Crooked River Forests Project

Crooked River and Sebago Lake Watershed Work Continues, Spring, 2017

 

The Trust continues to work within the Crooked River Watershed with an over-arching goal of protecting a forested watershed for a variety of ecosystem services including water quality.

 

Over 200,000 households, 1/6th of Maine, rely upon clean drinking water from the Sebago Lake Reservoir, which is fed by the Crooked River and other tributaries within the greater Sebago Lake Watershed. Recently, new partners have joined the effort, providing welcome conservation approaches, technical and organizational expertise, and financial support.

 

Thanks to support from the partnership, WFLT will be hiring a part-time pro-gram coordinator, allowing more of our Executive Director’s time to be dedicated to conservation in the watershed.

Project Partners to Receive LMF Funds for the Crooked River Forests, November, 2015

 

Loon Echo and Western Foothills Trusts have recently learned that they will receive the Land For Maine’s Future (LMF) funds in 2016 that were awarded to them in 2014 for the Crooked River For-ests project. The funds will come out of the 2.2 mil-lion dollar LMF funds currently in the State Treasury that were recently released by the Governor.

 

On June 30th, Loon Echo and Western Foothills Land Trusts closed on their collaborative Crooked River Forest Project, protecting 791 acres of forest land along three and a half miles of the River in Harrison and Otisfield. Funding for the 1.4 million dollar project came from many sources: Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Land For Maine’s Future program, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Open Space Institute, Portland Water District, The Nature Conservancy, and private contributions. Unfortunately, the Trusts had to close using bridge loans to span the unfunded $400,000 Land For Maine’s Future grant.

 

The closing, albeit quiet, was a big deal for clean water in southern Maine and a boost for our region-al economy.  The Crooked River is the largest tributary into Sebago Lake, Maine’s second largest lake and the primary source of clean drinking water for 200,000 people— one-fifth of all Mainers—who live or work in 11 communities in the Portland area.  The Crooked River is also critical to the rural econo-mies of our region. Tourism and fishing are the larg-est drivers of economic activity. Last year, the area saw 35,000 angler trips.

The Governor’s refusal to deliver voter-approved LMF funds will have cost the two Trusts approxi-mately $10,000 in additional legal and interest fees. Both Trusts have begun harvests on their lands to pay off the loans; the harvest plans are currently being re-adjusted given the promise of funding.

 

While the Crooked River Forests Project and a few other LMF projects that have closed or are near closing will receive funding from the 2.2 million dollars released, two voter-approved LMF bonds remain to be funded, tying up an additional 10 million dollars and many more approved projects across 13 Maine counties.  So our work is not over.

 

In January two bills will come up concerning LMF funds: LR 2132 and LD 1454.

 

Dear Members and Friends, March 25, 2015

 

Over the years the Trust has always been proud of it membership base. It has been the source of support for our projects and a promoter of the Trust’s role in our community. Members have spent time and money helping to preserve special places in the landscape of western Maine. There are times, however, when the entire membership needs to mobilized to confront situations that threaten the Trust’s ability pursue its mission. This is one of those times.

 

I am sure most of you have been following the governor’s refusal to release funds from the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program, pending approval of his request for more timber harvesting on Maine’s public land in order to assist low income Mainers with wood fuel assistance. This week, Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor, was quoted in the Sun Journal as having said: “Several of the organizations that are now demanding LMF funding, opposed providing Mainers with money to keep their homes warm in winter months.”

 

Such allegations cannot go unchallenged. As I am sure you are aware, this land trust has never placed one class of Mainers above another in the pursuit of its mission. Our projects have benefited all of the residents of our service area. Our preserves are open to hunters, fishermen, skiers, hikers, bikers, and snow-shoers, regardless of their income status. Furthermore, many of our protected lands are managed as working forests, providing jobs for harvesters, haulers, and mill workers in the wood products industry.

 

But more important than such reckless allegations, the withholding of LMF funds threatens the very nature of the Trust’s ability to bring projects to fruition. As members, you’ve been kept informed of our Crooked River Project which would protect 3.5 miles of Crooked River shoreline, 791 acres of working forest lands, and miles of recreational trails in the watershed. It addition to a $400,000 LMF award, the project has received significant support from the Portland Water District, the Open Space Institute, the Nature Conservancy, several Maine Foundations, the Town of Otisfield, as well as numerous individual donations. As a joint effort with the Loon Echo Land Trust, the 1.4 million dollar Crooked River Forests project is the largest and most elaborate project WFLT has ever undertaken. This month, within days of closing, and after four years of negotiations, grant applications and awards, surveys, inspections, and due diligence, the two Trusts received notification that their awarded LMF funds were  “not currently available.” Withholding funding at this time adds legal complications and additional costs for all parties, and obviously threatens to derail the entire project.

 

Several points need to be made:

- Obviously the time to debate the worthiness of these bonds was when they were on the ballot and not after the fact.

 

- Since 60% of Maine voters were in favor of the bond issue, withholding these funds thwarts the expressed will of those voters.

 

- The voters were never asked if some legislative action had to take place before the issuance of the bonds. There was no quid pro quo on the ballot.

 

- Delaying or denying the use of these funds not only affects current projects, it has a chilling effect on future projects. Owners of significant parcels of land may well be hesitant to enter into negotiations with land trusts if LMF funding could be delayed or withdrawn by the administration.

 

- Finally, if these funds are not used by a certain date, they will no longer be available. Either the bonds will never be issued, or those already issued will be absorbed into the state’s general fund. Sixty percent of Maine voters did not endorse such a scenario.

 

I hope this letter gives you a sense of the board’s extreme frustration with the course of these events. As members, I’m sure you share this frustration with us. Our representatives in Augusta need to hear from you. Please call, e-mail, or write your representatives as soon as possible. When you do, ask them to contact the governor and encourage him to make good on the promise he made in 2013 to release the LMF funds in an expedited fashion. Ask them to insist that he fulfill his commitment to the 36 pending projects, including our Crooked River Forests project. In a state supposedly “open for business”, this is hardly the way to conduct it. It will take voices from all sides of the political spectrum to keep this funding from becoming something it was never intended to be: a partisan issue.

 

The Trust has often dealt with watershed issues. But this is a watershed of a different sort. We are on the cusp of not being able to tap the will of the people in the pursuit of conservation goals. We are at the point where the very expression of that will may be muted forever. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

 

Sincerely,

Robert Van Nest, President

Western Foothills Land Trust

 

Additional Information:

Land for Maine's Future Bond Timeline

Land for Maine's Future Talking Points

Portland Press herald, 3/18/2015

George Smith Blog, Bangor Daily News

 

Western Foothills Land Trust © 1987–2017   About | Contact

 

Western Foothills Land Trust is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.

WFLT PO Box 107, 445 Main Street, Norway, Maine 04268  |  207-739-2124

Crooked River Forests Project Proposal, November 2014

 

Project Description/Purpose: Two neighboring land trusts, Loon Echo Land Trust (LELT) and Western Foothills Land Trust (WFLT) propose to acquire five forested parcels in Harrison and Otisfield, Maine to protect 791 acres of forestland and over 3.5 miles of Crooked River shoreline. These historic forests will benefit the public by providing access to miles of public trails and rare fishing and canoe/kayak access to the Crooked River. The greater Portland community which relies on a clean Crooked River for source drinking water will benefit from protected forestland in the watershed. The Crooked River supports renowned trout and landlocked salmon fisheries.

 

Organizational Overview: The service areas of LELT and WFLT embrace the predominance of the Crooked River and Sebago Lake watersheds. LELT protects land in the northern Sebago Lake region of Maine to conserve its natural resources and character for future generations. WFLT works in the greater Oxford Hills region and is dedicated to the conservation and protection of native ecosystems, farm and forestlands, watersheds, and scenic landscapes for the benefit of wild and human communities in Western Maine. Together the Trusts provide over 11,000 acres of conserved land (fee owned or conservation easement), 40 miles of recreational trails and 50 nature-based programming year-round.

 

Target Population/People Served: The Crooked River is a part of the larger Sebago Lake watershed which is 361 square miles in size and makes up the northern portion of the Casco Bay watershed. The watershed spans parts of 22 towns including Harrison and Otisfield. The Crooked River unites and defines the Harrison and Otisfield town lines. Harrison has a year round population of 2,730 and a medium household income $35,000. Otisfield’s population is 1,770 with a median household income of $43,000. Both towns populations increase drastically in the summer are served by SAD17.

 

Project Objectives and Goals: In 2013 the land trusts held a public outreach meeting along the Crooked River where the attendees supported the idea of forming community recreational forests at these particular properties. Goals identified were to offer permanent public access for hunting, fishing, trapping, and walking/hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and snowmobiling. The most striking natural feature of these properties is the extensive river frontage totaling approximately 18,000 feet or 3.5 miles that include twisty turns and oxbows that offer protection for fish and other wildlife.

 

This project will have a substantial economic benefit because it is tied to the economic vitality of Sebago Lake’s fisheries. Sebago Lake is an important economic engine for southern Maine due to its popularity as a recreation destination, bringing in over $1 million annually from fishing revenues with additional support to the local marinas, outdoor guides, vacation rental properties, restaurants and other businesses that rely on the stable populations of the state’s most prized sport fishes.

 

Sebago Lake holds the distinction as a worldwide destination for salmon anglers since the early 1900’s’. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote what is thought to be the first record of a Sebago Lake landlocked salmon is an 1825 diary entry: “On the way home from Frye’s Island, Mr. Ring caught a black-spotted trout that was almost a whale. It weighed, before it was cut open, eighteen and one-half pounds.” Sebago produced the current World Record Landlocked Salmon caught in 1907. Angler count data collected and analyzed by MDIFW in 2013 indicates angler use is on the rise, approaching 35,000 angler trips last year. This increase in angler participation is likely in response to the improved salmon fishing as the salmon catch rates were the highest on record.

 

Description of Need: “As goes the Crooked River, so goes Sebago Lake.” The Crooked River is the largest tributary to Sebago Lake, with nearly 40% of the inflow. Sebago Lake is the second largest lake in the state of Maine at over 30,000 acres and is the primary drinking water supply for 200,000 people who live and work in 11 communities in the greater Portland area. In 1993, the Portland Water District (PWD) was granted a waiver to the filtration requirements of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act due to the purity of the water. PWD is a major partner and contributor to this project.

 

The watershed has been identified by the U.S. Forest Service as the most vulnerable watershed in the Northeastern 20 states with the greatest development pressure on private forests important for drinking water supply according to the reports “Forests, Water and People: Drinking water supply and forest lands in the Northeast and Midwest United States” (Barnes, Todd, Whitney Lilja, and Barten, 2009) and “Public and Private Forests, Drinking Water Supplies, and Population Growth in the Eastern United States” (Gergory and Barten, 2008).

The 1982 Maine Rivers Study identified the Crooked River as one of only seven rivers in Maine that are “the state’s most significant inland fishery rivers.” The study pointed out that, although the river is paralleled by a paved road along its upper segment, it has remained as one of the least developed rivers in southwestern Maine. The study also noted its scenic and recreational value as well as the presence of an important brook trout and landlocked salmon fishery. The river has been identified in the state’s Natural Resources Protection Act as an Outstanding River Segment with AA status; free flowing with the best water quality.

 

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s “Sebago Lake Landlocked Atlantic Salmon Management Plan” developed in 2008 and revised in 2008 and 2014, notes that Sebago Lake is home to one of Maine’s few indigenous landlocked salmon populations, making it both historically and genetically important. The Crooked River and some of its tributaries provide excellent spawning and juvenile habitat for native landlocked salmon; relatively little habitat is associated with other lake inlets or the outlet. One of the plan’s stated goals is to maintain, and where practical enhance, the wild salmon contribution to the Sebago Lake and Crooked River fishery, with the objective to support stewardship efforts to develop conservation easements and property acquisitions on lands abutting the Crooked River and its headwater tributaries.

 

Project Timeframe: The purchase contracts expire at the end of 2014, so the Trusts have until December 31, 2014 to complete the fundraising to purchase the properties. We have had strong success with private, State, and foundation grant sources. If necessary, the Trusts will seek a bridge loan and conduct sustainable timber harvests at the Crooked River properties to cover the remainder of the project budget. Recreational trails and water access locations will be planned throughout 2015. The majority of the trail systems will follow well maintained woods roads already in place.

 

Closing Summary: The Crooked River Forests project will positively impact the two host towns, the greater watershed community, and other stakeholders like drinking water users, fishermen/women, hunters, canoeists, and the businesses that depend on clean water and protected access to the Maine outdoors.