The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has awarded a $1.5 million Resource Conservation Partnership Program grant to the New England Forestry Foundation to expand its work with family forest owners to restore important forested habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife across western and northwestern Maine. This grant builds on a successful 5-year RCPP partnership between NEFF and the NRCS that used innovative outreach and conservation forestry techniques and helped over 70 family landowners in the region move towards forest stewardship planning.
Under the current project, NEFF works with NRCS to provide technical expertise and funding to family and other non-industrial private landowners to apply conservation forestry on over 6,000 acres with an emphasis on recruiting neighboring landowners to create bigger habitat impacts. The new grant will allow NEFF to double its efforts, working closely with NRCS state and county offices to use forestry to improve habitat on an additional 6,000 acres.
“The key to success so far has been the focus on working one-on-one with family landowners in Western Maine to build a commitment to practicing good stewardship through ecological and climate-resilient forestry on their family lands over the decades to come,” said Christine Parrish, NEFF Western Maine Project Specialist. “We look forward to continuing to work with the local forestry professionals to expand and integrate this landscape-level approach to forestry and habitat restoration in ways that make it practical for landowners to adopt.”
Other grant partners, including the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Maine Audubon’s Forestry For Maine Birds staff will team up with NEFF on landowner outreach and to provide technical forestry and ecological assistance to landowners. Landowner application periods will be announced in summer 2023.
“The Maine Departments of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Beginning with Habitat program is excited to continue our partnership with NEFF, as they work to address critical wildlife needs in western Maine. The western part of the state is a priority area that provides important habitat to many of our species of greatest conservation need,” said Joseph Roy, Private Lands Wildlife Biologist with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Beginning with Habitat: Wildlife program. “We look forward to providing outreach and technical assistance at the landscape level and on-site specific habitat management and restoration plans. These conservation efforts play a critical role in the state of Maine and address many of the elements in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan.”
Using the NEFF Forestry Standards developed for the Acadian Forest, in combination with forest practices eligible for NRCS cost-share, landowners will be able to access funding to offset the cost of forest practices that may bring in no initial timber revenue. The goal is to shape the future forest to provide high-quality wildlife habitat for a diverse number of species—including native brook trout, Canada Lynx, game species like moose and bear, and birds of global concern—while growing high-quality timber that can be harvested sustainably over the long term. The NEFF Standards, when applied to family forest land, also have the potential to increase the resilience of a forest facing climate impacts and are compatible with storing more carbon in faster-growing trees.
Western and northwestern Maine, with its high peaks, river valleys, low development, few roads, and large blocks of forest, provides one of the last remaining large blocks of northern mixed hardwood forest in the country. It offers one of the best opportunities to restore critical wildlife habitat landscape-wide within the Northeast Forests and Waters Critical Conservation Area—recognized globally for its high habitat value and potential for building climate resilience.
Photo of a Canada Lynx by Larry Master