If Aldo Leopold were alive today, he would certainly be celebrating the efforts of land trusts and our forestland conservation work. Collectively we are a voice for a personal land ethic, for stewardship of the earth’s finite natural resources, and for preservation of wild places in the midst of a civilized landscape. Increasingly, as well-regarded community organizations, we have the capacity to champion Leopold’s conservation principles.
Today there are ninety land trusts in Maine. Kennebec Land Trust's (KLT) 412,000-acre service region is geographically centered in Augusta, where we are currently working with many supporters to conserve Howard Hill, the 164-acre wooded hillside that frames our state's Capitol. In many ways, Howard Hill symbolizes the connection between Maine people and the land.
Over the past twenty-six years KLT has conserved 4,800 acres that will forever benefit the people, wildlife, and waters in our communities. However, as impressive as that work has been, our holdings represent just 1% of the land in our service region. So, as we continue to permanently protect forestland, wetlands and lake shorelines, farmland, and ecologically important reserves, we have also recognized the importance of working with partners who focus on a landscape approach to forestland conservation in our communities.
In 2009, inspired by work at the Harvard Forest, and with support from the Maine Forest Service, KLT organized a forestland conservation lecture series. A year later the Maine Forest Service and KLT founded the Kennebec Woodland Partnership (KWP), a group which now includes thirteen organizations. The member Partners recognize that our tourism, recreational and wood products economies, as well as our wildlife, water quality, and sense of beauty and place, are directly connected to the long-term conservation and stewardship of Kennebec County's 374,000 acres of forestland. As a diverse partnership we have developed broad conservation education programs and we have also addressed many of the common misunderstandings inherent in the use of words like “conservation,” “preservation,” “forest management,” and “sustainability”.
Two years ago, with support from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, two Kennebec Woodland Partners (KLT and the Maine Forest Service), and three statewide partners, (Maine Coast Heritage Trust, CEI, and GrowSmart Maine) launched a second forestland conservation project – Local Wood WORKS (LWW).
The new LWW initiative aims to highlight the benefits of regionally harvested and locally produced wood products.
Local Wood WORKS partners developed a set of principles that underscore our commitment to sustainable forestry, strong and resilient local economies, conservation of both working woodlands and ecological reserves, reduced energy consumption and transportation costs based on local products, and providing support to landowners, loggers, processors, manufacturers, and consumers.
There are many untold stories of entrepreneurial ventures that source sustainably harvested Maine wood. As in the local food movement, we envision that consumers will be interested in how people and nature are connected to those products.
Maine’s first ever 'Local Wood' conference will be held on November 14 at the Augusta Civic Center and outdoors at several locations on November 15. Presenters will highlight existing programs that encourage local wood economies in New England, growing for value, forestland sustainability, improvement forestry, lessons learned from the local food movement, landowner and business resources, and many other topics. Everyone is welcome – students, loggers, foresters, landowners, innovators, business owners and the general public. For more information, see www.localwoodworksmaine.com for a schedule of speakers and panelists.
Fifty years from now, our communities’ well-being and our landscapes will reflect today’s ethics, conservation practices, and partnerships. There is more hope for a sustainable commons if we work together now.
An earlier version of this essay was first published in the Land Trust Alliance's Saving Land Magazine, Spring, 2011 issue.
Theresa Kerchner, Executive Director, Kennebec Land Trust
Theresa was hired by KLT in 2002 as the Trust first staff person to develop KLT’s stewardship and outreach programs. In 2009 she became the Trust’s first Executive Director. Theresa oversees the operations of the Trust and works with the Board of Directors and KLT staff to develop and implement organizational, land conservation, and fundraising goals.