Maine Woodland Owners announced the completion of the largest land donation in the group’s history on March 30, a gift of more than 2,000 acres in New Gloucester by the Chandler family.
The land, divided into several parcels scattered throughout the town, will now remain undeveloped and managed as working forestland in perpetuity. It’s also open to the public for activities such as nature watching and hunting.
“We’re all in awe of this spectacular gift,” said Maine Woodland Owners Executive Director Tom Doak.
This donation brings the group to a milestone of conserving more than 10,000 acres of working forest in Maine.
“I don’t think we ever quite envisioned [our land trust] to grow the way it has,” Doak said. “Last year was our busiest year. It’s incredible generosity of the people.”
Maine Woodland Owners, previously known as Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, or SWOAM, was formed 45 years ago as an educational organization dedicated to providing knowledge and technical support for Maine’s small woodland owners. Its goal is to increase landowner engagement and long-term woodland stewardship to ensure the health of Maine’s forests.
In 1990, the organization established a land trust program to conserve working forests in Maine. The program only accepts lands and conservation easements where active forest management is allowed. All of its properties are certified by the American Tree Farm System and enrolled in Maine’s Tree Growth or Open Space Tax programs.
“We started with this land trust because we saw a need,” Doak said. “A lot of land trusts were focused on ‘forever wild,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we started this because we had people who were looking for another option.”
Maine Woodland Owners received its first land donation in 1991 and today conserves and conducts sustainable forest management on land in 50 towns throughout Maine. Of the 10,000 acres the land trust now conserves, more than 40 percent was donated in the past three years and a dozen parcels are currently in the process of being donated.
“The reason frankly is the aging population of woodland owners,” Doak said. “About 40 percent of them are 65 years or older. A lot of these people have managed their land for a long time and want it to be conserved and continue to be managed the same way.”
The Chandler family owned and managed forestland in New Gloucester since the 18th century. In the past few years, the family decided to find a permanent owner who would keep the land undeveloped as a working forest.
“They’ve managed their land for a very long time,” said Doak. “It’s some of the finest forestland you’ll see in the state.”
In January 2018, Maine Woodland Owners learned it would be receiving the Chandlers’ property as a donation. The final three parcels of the gift were signed over during an informal gathering at the Maine Woodland Owners office in Augusta in late February of 2020.
All Maine Woodland Owners properties are open to public use, though the majority of them do not feature maintained trails. Revenue from timber harvesting on the properties supports the organization, which hosts about 50 educational programs for landowners annually. These programs range widely in topic from managing forest for wildlife to protecting water quality.
The group also serves as a resource for small woodland owners to reach out to with questions. Each month, the organization sends a 20-page newsletter to members that provides information on forest-related topics such as updates on forest pests and diseases in Maine.
Maine Woodland Owners is planning to hold public tours on the newly acquired land in New Gloucester this summer.