Downeast Woods and Wildlife

Jun. 21, 2018
Moose in river

This year, the New England Forestry Foundation will permanently protect 3,200 acres of ecologically important forestland in the wilds of Downeast Maine, the state’s farthest coastal region. What wildlife species stands to benefit most from this forest conservation? Surprisingly enough, the Atlantic Salmon.

According to Dwayne Shaw of the Downeast Salmon Federation, “salmon are a forest species.” Strange though it may seem, this aquatic species does indeed depend on trees. Young Atlantic Salmon need cool, clean rivers to thrive, and forests help purify and filter river water as well as provide shade that keeps water temperatures down.

The properties included in NEFF’s Downeast Woods and Wildlife project are located along the Dennys River, and while a variety of factors make them a conservation priority, wildlife habitat is where they truly shine. Downeast Maine’s deep forests and interlaced network of clear waterways provide ideal habitat for cold water fish including the Atlantic Salmon, which is listed as federally endangered in the Gulf of Maine.

The Downeast properties will be among the largest land parcels owned by NEFF, and their purchase also reflects an exciting shift in NEFF’s conservation strategy. Over the next few years, NEFF will pursue large and select projects, mostly in the region’s northern forests.

Purchasing larger forestlands will allow NEFF to both address New England’s ongoing loss of forest cover and show just what Exemplary Forestry—our expert approach to sustainable forest management—can do when practiced at scale. This will open up new avenues to advance Exemplary Forestry and promote it to private landowners.

NEFF is ready to take this next step in its land conservation work, and Downeast Maine is the perfect place to start.

Land Protection With an Outsize Impact

Moose in riverThe impact of NEFF’s protection of 3,200 Downeast acres will carry far beyond property lines. The Dennys parcels connect to other conserved land—including the 335,000 acres protected by NEFF through the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership—and add to the largest conserved landscape in Maine and New Brunswick, with more than 1 million total acres protected. The Downeast Woods and Wildlife project is also essential to the conservation of one of four landscapes identified as the Northeast’s most resilient, according to analyses by The Nature Conservancy and Doris Duke Foundation.

There’s good news for the Dennys River in particular, too. With the addition of this new acreage, fully 20 percent of the 84,000-acre Dennys River watershed will be protected, with NEFF responsible for more than 6,400 acres of that conserved land. NEFF protected half of these acres via easement in 2005, and will protect the rest through our current project.

These connections to larger protected landscapes will directly influence how NEFF manages the Dennys properties. Our forestry plans are tailored to specific properties and their surroundings, so while NEFF would directly control about 3,200 acres at Dennys River, our management efforts would support and interact with the larger conserved landscape. When developing strategies for protecting and improving wildlife habitat, we would similarly take adjacent forests and the larger landscape’s ecosystems into account.

The Downeast Conservation Community

NEFF’s Downeast Woods and Wildlife project has benefited greatly from strong partnerships with other organizations at work in the region. The Downeast Salmon Federation has helped with several aspects of the project, as they are one of the go-to habitat experts for the Dennys watershed, while a unique collaboration has led to NEFF’s acquisition of a particular Dennys property called Venture Brook.

This May, The Conservation Fund purchased Venture Brook and two other Downeast forest parcels—totaling 18,000 acres—with the intention of eventually conveying them to local land conservation organizations. NEFF, The Nature Conservancy, and Blue Hill Heritage Trust have each committed to a parcel, and without the participation of all these partners the project could not have moved forward.

The Conservation Fund’s temporary ownership is providing the organizations with time and opportunity to secure funding for their respective properties. This collaborative conservation process has also brought together a partnership committed to protecting Maine coastal forests that includes the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Downeast Salmon Federation in addition to the groups that are purchasing property.

NEFF will carry this collaborative spirit into the management of Venture Brook by working with the local community to balance recreational opportunities—the property has an established and popular snowmobile trail, among other things—with the activities of a sustainable working forest and the habitat needs of local wildlife. In addition to possessing habitat that supports salmon and other fish species, Venture Brook is also home to vital White-tailed Deer wintering habitat.

Downeast Salmon Federation at Work in Dennys River

The Downeast Salmon Federation’s team of biologists engages in a wide range of activities to ensure endangered Atlantic Salmon and other native fisheries are recovered in eastern Maine rivers. In the Dennys River watershed, they are currently assessing the health and function of several waterways in order to design habitat restoration projects and conduct baseline studies in partnership with government agencies, other scientists, and organizations like NEFF.

DSF operates two innovative salmon conservation hatcheries on the nearby East Machias and Pleasant Rivers, and is designing a streamside conservation hatchery for the Dennys River watershed. These hatcheries raise river-specific juvenile Atlantic Salmon to help restore populations, which means salmon from the proposed Dennys hatchery may one day make use of riparian habitat along NEFF’s properties.

Investing in New England Land Protection

NEFF will obtain the funds to purchase the Downeast properties through private fundraising. NEFF’s ownership of these lands will mean the revenues from their natural capital, i.e. timber, will cycle back into conservation. Every acre NEFF can bring into its ownership drives more of the region’s natural revenue back into protecting the region itself. 

This cycle, or Conservation Flywheel, is a compounding investment in protecting New England that spins off more land protection, year after year, decade after decade. If you would like to speak with NEFF staff about our Downeast Woods and Wildlife land protection effort and how you can help achieve these conservation goals, please contact Penny Flynn at or 978-952-6856 x101. 

Atlantic Salmon swimming up a Downeast Maine river

Atlantic Salmon swimming up a Downeast Maine river in fall 2018, photo by Lauren Owens Lambert