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Northern Forest

Maintaining Working Landscapes

Bill Silliker Jr.

The Northern Forest spans 80 million acres in northern New England and Canada and 26 million of these acres are in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. Vast areas, especially in Maine, are uninhabited industrial forests where spruce and hardwood have long provided wood for paper mills and sawmills.

In 1988, citizens in the four-State area became alarmed after British financier Sir James Goldsmith acquired Diamond International Corporation’s 976,000 acres of timberland. Goldsmith’s business strategy was to resell this land in smaller parcels for substantially more value than the original sale. Concerned about the future of working forests, Congress commissioned the Forest Service to develop a Northern Forest Lands Study to assess how land ownership and use changes would affect the region and timber towns.

Starting in 1994, a multi-State Northern Forest Lands Council has worked to conserve over 2.5 million acres through conservation easements, of which 570,000 acres were protected by the Forest Legacy program. Participating landowners have donated easements or were compensated for the development value of their lands, and can continue to harvest timber.
In the backyard of Millinocket, Maine—a paper mill town that has long relied on the forest for woods and mill jobs—a landmark partnership has helped conserve 750,000 acres of unbroken forests. In 2002, The Nature Conservancy helped Great Northern Paper Co. delay bankruptcy by purchasing $50 million of its loans, retiring $14 million of the debt and refinancing the remainder at competitive rates. In exchange, the company granted a conservation easement on 195,000 acres of Maine forests abutting Baxter State Park, and transferred 41,000 acres in fee to the Conservancy. With support from the Forest Legacy program and matching State funds, the Conservancy made a bargain sale of the Katahdin Forest Project easement lands to the State of Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Now an expansive forest continues to stretch beneath Mount Katahdin. The core land owned by the Conservancy serves as a biological preserve and critical breeding ground for birds and animals. The preserved lands also provide significantly improved recreation opportunities for the public to hike, fish, snowmobile and other recreation; the project has been recognized by the National Coalition for Recreational Trails. Surrounding the preserve, the easement land remains permanently open for public recreation access while sustainable management of the forests provides timber for nearby mills.

Additional information:
Northern Forest Lands
The Nature Conservancy
USDA FS Forest Legacy Program: 202-205-1389

The Nature Conservancy 2011.
Northern Forest Lands Council 1994.
NESFA 2004.
Byers and Ponte 2005.
Dempsey 2005.

Genese Leach