ORIENT, Maine — The Obama administration’s budget proposal for next year includes $1.8 million in federal funding to conserve more than 7,500 acres along East Grand Lake and several tributaries located along the Maine-New Brunswick border.
Known as the East Grand Lake/Orient project, the initiative is seeking $1.8 million from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy program for fiscal year 2013 to protect 7,526 acres of working forest north and south of the town of Orient in southern Aroostook County. The 2013 federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, 2012.
The land, which is part of the Upper St. Croix River watershed, includes 7 miles of shoreline along East Grand Lake, Longley Lake, North Lake and Monument Brook. In addition to providing guaranteed public access to the land for recreation, the project application proposes to maintain all of the land as certified, sustainably managed working forests.
The project is ranked No. 5 on the Obama administration’s list of 20 Forest Legacy projects submitted to Congress as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget request. Although funding is by no means guaranteed, Maine projects traditionally have fared well in the competition for program funding. Maine has received Forest Legacy funding to preserve 674,000 acres — nearly one-third of the acreage nationwide preserved through the program.
“It is No. 5 on the list, so if there is a Forest Legacy program [next year], chances are it will be funded,” said Kathy Eickenberg, acting deputy director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “But it has to be approved in the budget.”
The Bureau of Parks and Lands is a partner in the project with The Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based organization that works on land conservation across the country. The bureau would end up owning 6,076 acres of the land while the remaining 1,450 would be protected through conservation easements that guarantee public access.
The Conservation Fund actually purchased 12,000 acres in the region from a timber company last year and is now seeking public and private money to complete the larger East Grand Lake Watershed Initiative, of which the Forest Legacy project is the first phase.
“It’s a very good project,” said Nancy Bell with The Conservation Fund. “Making the [project] list acknowledges the values that we have set forth in the application.”
If completed, the project would become part of a mosaic of land conservation initiatives in the region on both sides of the Maine-Canada border, including 116,000 acres in Maine approved for $22 million worth of Forest Legacy funding. Those projects include the 21,700-acre West Grand Lake Forest and several phases of land conservation along the Machias River and the Machias Lakes.
The proposed East Grand Lake/Orient Forest project would protect roughly 1,750 acres of designated deer wintering area — or “deer yards” — where deer can gather during winter for shelter from wind and deep snow.
The properties also include much of the land visible from the section of U.S. 1 designated as the Million Dollar View Scenic Byway as well as historic Passamaquoddy tribal lands. The tribe, the town of Orient and numerous organizations on both sides of the border have signed onto the project as “supporting parties.”