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June 15, 2020

Conservation Fund acquires 15,000 acres of western Maine timberland

Courtesy / LandVest The Conservation Fund acquired 15,408 acres of white pine forest from Chadbourne Tree Farms LLC.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit group with a field office in Freeport, has acquired 15,408 acres of woodland from Chadbourne Tree Farms LLC in Oxford County.

The fund said in a news release that the acquisition is intended to protect the forest from development, expand drinking water protection for the Portland area and improve recreational access, while continuing sustainable forestry operations and related jobs.

The acquisition price was not disclosed. 

A large section of the property is in the Sebago Lake watershed. The woods consist primarily of white pine.

America's first sawmill

The parcel's roots as a working timberland date to 1634, when William Chadbourne was sent to Maine from Devonshire, England, by King Charles I to establish a sawmill. Chadbourne built a water-powered sawmill in South Berwick that is thought to have been the first sawmill in America. 

He and subsequent generations worked as subsistence farmers and foresters in the area; later generations moved to Waterford and then Bethel. 

The 15,408-acre timberland was assembled by the Chadbourne family over 150 years. 

In 2014, Chadbourne Tree Farms received the Austin H. Wilkins Forest Stewardship Award, which recognizes people or organizations that stand above their peers to further forestry, forests or forestland conservation in Maine.

Chadbourne Tree Farms is a forest products company in Bethel, producing white pine logs for sawmills and forest products including veneer, sawlogs and pulpwood, according to the Maine Division of the New England Society of American Foresters.The Chadbourne family will continue to own other forestland in the area.

12 generations

Chadbourne Tree Farms LLC is today managed by the 11th and 12th generations of the Chadbourne family, Bob Chadbourne and Nancy Lea Chadbourne Stearns.

“This forestland and its exceptional white pine timber resources reflect decades of long-term stewardship administered by my father, as well as generations of the Chadbourne family with the help of many skilled and hardworking employees, associates and contractors,” Bob Chadbourne said in the release.

The goal is to ensure the land remains forested and continues to provide timber resources and other benefits, he added.

Over the next several years, the Conservation Fund will manage the tree farm, located primarily in Oxford County, providing time for the group and its major partners — Mahoosuc Land Trust, Mahoosuc Pathways, Western Foothills Land Trust and the U.S. Forest Service — to raise funding to permanently conserve the land under mostly private ownership. Property taxes will continue to be paid during the Conservation Fund’s management.

Sustainable management

The fund said it will sustainably manage the land and conserve its forest resources, recreational assets and climate-resilient wildlife habitat. 

To ensure that ecologically responsible timber practices are established, the fund plans to have the tree farm certified to forest-management standards of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Canada and the U.S. 

Portions of the property will be open for public recreation, including hiking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling, paddling, rock climbing, horseback riding and backcountry skiing.

The purchase secures the fourth-largest privately owned forest in the Sebago Lake watershed, the source of drinking water for more than 200,000 residents in the city of Portland and surrounding communities. With approximately 3,000 acres of the Chadbourne Tree Farm located within the Sebago Lake watershed, the effort, in partnership with the Western Foothills Land Trust, will secure nearly 10% of the 35,000-acre conservation goal established by the Portland Water District and the Sebago Clean Waters coalition for the watershed.

“Sebago Lake is one of only 50 public surface water supplies in the country that require no filtration before treatment,” Karen Young, coordinator at Sebago Clean Waters, said in the release. “Conserving these forestlands is critical for the protection of the region's lakes that provide pure drinking water and recreational opportunities.”

The purchase also secures 33.5 miles of river and tributary frontage, including 2.5 miles on the Androscoggin River and 13.5 miles on the Crooked River, which flows into Sebago Lake and eventually to the water taps in the greater Portland region.

“The Chadbourne family lands are some of the finest working forestlands in western Maine that many drive through, recreate on and even earn their livings related to the resources they provide,” Lee Dassler, executive director of Western Foothills Land Trust, said in the release. “Securing these lands and protecting them as working lands forever — especially those in Waterford, Norway and Oxford — will be our greatest challenge to date.” 

The acquisition was made possible through the Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund, dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests. Proceeds from the fund’s first-ever green bonds were utilized in the purchase as bridge capital to protect the forestlands from subdivision, allowing time for permanent conservation solutions to be implemented.

The fund and its partners are seeking support from private and public sources including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Legacy Program through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program and Portland Water District. 

The fund and partners are also seeking private support to complete the conservation effort over the next few years.

Bethel recreation benefits

The acquisition is expected to help Bethel’s Mahoosuc Pathways to realize its vision of connecting the Bethel Village multi-use trails network between Sunday River Resort and Mt. Abram Resort, through the downtown, and near the local schools, Gabe Perkins, Mahoosuc Pathways’ executive director, said in the release. 

“The scale and realization of this trail network will fundamentally benefit the community forever and will bolster a year-round economy,” Perkins said.

The acreage includes the 978-acre Tumbledown Dick Mountain, a popular rock-climbing, hiking and backcountry glade skiing area. It’s a key corridor for wildlife movement between adjacent lands conserved by the USDA Forest Service, state of Maine and Mahoosuc Land Trust. 

In February, Maine Woodland Owners became New Gloucester's biggest landowner after a deal for more than 2,000 acres of forest was finalized.

In 2019, Mahoosuc Pathways acquired a 978-acre woodlands parcel to create a community forest that expanded a network of multi-use, year-round trails in Bethel and provided a connector between the town and Sunday River in Newry.

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