wildlife and allowing species to move in response to a changing climate,” officials with The Nature Conservancy said in a release. “This land is important as a buffer for high value aquatic habitat that supports native brook trout fisheries and contributes to important Atlantic salmon habitat.”

Most of the land lies in Township 16 in Maine’s Unorganized Territory, which is where 23 commercial-scale wind turbines have been erected as part of the Bull Hill Wind and Hancock Wind projects, and where the 100-megawatt Three Rivers Solar project is under development. The Nature Conservancy land will abut three sides each of both the existing wind farm and of the planned solar farm.

William Clark, chair of the county commission, said county officials have never sought to encourage renewable energy development in that part of the county, though the county does get some financial benefits from agreements it has with wind power developers that have erected turbines in townships 16 and 22. There hasn’t been interest from developers in other parts of Township 16 that TNC now owns, but other wind power developers are pursuing projects in neighboring Eastbrook and Osborn, and a few towns over in western Washington County.

Clark said the county not long ago had tried without success to have an ATV trail put in through the land the conservancy has acquired, but it is not concerned the purchase will have any other impacts on the surrounding area.

“We’ve been aware of that [pending acquisition] for quite some time,” he said.

The acquisition also includes the vast majority of the portion of Township 9 that lies north of Route 182, and will expand The Nature Conservancy’s 9,700-acre Spring River Preserve, increasing the size of the preserve to approximately 23,500 acres. The state’s Donnell Pond consists of more than 14,000 acres that abut Donnell Pond, Spring River Lake and Tunk Lake.

The conserved land is expected to help provide refuge for species with ranges that are shifting north due to the warming climate.

“TNC has mapped connected ecosystems that are expected to be important for the movement of plants and animals as climate change alters the landscape,” organization officials said. “This analysis is a primary driver of TNC’s strategic land conservation efforts.”

The group said that there is limited recreational infrastructure on the land being acquired, its roads are seasonal, and that overnight camping and pets are not permitted in order to help limit the impact of recreational use.

The acquisition is considered part of the Maine Coastal Forest Partnership, in which several conservation groups have worked with The Conservation Fund to acquire and conserve nearly 18,000 forested acres in Hancock and Washington counties.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....