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May 15, 2017

Effort underway to save Maine's top maple sugar plantation

If Big Six Forest, a maple tree plantation located in Somerset County and said to produce around 25% of Maine's total maple syrup production, doesn't receive a conservation easement, owner Paul Fortin has plans to cut it down.

The Bangor Daily News reported Fortin is seeking an award under the Land for Maine's Future program this year that's needed to close a $5.7 million conservation easement to preserve the sugarbush and allowing access and recreational activities on more than 23,000 acres. If the easement isn't secured by the end 2018, the 20-year leases signed this year by maple producers can be terminated and the sugarbush cut for timber, the newspaper reported.

Fortin bought Big Six in late 2012, purchasing it from LandVest, a Boston company with land holdings across the U.S., including old timberland in Maine. His initial plan was to cut the trees for timber.

"Because we were in a logging business, we were looking at it as a resource for that business," he told Maine Public.

Fortin told Maine Public that cutting the trees would have yielded the most profit, satisfying his bank and his investor — a real estate firm in Canada. But he said he and the co-op recently agreed on a 20-year lease that's contingent on the easement, which the Trust for Public Land is helping him obtain.

Mike Farrell, director of Cornell University's Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research center in Lake Placid, N.Y., told Maine Public that the syrup plantation is probably worth more over time than timber production would be.

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