Amherst forest project to benefit people of Maine

Posted April 09, 2010, at 6:55 p.m.

Just 20 miles east of Bangor, you can walk through deep forests, along bold ledges, streams and wetlands, and find your way to remote ponds named Half-Mile, Partridge, Indian Camp, Ducktail and Snowshoe. On a clear day, the view from Bald Bluff or Bald Mountain includes such landmarks as Cadillac Mountain and Mt. Katahdin. Thanks to more than six years of conservation planning led by the Forest Society of Maine and the town of Amherst, people of all ages will enjoy these places for generations to come.

With funding from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program and the Land for Maine’s Future program, plus many individuals, businesses and charitable foundations, nearly 5,000 acres have now become the Amherst Mountains Community Forest. Lying just north of Route 9, the “Airline,” the mountains, scenic ledges and ponds of Amherst now are part of an emerging, regional vision aimed at sustaining managed forests, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities across tens of thousands of acres of forestlands east of the Penobscot River.

For those who have climbed Amherst’s mountains, fished its ponds or harvested from its forests, it is clear that this is a very special place worth protecting. Peregrine falcons hunt from these ridges and nest nearby; brook trout live in the clear waters; deer, bear, partridge and woodcock thrive here; and thousands of migratory birds arrive each spring to nest on these lands. Forest management also has sustained a flow of forest products for more than 100 years — to the benefit of local and regional economies.

To completely understand what makes this place special, however, one must look beyond the landscape and into the community behind the conservation story. The Forest Society of Maine, working with the town of Amherst, brought multiple interests together to construct a framework that benefits both conservation and eco-nomic interests. The result is a community-forest model and a unique state-municipal partnership. The Maine Department of Conservation, Bureau of Parks and Lands, owns the property, but it will be managed jointly by the state and town.

Roughly 2,000 acres with high ecological value will be managed as a backcountry area with pristine hunting and fishing opportunities. The remaining 3,000 acres will be managed for the production of quality timber, helping to sustain the local forest products economy and jobs that rely on it. The people of Maine will benefit from secured public access to trails for snowmobiling, ATVing, hiking and cross-country skiing just a short-trip from Maine’s third largest city. The town will benefit economically with regular revenue from the sustainably managed forest — a model reminiscent of the days when Maine towns had woodlots to support local schools.

The Amherst project is one of more than 25 major land deals in Maine that have been funded in part by the Forest Legacy Program over the past 15 years. The program helps prevent commercial forestland from being converted to non-forest uses, providing economic benefits to Maine landowners while guaranteeing public rec-reational access and wildlife habitat protection. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts by our congressional delegation, Maine has received more than $50 million from this federal program. It has made a profound difference to this state, and we are most grateful to our delegation for helping us get this important funding.

The basic framework for the Amherst Mountains Community Forest was laid out through years of thoughtful conservation planning, but the details of its management are still in the making. The Bureau of Parks and Lands, working with the town’s Community Forest Committee, has just begun soliciting input for a 15-year man-agement plan to be produced this spring. This plan will describe the property’s resources in detail, identify specific management issues and make recommendations on how to best accommodate multiple recreation uses and timber management on the landscape.

For more information on the planning process or to submit comments, I encourage you to contact Misha Mytar, Bureau of Parks and Lands management plan coordinator, by calling 460-4818 or by writing misha.mytar@maine.gov.

Ray “Bucky” Owen is a former commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and former chairman of the University of Maine Department of Wildlife Ecology. He is a board member of the Forest Society of Maine and Land for Maine’s Future.

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