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November 1, 2023

Conservation group will turn over 30,000 acres of Maine land to Penobscot Nation

an overlook with picnic tables looking towards mountains with clouds at the tops File photo The Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, some of which is shown here in a 2021 file photo, is adjacent to 30,000 acres of land that will be returned to the Penobscot Nation.

A national conservation group that purchased a massive swath of woodland in the Katahdin region is planning to turn over nearly 30,000 acres of it to the Penobscot Nation, one of Maine's five indigenous tribes.

The Trust for Public Land and the Penobscot Nation on Wednesday announced a plan for 31,367 acres the trust acquired in December for $30 million. The seller was Conservation Resources, a timber investment organization.

When the plan is complete, the trust said in a news release, nearly all the land will be returned to the tribe from whom it was taken in the 19th century.

"It will represent the largest land return between a U.S.-based nonprofit and a Tribal Nation and will center Indigenous self-determination around land care," the release said.

The trust obtained loans in order to acquire the property as an interim owner. TPL and the Penobscot Nation are now launching an effort to raise $32 million to pay off these loans and complete the handover.

"We are very excited to work with TPL towards this common goal of returning a portion of unceded lands back to the governance of the Penobscot Nation," said Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis.

"The Nation highly regards the East Branch of the Penobscot River and her tributaries. We are also ecstatic for the opportunity to explore and improve the aquatic and wildlife habitat within this parcel to conserve more land in the Katahdin region for our future generations."

The trust said it is committed to helping indigenous communities recover their ancestral homelands, and also wants to increase access to the adjacent Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument. TPL expects to make roadways in the acquired land available for National Park Service use.

"Trust for Public Land recognizes the profound and vital significance of returning land. It's not just an isolated act, but a deep acknowledgment and reaffirmation of a timeless bond, a rich history, and a promising future," said TPL President and CEO Diane Regas.

"As we collaborate with the Penobscot Nation, the National Park Service, and local communities, we are driven by a shared vision: to honor and help restore the rich tapestry of Wabanaki connection to land and ensure that Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument can be accessed and enjoyed by all."

Today, members of the Wabanaki Nations — including Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Mi'kmaq, and Abenaki communities — legally possess only 1% percent of their ancestral lands in Maine, according to TPL. The Penobscot Nation currently holds 128,000 acres, much of it within the Penobscot River watershed.

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