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ELLSWORTH, Maine — Three Maine-based conservation groups have received $1 million in matching funds from the federal government to protect wetlands and wildlife habitat in the Bagaduce River watershed on Blue Hill peninsula.
The grant was awarded to Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and The Conservation Trust of Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot, all three of which have collaborated on past projects. As part of the application, the partner organizations outlined 13 specific conservation projects with willing landowners that will require them to match every dollar of federal money with $1.50 contributed by the organizations or donors.
The Bagaduce River watershed encompasses more than 2,700 acres of intertidal habitat near Castine, Penobscot, Brooksville, Sedgwick and Blue Hill. The watershed includes numerous wetlands, ponds and streams that are home to a wide variety of waterfowl and other bird species. The watershed also is important to the region’s tourism industry.
“Our landscape is really our economic driver,” said Jim Dow, executive director of the Blue Hill Heritage Trust. “It is a fundamental piece of our entire economy … and the wildlife is really what makes this place attractive and I would say unusual” on the East Coast.
Because the funding is through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, each of the projects must provide public access to the properties for recreation, said Ciona Ulbrich, senior project manager with Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
Organizers declined to discuss specifics of the uncompleted projects in part because negotiations with landowners were ongoing. But two of the conservation projects that were part of the application submitted last summer have since been completed, although the grant money can be used retroactively because they were part of the proposal, Ulbrich said. Those projects are:
• Acquisition of Battle Island, a 2-acre island between Castine and Penobscot that is used as part of the Maine Island Trail Association’s network of 190 stops and campsites along the Maine coast. Several structures that were in disrepair have since been dismantled with the goal of returning the island to a more natural state.
• Acquisition of the Wallamatogous Mountain Raptor Preserve in Penobscot, a 273-acre parcel now owned by Blue Hill Heritage Trust that offers wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
Ulbrich said the other 11 projects are at various stages in the process. The grant requires the organizations to secure matching funding for the projects within two years. Maine’s congressional delegation helped to secure the federal funding.
The Bagaduce partnership was one of 25 nationwide to receive funding through the grant program, which Dow said he interpreted as an acknowledgement of the ecological significance of this relatively small watershed.
“We have been nibbling at it for years and this [application] was an attempt to allow us to focus more on it,” Dow said. He added that the promise of matching grants will enable the groups to move forward more aggressively on the specific projects.