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The Pingree Easement’s 20th Anniversary

Oct. 12, 2021
New England Forestry Foundation

Celebrating an Unrivaled Conservation Accomplishment

In March 2001, New England Forestry Foundation and the Pingree family closed the largest forestland conservation easement in history. This success made NEFF one of the three largest land trusts in the nation by acres conserved—a status the organization retains to this day. Learn about the herculean effort behind this transaction, and then see how the Pingree easement has contributed to large-scale land conservation progress in New England.

Some said it couldn’t be done. They were wrong.

In 1999, NEFF announced a ground-breaking venture in land conservation. The Pingree Forest Partnership, conceived of by then Director of Land Protection Keith Ross, would protect 762,192 acres of Maine forestlands. It would pioneer a new scale of conservation and preserve remarkable Maine resources from the eastern edge of the White Mountains to the Allagash Lakes, including 2,000 miles of river frontage. It also presented a stupendous fundraising challenge for NEFF’s leadership, and two of New England’s leading conservation families stepped up.

In the mid-1800s, David Pingree, Sr. first invested in Maine’s timberlands. By the 20th century, Pingree family members were recognized as leaders in sustainable management. The Pingree forest was the first in the world to be “Green Certified” by two independent third-party certifiers. Meanwhile, the Merck-Hatch-Henry family’s roots go back to America’s first forester, Carl Schenck, who demonstrated the power and beauty of scientific forestry on the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

Once the Pingree heirs agreed to the terms of the easement deal, NEFF wisely recruited the one person they knew could skillfully helm the boat and meet the fundraising challenge head-on: Bayard Henry, a dedicated and long-serving member of NEFF’s Board of Directors (still an Honorary member of that body) who had previously served as both president and treasurer.

With a daunting deadline of raising $30 million in 12 months, Campaign Chair Henry maintained a laser focus on major gifts to create momentum and ensure the campaign reached its goal on time. Bayard quickly recruited outstanding volunteer leaders, including Frank Hatch, Wil Merck and Maine Governor Angus King (see below for full Campaign Leadership Committee).

They worked tirelessly, and enlisted friends, acquaintances, and family in the race to secure the deal. Special mention and thanks go to the Pingree family heirs; to members of the Henry, Merck and Hatch families; and to the Barr Foundation, the Libra Foundation, and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation. Without their leadership and extraordinary financial support, NEFF could not have completed the project. A challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation launched the public phase of the campaign and inspired hundreds of $37.50 gifts from individuals to “protect one acre” that put the campaign across the finish line. Every gift was essential. We remain humbled by the generosity of the supporters, partners and others who joined this pioneering endeavor. Thank you all.

On December 31, 2000, the Pingree Forest Partnership surpassed its $30 million goal, and in 2001, NEFF purchased the conservation easement on more than 762,192 acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. Who said it couldn’t be done?

Pingree Forest Partnership Campaign Leadership Committee Members, January 2000

  • Co-chairs: Francis W. Hatch*, Bayard Henry, Wilhelm M. Merck
  • Honorary Chairman: Angus King
  • Committee members: John S. Ames III, Gerard A. Bertrand, E. F. Bowditch, Jr., Eugene H. Clapp III, Charles W. H. Dodge, John H. Finley III, Robert L.V. French*, Robert H. Gardiner, Gordon Hall, William Haney III, Sherry F. Huber, John M. Kauffmann, Edward J. and Patricia Kfoury, William A. King*, G. Montgomery Lovejoy III, Gordon Mackay Morrison, Jr., Clint Reynolds*, Igor and Karen Sikorsky, John E. Taft*, David I.J. Wang


Large-scale Land Conservation Progress in New England

In 1997, the Northern Forest Alliance (NFA) identified 10 large and high-priority landscapes for conservation— called “Wildlands”—and mapped their already conserved and still-in-need-of-conservation acreage. NEFF has updated the NFA maps to show how much land has been protected in these areas over 24 years. NEFF’s multi- location Pingree easement has contributed to three of the landscapes (3, 6, 7), and its Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership easements to one landscape (8). Click here to view and download a PDF of the maps.

Maps created by Jennifer Shakun. Thanks to David Publicover of the Appalachian Mountain Club for providing the maps’ historic protected lands data and the Wildlands boundaries. Current protected areas data obtained from the Maine Office of GIS, NH GRANIT, and VT Center for Geographic Information.

Learn more about NEFF’s Pingree easement.

Top photo: Cranberry Cove on Upper Richardson Lake, a part of the Pingree easement. Photo by Ben Pearson, courtesy of Seven Islands Land Company.