Sunrise view over the Redington Forest of Crocker and Redington mountains from Quill Hill in Redington Township. Credit: Jerry and Marcy Monkman / Trust For Public Land

Conservation groups joined state and federal officials in Rangeley late last week to celebrate the climate and ecological benefits of a large-scale forest conservation project in western Maine. Its completion also marked a milestone for a federal program that made the project possible — and that’s played an important role in protecting Maine forests.

In May, the state completed the purchase of a 6,578-acre parcel near Mount Abraham known as Perham Stream that was previously managed by a timber company, so that it could be put into conservation. Not far away, another 7,062 acres around the Quill Hill recreation area was put into a conservation easement. Much of the land will remain open to limited timber harvesting.

At the celebration, Gov. Janet Mills said those two parcels amounted to the largest conservation project completed by her administration.

“This extraordinary collaborative project preserves more than 13,000 acres of publicly accessible land in the center of Maine’s high peak region,” Mills said. “I’ve climbed a few of those peaks myself — not all of them, more to come.”

Indeed, it took an extraordinary amount of collaboration to complete the project.

The state and two conservation groups — the Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land — had to work with multiple partners to complete the project, including the federal government and the U.S. Navy, which conducts wilderness training in the region.

Organizers also had to convince private landowners to put their land into conservation. That included the family of Adrian Brochu, a longtime lumberman who died in 2019 and left behind the scenic Quill Hill property. His daughter, Tabatha Andrews, told attendees of the event this week that Brochu wanted the land to stay open to the public — as did many visitors to the property.

“Quill was definitely dad’s happy place. So when I was prepping for this, I thought reading through old guest books would help,” she said.

“So I grabbed the very first one from 2013. There were exactly 228 pages of comments that year. Visitors hailed from 17 states, Canada and France. You only have to flip to page two, before you start to see comments like, ‘please don’t develop this.’ Or ‘please don’t close this to ATVs and snowmobiles.’ Another common one: ‘thank you for making this accessible.’”

What helped seal the deal to conserve both the Quill Hill and Perham Stream parcels was a federal program that kicked in $7 million for the deal.

That marked a milestone for the Forest Legacy Program, pushing its national conservation total above 3 million acres. And this week, officials announced another 245,000 acres will soon be added with funds from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The goal of the Forest Legacy Program is to conserve privately owned land, and it’s had an especially big impact in Maine, accounting for a quarter of its total acreage.

Mark Berry of the Nature Conservancy in Maine says that kind of support is critical because more than 90 percent of the state’s land is privately held, which makes it more susceptible to development pressures.

And the latest project will add to a nearly 100,000-acre corridor of protected land.

“We have opportunities to help keep a vast forest landscape connected,” Berry said. “That’s going to be especially important, with the changing climate, for species to be able to move through this forest. But this is also the forest that is essential to our climate future, essential to our economy and essential to our way of life. So keeping it intact is really job one for conservation.”

And there’s more progress on the horizon. Betsy Cook, the Maine director for the Trust for Public Land, said that another 3,600 acres next to the Quill Hill parcel is slated for protection through the Forest Legacy Program.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.