State of Maine's Environment 2007
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An Environmental Assessment  

The State of Land and Resource Use in the Unorganized Territory in Maine


Aime Schwartz, Emmie Theberge, and Emily Sinnott


Executive Summary


The State of Land and Resource Use in the Unorganized Territory in Maine is the third chapter of the report The State of Maine’s Environment 2007. Over 50% of the state of Maine is sparsely populated, lacks municipal authority, and is primarily privately owned; this area is officially referred to as the “unorganized territory” and historically has been called the “North Woods”2. The unorganized territory contain the largest contiguous undeveloped forest in the northeastern United States. However, with roughly 95% of the its forests in private ownership, Maine has one of the lowest percentages of public ownership in the country5. Landownership conditions have changed dramatically over the past few decades and have made the future of the region very uncertain.

            The unorganized territory traditionally have been identified as a working landscape important to the forest products industry, while the undeveloped, backcountry landscape is also valuable to recreational and conservation interests. Consequently, in this paper we assess the transition of land ownership in Maine’s unorganized territory and its implications for the forest products industry, recreational access, and conservation interests.

            Our analysis shows that rapid changes in landownership have created an unprecedented potential for parcelization, conversion, and conservation of timberland. This challenges timber management as well as industrial access to timber resources. These changes also threaten traditional resource access in the North Woods and Maine’s open land tradition. At the same time, popularity for motorized recreation is increasing rapidly in Maine, increasing the demand for large tracts of open space. Changes in ownership, parcelization, and conversion are major forces which threaten biodiversity in the unorganized territory. Habitats are at risk due to forestry practices and market pressures resulting in land conversion, liquidation harvesting, and fragmentation.

Based on the results of our research and our projected scenarios for the future of the North Woods, we provide specific policy recommendations to encourage appropriate land and resource use in the state’s unorganized territory. These recommendations focus on: state-wide comprehensive planning, reducing stakeholder conflict, LURC zoning, defining easements, increasing Land for Maine’s Future Program Funding, taxation, biodiversity concerns, capitalizing on sustainable marketing opportunities, and specifying CLUP language.




History and Context

Over 50% of the state of Maine is sparsely populated, lacks municipal authority, and is primarily owned by timber companies, investor owners, non-industrial private forest owners, and nonprofit organizations. This area is officially referred to as the “unorganized territory” and historically has been called the “North Woods” (Figure 3.1). The unorganized territory contain the largest contiguous undeveloped forest in the northeastern United States. However, with roughly 95% of the Maine’s forests in private ownership, Maine has one of the lowest percentages of public ownership in the country5.

With 17.7 million acres of forestland, 90% of the state, Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation5. The unorganized territory traditionally have been identified as a working landscape important to the forest products industry, but the undeveloped, backcountry landscape is also valuable to recreational and conservation interests. Maine has a longstanding history of free or low cost public access and multiple-use management on private land. However, the ownership of Maine’s private forestlands has undergone rapid change in the past decade. A prominent transition is taking place as traditional industrial owners are increasingly being replaced by investor-owners.

The state of Maine’s environment is tied to the uncertainty of the future of northern Maine. With development and sprawl expanding in southern Maine, the North Woods are often viewed as an oasis for backcountry recreation and escape from development. However, development and sprawl are encroaching on the unorganized territory, contributing to widespread change in this northern part of the state. This paper focuses on changes in land and resource use in the unorganized territory, but the patterns and trends we identify have implications for stakeholders and land use throughout the state. Given the significance of timberland resources, ecological diversity, and non-consumptive forest-based activities within Maine’s working forests, the North Woods are central to the state’s forestry heritage and open land traditions.


The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) was created in 1971 by the Maine Legislature to be the planning and zoning authority for the state’s unorganized areas. The commission was established in response to increasing building and development pressures in the unorganized territory during the late 1960s. LURC applies land use controls to over 10.4 million acres which lack local governmental authorities and, as such, it is responsible for directing land use policy for the largest undeveloped area in the Northeast, over half the state of Maine2. The Commission has established resource-based zoning districts to identify permissible activities in each zone as well as policies and regulations for guiding development within its jurisdiction. LURC standards such as development guidelines, subdivision, and timber harvesting practices are designed to ensure that activities and land uses do not have an “undue adverse effect on resources and existing uses”2.

LURC’s land use decision-making aims to reflect local concerns as well as public interest in the state. While LURC is directly accountable to permanent residents and commercial bodies in the jurisdiction, the commission recognizes other constituencies with interests in the region and its resources ranging from non-resident landowners to recreationists to conservationists. 95% of LURC territory is forested, comprising more than half of Maine’s forestland. LURC will play an important role in preserving this resource for traditional uses. LURC’s objectives are: “to extend the principles of planning and zoning; to preserve public health, safety, and welfare; to encourage the well-planned, multiple use of natural resources; to promote orderly development; and to protect natural and ecological values” 2.

Defining the Resource

Maine’s forests have been an integral part of Maine’s economy, culture, and wild character. The timber industry and the raw materials provided by forestlands have been the long-standing foundation for the state’s economy. Culturally the forest industry supports Maine communities and their traditional way of life through providing jobs and an economic base. They are also culturally significant in providing areas for recreation such as camping, hunting, fishing and other sports through the tradition of open access to private lands. Ecologically the forest is an important transitional zone between the southern range of the boreal forest and the northern range of the deciduous forest and is a sink of biodiversity. It also provides wildlife habitat and watershed protection2.

New landowners may use the forest resource in ways that conflict with traditional uses. For example, new financial investors who parcel and sell land for the highest economic profit, make long term management of forest resources difficult because smaller parcels are less economically and ecologically viable as a working forest. Also, if land is developed for seasonal housing in remote areas, this may limit the activity of adjacent recreational users, like hunters, or commercial foresters. Traditional uses and the are dependent on the maintenance of large forested landscapes, which is more difficult with new landowners and economic pressures to develop. The forest is an important resource for industrial use, remote recreational activities, and maintaining biodiversity. These assets are best preserved by careful management of growth and development in the forests and protection of areas that sustain the cultural heritage of Maine’s forests.  LURC will play an important role in preserving this resource for traditional uses. 95% of that land under LURC’s jurisdiction is forested, and this comprises more than half of Maine's forestland2.

Goals and Objectives

In this paper we assess the transition of land ownership in Maine’s unorganized territory and its implications for the forest products industry, recreational access, and conservation interests. A primary objective of our research is to address current pressures and relevant issues in Maine’s unorganized territory, which have extensive implications for the future of the North Woods. We hope to accurately reflect public concerns and policy issues regarding the provision of public access, recreational opportunities, protection of plant and wildlife habitats, and the economic viability of Maine’s traditional forest products economy. We consider the following questions pertaining to land use in the unorganized territory: What is the state of land and resource use? How did timberland ownership change in Maine, why, and what does the future hold for the forest-products industry? What is the state of recreation and public access? What is the state of conservation? How do landownership trends impact recreation and conservation interests and what are plausible policy tools to address this change?

The first section addresses changing landownership in relation to the forest products industry and pressures which have contributed to emerging landowner interests in the unorganized territory. The second section discusses trends in recreation and the impact of landownership change on recreational access. Finally, we assess ongoing conservation efforts and the relationship between land use change and ecological viability of the North Woods. We then present an analysis and discussion to address major findings and relationships between these three topics. We conclude the paper with a discussion of potential scenarios for the future of land use in the jurisdiction. Based on these projected scenarios and the results of our research, we provide a specific policy recommendations to encourage appropriate land and resource use in the state’s unorganized territory.


Figure 3.1  LURC Territory9



Forest Products Industry

Trends and Current Status

Maine has the biggest, most diverse forest products industry cluster in New England, consisting of pulp and paper companies, sawmills, biomass energy, forest-based recreation, forest owners and managers, and trade associations. Given the forest products industry’s heavy reliance on wood from the unorganized territory, emerging pressures in these areas have a direct impact on the viability of traditional resource-based industries in Maine2. While forested acreage in Maine’s unorganized territory has remained constant for several decades, land ownership has changed significantly in the past 20 years. Beginning in the 1980s, there was a general shift in forest ownership from large timber companies to emerging investment oriented land owners as new uses and interests continue to surface in the unorganized areas. An analysis of these trends, as well as the current state of Maine’s forest products industry, gives an indication of the challenges faced by Maine’s working forests and the future of land use in LURC territory10.

During the past three decades, market competition and the global expansion of trade exposed the North American forest products market to global economic forces11. Consolidation in the forest products industry in response to these pressures has contributed to the loss of jobs, as well as dramatic changes in land use practices and ownership across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and northern Maine. Between 1980 and 2005, roughly 23.8 million acres changed ownership in this region, constituting a pervasive change throughout the 30 million acre region12.

The Northeastern US has shown some of the most dramatic transitions in ownership from traditional industrial owners to other owner types. The transition in Maine’s forestland ownership patterns is a reflection of these regional, national, and international patterns. In the past decade alone, industrial ownership of tracts over 5,000 acres declined from 60% to 15.5% in Maine12. During the same period, financial investors increased holdings of the large forest tracts from 3% to over 30%. These prominent changes can be attributed to pressures and trends beginning in the 1980s, which impacted timberland ownership patterns throughout the nation12.

During the 1980s investors and global market pressures increased the value of forestland beyond traditional values associated with timber harvesting and non-consumptive recreation. Stock market values of timberland assets of vertically-integrated forest products companies (VIFPCs) declined later in the 1980s, while new land use values such as development emerged simultaneously. During the same time period, public and non-profit organizations became increasingly involved in conservation efforts through large land acquisitions and easements12, 13. As VIFPCs disintegrated, easements were established as market mechanisms to monetize land values in an effort to compete with rival interests of emerging landowners and investors12.

In the 1990s, a convergence of international financial pressures instigated dramatic changes in timberland ownership in the US. An increase in global wood production prompted a decline in prices, creating a more challenging commercial environment for the US forest products industry10. The US-based forest products sector struggled to earn back the cost of capital expenditures as wood and paper prices declined during the course of the decade10. Price decreases coupled with a depreciation of timberland assets prompted many VIFPCs to undergo a process of strategic restructuring in an effort to eliminate unnecessary costs and improve efficiency. Many VIFPC’s responded to rising expenses and strategic management concerns by divesting timberlands, liquidating assets, and establishing long-term fiber supply contracts as a substitute for land holdings14. Still, industries faced the need to make critical capital investments to maintain competitiveness and business efficiency in an increasingly competitive global economy. Internationally, the forest products sector shifted centers of production to foreign countries with lower-cost and higher productivity timberlands12. As companies continued to divest timberland holdings in Maine, land transactions prompted concern among communities, environmental groups, and politicians that Maine’s forests were at risk for development15. In response to these concerns, private conservation funding increased dramatically during the 1990’s, resulting in large-scale conservation easements and purchases10. 

Since 2000, the pace of large land sales has accelerated and reports show that industry owners accounted for over half the land sales between 2000 and 2005. As indicated in Figure 3.2 investment-oriented landowners have become even more active since 2000 as both buyers and sellers of forestland in the unorganized territory13. Current trends demonstrate that inadequate returns from long-term forest management have increased pressures for owners to convert land assets to more profitable uses. This has resulted in practices such as liquidation harvesting, whereby owners exploit commercial timber values and convert lands to development purposes5.


Figure 3.2  Landownership Change 1994, 1999, 2007 (courtesy of Manuel Gimond, Colby College)16



Current Status

Despite the growing number of land transactions in Maine’s unorganized territory during the past few decades, the majority of the land is still working forest. Maine’s forest products industry remains a vital component of the state’s economy; however, the industry is facing rising competition in an increasingly competitive global market. Maine’s forest products industries face deteriorating production cost advantages as large-scale mills elsewhere in North America and abroad shift economies of scale away from Maine10. In response to the competitive nature of the globalized forest products market, the forest products industry in Maine has adopted changes to reduce costs and improve efficiency through technical improvements5.

Improvements in processing and harvesting technologies have caused a steady decline in employment for the forest products industry, as capital investments help to increase worker productivity. Between 1990 and 2003, employment in Maine’s forest products industries dropped from 27,400 to 18,300 workers11. Despite these long-term declines in employment and loss of market share in major natural resource markets, Maine’s natural resource industries still play an important role in national and international markets17. Maine’s forest products sector generates approximately half of the wood production in New England5. In 2005, forest-based manufacturing accounted for $2.468 billion or 50% of manufacturing contributions to the gross state product in Maine18. During the same year, direct annual contributions of the industry amounted to $6.2 billion, while indirect contributions totaled $10.2 billion2.

Currently, harvested acreage in Maine covers roughly 3% of the state’s forestland annually, 51% of which is subject to partial harvesting methods5. In 2005, harvesting in Maine was just over 500,000 acres per year, allowing for a harvest of just over 6 million cords per year. Between 1995 and 2003, timber harvesting in Maine increased from 470,599 acres to 511,070 acres, while clearcut acreage declined from 39,295 acres to 18,389 acres5. This increase in harvested acreage can be attributed to industry compensation for the loss in timber volume caused by the shift in harvesting practices from clearcutting to partial harvesting techniques. While the full extent of the long-term impacts of harvesting practices are still unclear, timber harvesting has effects on ecological integrity as well as the composition of forested areas. Partial harvesting may remove higher or lower quality trees, changing the composition of tree stands as well as their ability to grow in volume and value5.

Maintaining the economic viability and sustainable management of Maine’s working forests is fundamental to protecting public values, industrial output, and the tradition of open access in Maine. However, changing land ownership has added to the prevailing climate of uncertainty in regard to the future of Maine’s land base as well as the forest products industry11. As this transition in land ownership continues, non-industrial private forest landowners are playing an increasingly important role in the future of Maine’s timber supply as well as recreational access and conservation interests.

Parcelization in the unorganized territory poses an increasing challenge for active timber management and commercial productivity and output. The break up of large properties, such as the Great Northern Paper transaction detailed in Case Study 3. 1, increases the development potential on lands that were previously used exclusively for commercial timber harvesting2. A number of factors contribute to pressures which relate to parcelization in the unorganized territory, including growing seasonal housing demands, changing recreational preferences, and development pressures2. As these dynamics continue to encroach upon the unorganized territory from the south, the disparity between land values for forestry and development is becoming more and more apparent. This process of parcelization has a direct impact on recreational access to areas in the unorganized jurisdiction as well as implications for conservation efforts as development pressures continue to build.



Case Study 3. 1  Breakup of Great Northern Paper: Example of Parcelization19


As indicated by Figure 3.3, the most dramatic occurrence of parcelization has been in the southern parts of the unorganized territory. This trend, parallel to increasing development pressures, generates concern regarding the potential decline of forestry-related land uses and further development2. In contrast, forestry activities still dominate the northern parts of the jurisdiction where larger parcels are still dominant. However, large holdings in these areas have been subject to parcelization and they remain vulnerable to further fragmentation. The current pattern of parcelization has major implications for the future viability of Maine’s forest products industry, as resource partitioning and varying ownership objectives are changing the face of traditional management and industrial access to forest resources5.

Regulation and management strategies are challenged by the growing number of landowners, fragmented distribution of timberland, varying land use objectives, and changing attitudes toward timber harvesting in the unorganized territory. While it remains unclear how these changes will affect long-term industrial viability, the landownership trends pose a challenge to timber management and availability and could potentially threaten industrial access to critical timber sources in the North Woods5.


Figure 3.3  Parcel Size (acres) Unorganized Territory 200220


In the past two decades, a number of new actors have emerged in the unorganized territory, representing a new era for forest management and stewardship
(Figure 3.4). As traditional industrial ownership is being phased out, Maine is witnessing a growing chasm between land ownership and forest product manufacturing. Industrial owners historically used forestland assets as a fiber source for industrial needs and inherently held an interest in long-term management strategies. New investor owners, are not concerned with meeting supply needs of the industry and therefore employ different objectives and management strategies for timberland21. Changing attitudes towards silviculture, tree growth, and timberland management pose a direct challenge to Maine’s forest products industry, which already faces cost disadvantages nationally and internationally.



Figure 3.4  Forestland Ownership in Maine 1994-200519


The replacement of local “timber barons” (traditional industrial owners) with distant, profit maximizing investor owners has caused concerns among local environmental groups and communities. While large industrial owners were traditionally recognized as prominent actors and engaged in public discourse, new investor landowners, primarily controlled by stockholders, have taken a more private approach12. As landowners become increasingly disengaged from public discourse on sustainability and forest management, it is difficult to ensure that landowners are participating in collective initiatives such as forest certification standards to ensure the long-term viability of forest practices and land use.

The new class of timberland owners in Maine includes Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), non-profits, and other non-industrial private forest owners (NIPF). Emerging investor landowners seek to protect stockholder interests by maximizing returns on land assets and are thus inclined to manage timberland in a much different manner than industrial owners. TIMOs, which are playing an increasing role in acquiring timberland assets divested by integrated forest products companies, build land asset portfolios for institutional owners22. TIMOs’ strategic objectives are to attract capital to timber assets, diversify land portfolios, maximize returns on investment, and maintain low management costs.  REITs, like Plum Creek, are tax-efficient landowner entities which aim to maximize funds generated by timberland investments22. In 2005, financial institutions like these held approximately 3.75 million acres in Maine. Corporate actors, which own parcels for 10 to 15 years on average, contribute to rapid changes in ownership which have created an unprecedented potential for conversion, fragmentation, and conservation of forestland and challenge the state’s forest management capacity5.

Laws, Institutions and Management


Table 3.1  Description of Laws and LURC Zones Relevant to Land and Resource Use in the Unorganized Territory2

LURC Zoning Subdistricts



General Management Zone


Applies to the most of the LURC jurisdiction, forest and agricultural activities allowed without significant limitations.




Maine Forest Practices Act


Maine’s most comprehensive forestry law, regulates clearcutting, forest regeneration, and liquidation harvesting.

Tree Growth Tax Law


Reduces property tax rates for woodlots and forestlands.

Farm and Open Space Tax Law


Reduces property tax rates for farmland and open space.

Public Law 2003, Chapter 422


An Act to Promote Stewardship of Forest Resources.



LURC’s statutory mandate is implemented primarily by zoning, permits, and land use.2 Zoning districts have been established in the unorganized territory as a means to determine which activities and land use practices are permitted in different areas. Management zones, which account for 79% of the jurisdiction, are designated to areas used for commercial forestry practices and agriculture. Protection zones are established as a protective measure to limit land use activities which compromise natural, recreational or historically significant areas, and represent 21%. Development zones, which make up only 1% of the unorganized territory, allow for intensive uses for recreational, residential, commercial and industrial purposes2. Sub-districts within each zone designate specific uses and requirements for certain areas. Industry functions primarily in management districts, which are divided into three sub-districts. General Management Zones, which cover the majority of LURC territory, allow for and encourage multiple use and do not impose significant restrictions on land use. Highly Productive Management Zones and Natural Character Management Zones represent areas with productive agricultural or forestlands and limit development opportunities to protect industrial and recreational interests, but have not yet been implemented by LURC2.

Despite the current predominance of management zones in the jurisdiction, they are generally recognized as areas ripe for conversion to other uses and have been subject to a continuous rezoning for development. The Commission has recently adopted Prospective Zoning as an instrument to guide development and growth in different parts of the jurisdiction. This approach considers existing development patterns, natural resource characteristics, and other trends to determine suitable areas for development. The Commission can use Prospective Zoning as an effective means to control growth in the jurisdiction and limit the conversion of working forests to other uses2.

While LURC is the primary authority within its jurisdiction, other agencies with statewide statutes are given a status of limited jurisdiction within the unorganized territory and exhibit distinct responsibilities. The Maine Forest Service remains active in the unorganized territory to oversee timber harvesting practices and ensure industry compliance with the state Forest Practices Act. In addition to monitoring industry activities, the Forest Service enforces requirements and standards concerning forest regeneration and clear-cutting. The Forest Service administers rules by requiring landowners to submit a notification of intent to harvest as well as a report of products harvested and sold5.


The Maine State Legislature has shown determination to address forestry issues around the state. As part of Governor Baldacci’s Administration’s Forest Stewardship Initiative, An Act to Promote Stewardship of Forest Resources was passed in 2003 to address the problem of liquidation harvesting practices in the state23. The act substantiated a legislative agenda to uphold long-term forest management principles and identify solutions to liquidation harvesting23. In 2005, the Maine Forest Service adopted the Timber Harvesting Standards to Substantially Eliminate Liquidation Harvesting rule in an effort to address unsustainable harvesting practices that threatened long-term management of forest resources. Liquidation harvesting is defined by the State Legislature as “the purchase of timberland followed by a harvest that removes most or all commercial value in standing timber, without regard for long-term forest management principles, and the subsequent sale or attempted resale of the harvested land within 5 years”24. The rule requires that, prior to harvest, a timber harvest plan be submitted to the Forest Service providing a rationale and justification for harvesting. This rule is important in ensuring sustainable harvesting of tree stands, as well as preventing short-term profit driven land owners from compromising the ecological viability of forest resources24.

Maine has two programs that act as landowner incentives for long-term management by reducing tax property burdens on undeveloped lands. The Tree Growth Tax Law (TGTL) establishes a lower taxation level for land involved in timber production in comparison to lands with more intensive uses5. The tax law allows for the valuation of classified forestland on the basis of productivity value as opposed to fair market value. The tree growth tax program acts as an incentive for woodland owners to maintain productive forest values and imposes penalties for conversion to other uses. Currently 7.6 million acres in the unorganized territory are enrolled in the tree growth tax program, demonstrating significant landowner commitment to manage forestland and forestry-related uses25. TGTL requires the submission of a Forest Management and Harvest Plan to ensure both long-term and short-term tree growth objectives are met by landowners. Data from the TGTL indicates an increase in rate of parcelization in the unorganized territory. Figure 3.5 shows a 1,835 acre decline in the average size of parcels enrolled in the program between 1988 and 20045. The Farm and Open Space Tax Law acts in a similar manner to provide incentives which protect farmland and open space through the designation of special tax status. For open space, the law requires that land be preserved to provide public benefit by protecting scenic attributes, improving public recreation opportunities, upholding game management, or preserving wildlife habitat26, 27.



Figure 3.5 Tree Growth Tax Law Average Parcel Size, Unorganized Territory, 1988-20045


Forest Certification

Maine is a national leader in forest certification. In 2003, Governor Baldacci initiated Maine’s Forest Certification Initiative (MFCI), constituting the first state-led forest certification effort in the US23. MFCI facilitates a state partnership with the forest products industry, landowners, and others with a stake in Maine’s forest resources to help make Maine a national leader in the production of certified forest products23. Forestland certification involves third-party auditors which assess landowner management practices and apply specific standards to sustainable forestry. While certification helps to ensure sustainable management and long-term yields, it is also used as an effective market mechanism to distinguish the sustainable forest products in an increasingly competitive international market. As an effective market-based approach, certification helps to compensate for regulatory challenges faced by the state by using market incentives to promote sustainable forest management28.

MFCI is an important part of a statewide effort to distinguish Maine’s forest products industry and protect the long-term viability of forest resources in the state. The Certification Advisory Committee, which operates under the Maine Forest Service, was established to assess the state of certification systems in Maine and ways improve certification efforts throughout the state28. In 2005, Maine had roughly 7 million acres of certified forestland or 37% of the state’s productive forestlands, including 6 million acres of large-parcel private land, 350,000 acres of small-parcel private lands, and 500,000 acres of public land (Figure 3.6) 18, 23. Industrial and non-industrial parcels larger then 5,000 acres accounted for 87% of Maine’s certified forestlands5.

Three main certification systems are used in Maine: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Both ATFS and SFI have state implementation groups which coordinate with landowners to ensure compliance with management guidelines28. ATFS has been operating in Maine since 1952, however ATFS certification is relatively new. ATFS certifies parcels up to 10,000 acres, and places an emphasis on family forests with smaller parcels between 100-150 acres28. SFI was initiated in 1995 and certifies forestland holdings larger than 10,000 acres. Participation in SFI is a prerequisite for membership in the American Forest and Paper Association and many of Maine’s industrial forestland owners have pursued SFI certification to protect market interests. FSC, established in 1993, operates under a regional structure and relies on other certification bodies to enforce standards and verify compliance28. FSC focuses on certification of large, corporate holdings but has also adopted initiatives to incorporate family forests. The Master Logger Certification Program is the only third-party certification for forestry practitioners in the state. Since its inception in 2001, Master Logger has certified over 100 companies in Maine and has expanded to several other states28.

Figure 3.6  Change in Amount of Forest Certification in Maine 1995-20055





Trends and Current Status

Maine has a 200-year-old tradition of open access to its resource rich lands; this is especially true for the northern part of the state. The open land tradition is rooted in the relationship pulp and paper companies have historically had with the people of Maine. The public uses these large tracts of undeveloped, privately owned land as if it were a common property resource and many Mainers do so with a feeling of entitlement: using the land of others for recreation is one of their traditional rights29. Beyond being a cultural phenomenon, Maine law facilitates and, in some cases, guarantees public access to private land. Moreover, Maine state policy encourages landowners to continue allowing the public access to their land. Both of these points are explained in detail in later sections.

The open land tradition is applicable to the entire state, but holds true especially in the North Woods. As noted previously, the northern two-thirds of the state are sparsely populated and most parcels of land are owned by timber companies and investment corporations in large tracts (hundreds of thousands of acres in many cases). This vast, undeveloped space along with an abundance of natural assets makes a landscape ideal for recreational opportunities.

Natural Assets

            According to LURC’s 2008 Comprehensive Land Use Planning draft2, within the unorganized territory alone there are more than 3,000 lakes and ponds, totaling over 622,000 acres of surface area. The area has the highest concentration of undeveloped rivers in the eastern United States including over 21,000 miles of rivers and streams. Included in these thousands of miles of waterways are the famous St. John River, the Allagash River–the nation’s first state-administered wild and scenic river–and five significant whitewater river segments with dependable summer flows. The unorganized territory have roughly 100 mountain peaks over 3,000 feet high, excluding Baxter State Park. There are abundant and diverse wildlife and fishery resources including moose and deer, martin and fisher, lynx and bobcat, bear, wild landlocked salmon and trout, and populations of rare species including the Canadian Lynx and golden eagles. Additionally, the unorganized territory have roughly 300 miles of coastline, including 301 coastal islands; however, the coastal areas are not a focus of this paper.

            This plethora of resources combined with little development makes the unorganized territory ideal for recreation. Recreationists enjoy the territory’ ecological values; including the wealth of water, fish and wildlife, scenic, and cultural resources. Opportunities range from more primitive and traditional recreation to motorized sports. These activities include: sightseeing and nature observing, hiking, mountain climbing, backpacking, camping, snow shoeing, canoeing and kayaking, Nordic skiing, hunting, trapping, fishing, snowmobiling, power boating, and the use of backcountry vehicles such as ATVs, dirt bikes, and four-wheel drive trucks. Still other activities often require a facility of some sort. In the unorganized territory these facilities include: boat launches, campsites, campgrounds, sporting camps, whitewater rafting bases, and Nordic and alpine ski resorts2. Like most of the activity itself, the majority of these recreational facilities in the territory are located on private lands.

            So what is the state of resource access for recreational use? The way in which these natural assets are distributed in the unorganized territory between public and private land has implications for recreational use. Presently, land access is widely available although without written guarantee. While unspoken or implied permission has always been the standard in the North Woods, recent shifts in landownership has sparked conversations across the state among policymakers and citizens alike, created anxiety for recreationists fond of the area, and left many Mainers wondering what the future of recreational access will be in the Maine woods.

            The following sections provide a description of land available for recreation both statewide and in the unorganized territory more specifically.

Public Land

            Over 1.2 million acres of conservation and recreation land in Maine is owned by state or federal agencies; about 668,000 acres of these lands are in the unorganized territory2. This comprises about 56% of all public land in the state, but only 6% of all unorganized territory land. Not included in these figures of State ownership, however, are the Great Ponds– bodies of standing water ten or more acres in size. These are owned by the State under Common Law rights, which guarantees public and use access. There are 1,345 Great Ponds in the unorganized territory, totaling approximately 617,000 acres in surface area2. More information on the Great Ponds law is provided later in this section.

State government has attempted to obtain more land for recreational uses either through fee, conservation easements, or increased infrastructure including trail ways. In the last 20 years, the State has increased its ownership within the territory by about 50,000 acres2. Figure 3.7 and Figure 3.8 show the success of public land acquisition statewide over the last decade.

While this land acquisition certainly benefits recreationists, it does not tell the whole story. Private lands surround some of these public lands, particularly in the northern parts of the state, which means access to public lands often requires one to cross private land. Therefore, in some cases public land acquisition alone does not guarantee public access. If private landowners cut off access on their land, then public land is essentially inaccessible except by air. The Allagash Waterway is an example of public land surrounded by private land. To gain access to the Allagash Waterway one must pass through the North Maine Woods gate at the Telos Gate. The North Maine Woods, an organization of forest landowners, is described in detail in Case Study 3. 2 below.

Figure 3.7  Bureau of Parks and Lands Acquisition History in Maine 1995-200630

Figure 3.8  Change in Total Parks and Lands Acres in Maine 1995-200630


Private Land

            90% of Maine’s land is privately owned, while the state and federal government own 8.7% and1.8% respectively29. The North Woods are no exception; private land is predominant in the unorganized territory. The recreational experience is influenced heavily by the ever-changing land ownership patterns of these privately owned lands. As mentioned earlier, there is a common fear among state agencies, policy makers, and citizens alike that landownership changes will adversely affect on public access. Although much of these lands continue to remain open for many recreational activities2, the certainty and traditional open land sentiment is changing now from even two generations ago. Policy makers unfortunately cannot calm the public’s anxiety as they lack the power to protect Maine’s outdoor heritage and remote lands31. Nevertheless, the access issue is at the forefront of state politics and has reached both the executive and legislative branches of Maine’s government. Recommendations from these government bodies and other policy mechanisms are described in depth later.

            Individual landowners generally manage recreation use of private land; as such, access varies from open to restricted to closed. Posting is the prominent way of controlling access to one’s land. Subjectively, wardens, Maine guides, and sportsmen have noticed an increase in the number of posted lands; areas that historically were open for recreational use are now posted. A study done in 1991 by the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM) showed that of the landowners surveyed 14.9% were posting their land; by 2005, the percentage grew to 39.4%29. This suggests an enormous increase in postings in the last 15 years. The North Maine Woods (see Case Study 3. 2) is another example of a private management scheme. In this system, access to the land and facilities is controlled through a series of gates and numerous stakeholders are active in the management scheme. The gate system is not limited to the North Maine Woods region, and is a popular management scheme across the jurisdiction.

With changes in landownership come the emergence of new owners including non-industrial private forest owners such as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs). As noted in the previous section, these actors often have different land use objectives that may not be conducive to public access. Additionally, they generally operate on a much shorter time period (generally 10-15 years on average) than “timber barons” (traditional industrial owners). Furthermore, while large industrial owners were traditionally recognized as prominent actors engaged in public discourse, new investor landowners, primarily controlled by stockholders, have taken a more private approach12. Both this private, distant approach and the short time period this makes building trust and relationships with other stakeholders difficult or unimportant.

Investment trusts are not the only new owners in the North Woods. Non-profit conservation organizations have emerged as owners and stakeholders in the region; the amount of privately owned lands held in fee or in easement by non-profit conservation organizations has increased. In fact, of all the types of landowners in the unorganized territory, non-profit conservation groups have the highest rate of increase in ownership over the past several decades. These organizations increased their fee holdings from about 57,000 acres in 1985 to approximately 300,000 acres in 2006, an 81% increase2. These figures are conservative because they do not include the land held in easement by these organizations. Recreational activities like hunting, fishing, boating, camping, and hiking have been allowed to continue on many of these conservation lands, although some types of recreation, namely motorized activities, have been restricted from place to place. With the changing face of recreation, which is discussed in the following section, this access restriction will likely cause conflict between stakeholders.

About 90% of recreation in Maine occurs on private land. This is especially true for popular motorized sports such as snowmobiling and ATV riding, but is also the case for hunting, fishing, and some other primitive recreational sports. This demand for access combined with the shrinking supply of recreational land available is a major concern within the state. Furthermore, decreased access, or the threat thereof, combined with changing trends within the recreationist community poses an additional layer of contention. These changing trends are described below.





Primitive and Traditional Recreationists

            Primitive recreation still proves to be popular in Maine. However, trends within traditional recreation may be surprising. Traditional sports, like hunting and fishing are declining statewide; between 1993 and 2001, the number of hunting and fishing licenses issued statewide declined by 6% and 12%, respectively (Figure 3.9)32. This trend is mirrored within the unorganized territory. According to the 2008 draft LURC CLUP since the 1970s, the number of travelers to the North Maine Woods (Case Study 3. 2) region primarily seeking fishing or hunting opportunities has declined, while the number going camping or visiting private camps has increased2.

Furthermore, overall, public use in some of the more remote recreation areas has been declining, including Baxter State Park, where day use at the park dropped by approximately 5% between 1990 and 2000, and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, where total public use declined by 18% from 1993 to 20022.

The popularity trends overtime of primitive recreation sports such as skiing, hiking, bird watching, etc. are less documented. Additionally, the percentage of primitive recreationists coming into the state from away may be a significant constituency. Not only do the data not illustrate this constituency well, these recreationists do not have a solidified or active lobby voice within the state. This makes them even less acknowledged during decision-making processes. Other trends and relationships surrounding the visitor dynamic are discussed in detail below.

Figure 3.9   Percent Change in Licenses and Registrations 1993-200132

Figure 3.10  Licenses and Registrations by Activity Type 1993-200132


Motorized Recreationists

Motorized recreation is increasingly popular in Maine. Snowmobile registrations grew by over 50% between 1993 and 2001, with approximately 98,000 snowmobiles registered in 2001. ATV registrations more than doubled during that time (an increase of 109 percent), with nearly 45,000 ATVs registered in 2001 (Figure 3.9 and Figure 3.10)2. Funding for and development of motorized trails proportionally increased with this demand (Figure 3.11). Boating registrations have also increased overall, particularly for cabin boats, pontoon boats, and personal watercraft32.

Figure 3.11  Miles of Motorized Trails Funded by Year 1995-200630


Motorized recreationists have numerous clubs and organizations. Their lobbying power and voice within the state is quite strong. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) is one such club. SAM, Maine's largest sportsmen's organization, was organized in 1975 as a non-profit membership organization to “promote conservation of Maine's wildlife resources and to be an advocate for hunters, anglers, trappers and gun owners throughout the state”33. While SAM also represents primitive and more traditional sports, they are known to be a prominent lobby voice for motorized recreation. SAM staff work on critical issues in the legislature and with state agencies, and is one of the loudest lobbying voices in Maine for recreational access issues.

Motorized recreational activities differ from primitive activities in a couple of key ways. First, these activities require more space, which creates an even greater demand for public access points. As Table 3.2 and Table 3.3 show, most of the area that ATV and snowmobile trails are located on private land. Secondly, these sports are generally louder and more disruptive than primitive recreation. This decreases the supply of public access as more private land is being posted for no motorized recreation. The increasing demand for  ever shrinking space creates rifts between private landowners and recreationists, and this trend may trickle down to primitive recreation as landowners feel more justified posting their land for no access.


Table 3.2  Trails on Private and Public Land as of August 2007 (in miles)30


Private Land

Public Land1


% on Private Land











Rail Trails Only2










1Includes BP&L, WMNF, IF&W, municipal lands, etc.

2 Rail Trail miles included above


Table 3.3  ATV Riding on Land Types (number of miles ridden)32


Miles Ridden

% Ride on Your Land

% Ride on Other Private Land

% Ride on ME State Land

% Ride on Local or National Land

% Ride on Unknown Ownership

< 100












100– 249 miles











250– 499 miles











500 or more miles













            The distribution of Mainers and visitors and their contribution to different recreational activities is noteworthy. As seen in Figure 3.12, in 2001 Mainers dominated fishing license activity and to a much greater degree ATV and snowmobile registrations; visitors, however, comprised the majority of hunting license holdings. This shows that Mainers certainly dominate the motorized sport activity. Furthermore, Table 3.4 shows how trends have changed overtime for fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching for both Mainers and visitors. This table shows that while these traditional and primitive sports have experienced a decreasing trend, it is especially apparent for visitors.

The economic benefits from primitive and motorized sports as well as those from visitors and Mainers are less clear from the data. It is important that the state collects this data so that possible economic loss from landownership changes can be projected for each of these four constituencies.


Figure 3.12  Comparison of Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Licenses by Residence Status 200132





Table 3.4  Number of Anglers, Hunters, and Wildlife Watchers (thousands)32


Recreationist Type







% change


Mainer Anglers





Visitor Anglers





Mainer Hunters





Visitor Hunters





Mainer Wildlife Watch





Visitor Wildlife Watch






Laws, Institutions and Management


Table 3.5  Description of Laws and LURC Zones Relevant to Land and Resource Use in the Unorganized Territory

LURC Zoning Subdistricts



Recreational Protection Subdistrict


Applied to areas important for primitive recreation; protects these areas from “incompatible development or other intensive land uses”

Special River Transition Protection Subdistrict


Protects the special resource values “of Maine’s outstanding river segments through certain communities”

Resource Plan Protection Subdistrict


More effective and efficient management of single or multiple protection zones.

Unusual Area Subdistrict


“Applied to areas with a variety of significant values that may also possess important recreational resources.”

Great Pond Protection Subdistrict


“Regulates residential and recreational development on

Great Ponds to protect water quality, recreation potential, fishery habitat, and scenic character.”




Maine Legislature Committee to Study Access to Private and Public Lands in Maine31


To assess the impacts of landownership changes on public access to private lands for recreation and to develop policies to best ensure public access to private and public lands that would meet the growing demand for outdoor recreation.

Maine Legislature Committee to Study Issues Concerning Changes to the Traditional Uses of Maine Forests and Lands34


To asses the impacts of landownership changes on the tradition of leasing lots for family camps and commercial sporting camps.

Governor Baldacci’s Executive Order for a Task Force on Traditional Uses and Public Access to Lands in Maine35


Formulate recommendations about how best to address the issues relating to access to land for traditional uses in the face of changing landownership trends.

LURC: CLUP (Comprehensive Land Use Plan)2



2008 Draft

Establishes policies to guide the Commission's work and is the basis for the Commission's regulations. Adopted in 1976; revised in 1983, 1990, 1997, and currently for 2008.

BP&L: SCORP (Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan)32


Required by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund program (LWCF). Provides the supply and demand for outdoor recreation facilities and how these might be met. Current SCORP is approved for 2003-2008.




Great Pond; access or egress

Maine Revised Statutes: Title 17 Section 386036


Public access guarantee for ponds 10 acres or greater. Denial of this access is punishable up to $100 fine or imprisonment up to 90 days.

Limited liability for recreational or harvesting activities

Maine Revised Statues: Title 14 Section 159A37

1979 1995

Landowners, whether permission is given or not, cannot be held accountable for injury or damage and are protected from suits by people who get hurt on their land. (Subsections 2 and 3)

Landowner liability for actions of others

Maine Revised Statutes: Title 38 Section 347-A, subsection 738


Further limits landowner liability specifically regarding environmental harm caused by others.


            The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) holds policies that “promote primitive recreational activities and diversified, non-intensive, nonexclusive use of recreational resources. Nonexclusive uses are these in which a wide range of people can participate, generally at a reasonable cost”2. LURC seriously considers adverse impacts to recreation when reviewing development or rezoning proposals. For this purpose, there is a section in their Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) designated solely for recreation issues.

Primitive recreational activities are allowed in all zoning districts under LURC jurisdiction. Additionally, the Recreational Protection (P-RR) Subdistrict has been created to apply to areas that “support or have opportunities for unusually significant primitive recreational activities, to protect them from incompatible development and other intensive land uses”2. As of 2007, the Commission has placed P-RR zones on:


Approximately 300 miles of hiking trails, including nearly the entire Appalachian Trail; major portions of the Lower Dead, the Moose, the Penobscot, and Allagash Rivers, and a number of other rivers and streams because of their significance as canoe trails or for other forms of recreational boating; and 177 remote, undeveloped ponds having a cold water game fishery.2


Other protection zones support different significant recreational resources such as the Special River Transition Protection (P-RT) Subdistrict, the Resource Plan Protection (P-RP) Subdistrict, and the Unusual Area (P-UA) Subdistrict2.

            Additionally, because LURC considers potential adverse impacts on recreational resources in evaluations of any development proposal, this policy also impacts recreational facilities, as they are generally regulated like other types of development. Campsites and other low impact facilities are allowed in management zones and in most protection zones without a permit. Sporting camps, campgrounds, and other facilities with substantial improvements are permitted less commonly but are allowed in General Management (M-GN) Subdistricts and, as a special exception, in Great Pond Protection (P-GP) Subdistricts. Large-scale, high impact recreational facilities are considered to be similar to large-scale developments and are regarded with extreme caution by.

Congressional Committees, State Taskforces, Management Plans

There are two legislative committees applicable to the issues of changing ownership in the North Woods and public access; both committees met in 2001. The focus of the Committee to Study Access to Private and Public Lands in Maine31 was to assess the impacts of landownership changes on public access to private lands for recreation and to develop policies to best ensure public access to private and public lands that would meet the growing demand for outdoor recreation. Some recommendations of the Committee included: improved information on land ownership in regards to annual reports on the number of landowners owning over 500 acres of commercial forestland; land transfers of 10,000 acres or more, including those enrolled under Tree Growth Tax Law, within the unorganized territory; and land enrolled under tree growth by parcel size categories. Moreover, the Committee recommended that other Joint Standing Committees meet and develop an approach for further planning on tax incentives to encourage access to private lands. Furthermore, they recommended that a set of principles be developed for state agencies to follow when considering the acquisition of conservation easements so that the interests of the public are assured. The Committee concluded with a “renewed awareness of the important of Maine’s outdoor heritage and remote lands in defining the character of our State”.

The objective of the Committee to Study Issues Concerning Changes to the Traditional Uses of Maine Forests and Lands34 was to assess the impacts of landownership changes on the tradition of leasing lots for family camps and commercial sporting camps. In their recommendations, the Committee concluded that a statute should be enacted to set minimum standards for owner and lessee relationships within the unorganized territory. These standards are meant to balance the conflicting rights and interests of the parties, namely: “the rights of private land owners, the importance of freedom of contract, and the long-standing interests and expectations of owners of commercial sporting camps and recreational camps and homes.” Additionally, the Committee recommended that the contribution of commercial sporting camps to the culture and economy of the State should be recognized in a Joint Resolution, and that landowners who lease land to the camp owners should be urged to continue to respect the tradition of sporting camps in the State. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that an economic impact of the loss of public access to the North Woods be calculated for both the state and regional economies alike.

In 2004, Governor John Baldacci signed an Executive Order creating the Task Force on Traditional Uses and Public Access to Land in Maine35. The task force is charged with submitting recommendations to the Governor about the best ways to address access to land for traditional uses in the face of the changes in land ownership.

As mentioned above, LURC has a Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP)2, which establishes policies to guide the Commission's work and is the basis for the Commission's regulations. The CLUP is updated every ten years  and the Commission is completing the third update of this plan, which is scheduled to be finished in 2008. The CLUP is comprised of definitions and guiding principles for various aspects of LURC’s authority. Included in the 2008 draft is an entire section devoted to recreation  (section 5.9) which outlines the recreational landscape in the unorganized territory, land and facilities that are available for recreation, projected future demand, and possible issues surrounding recreation resources in the North Woods.

The Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands is responsible for writing a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP)32. A SCORP is required by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund program (LWCF) and provides the supply and demand for outdoor recreation facilities in the state and how they might be met.


            The open land tradition in Maine dates back to the time when Maine and Massachusetts were one state, and historically is a tradition that is shared among most New England states. Maine’s tradition, however, is unique compared to the national norm and typical conception of private property. The law and policies of Maine’s government today still encourage this tradition. Common law in Maine provides for public access, and legislative policy and statutory law encourage public access on private lands29.

One of the most noted common laws providing public access is the “Great Pond Law”. This law stems from a Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647 that became accepted as part of Maine law when Maine became a state in 182029. This law has been modified over time through a number of court cases, which clarify that “Great Ponds” (over 10 acres) are public ponds. The “State holds them in trust for the public and the public has a right to fish, and fowl and cut ice upon them”29. Still another case clarified that “the public has a right to access such ponds through unimproved land, but not by crossing improved agricultural lands”29 and sets penalties for landowners who “deny access or egress over unimproved land to a great pond” of up to $100 fine or up to 90 days of imprisonment (Maine Revised Statutes Title 17 Section 3860)36.

            Such lawful access is not the only driver of the preserved open land tradition in Maine; there is also strong landowner liability law in Maine, namely Title 14, §159-A: Limited liability for recreational or harvesting activities37. This statute is generous with respect to landowners; it eliminates liability for outdoor recreational activities, has few exceptions, and thus encourages public access on private land. In particular, it exempts landowners from the duty “to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational or harvesting activities or to give warning of any hazardous condition, use, structure or activity… this subsection applies regardless of…permission”37. Furthermore, granting permission for access does not “extend any assurance that the premises are safe… or assume responsibility or incur liability for any injury to person or property caused by any act of persons to whom the permission is granted”37. Thus landowners, whether permission is given or not, cannot be held accountable for injury or damage and are protected from suits by people who get hurt on their land. This makes the issue of permissive use less of a threat to landowners than in other states. Finally, a second landowner liability law worth noting is Title 38, §347-A, subsection 7: Landowner liability for actions of others38. This statute further limits landowner liability specifically regarding environmental harm caused by others.

            Despite tradition and aforementioned laws ensuring public access to private land, landowners do have a right to control the activities that take place on their land or to restrict access altogether. Maine has a criminal statute that prohibits trespassing on posted land. However, while it may be a legal right for landowners to keep people off their land, impracticality of enforcement may create disincentives to post in the first place or prosecute violators. “One of the problems is that there are more than 100 trespass laws scattered throughout the statues, which make is difficult for landowners to know which laws apply and what their rights are… Wardens will not prosecute trespassers unless the landowner is willing to go to court to testify about the nature of the violation”29. The costs of enforcement and mitigation may negate the posting attempt altogether.



Trends and Current Status


            Maine’s forested landscape is a medley of mountains, hills, uplands, wetlands, flatlands, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and coastal areas.  The forest is in a transitional zone between the southern range of the eastern boreal forest and the northern range of the deciduous forest.  The region supports a high level of plant and animal species diversity because of the transition between ecosystems.  Here the deer, bobcat, and fisher reach the northern limit of their range, and the moose, lynx, and marten reach the southern limit of their range2.

            Plant and animal habitats in LURC jurisdiction are unique.  The region has some of the largest unfragmented forest blocks in the northeastern US.  Extraordinary habitats like large peatland systems and alpine areas host rare species that are especially adapted to live in those areas.  Endemic terrestrial and aquatic species and natural communities are located largely in LURC jurisdiction.  There are relatively few invasive species that have damaged more southern regions of Maine.  The forests also host game species and furbearers like pine marten, beaver, otter, and coyote.  Brook trout habitat and inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat exist in the region.  Endangered and threatened species like wild Atlantic salmon, Arctic charr, freshwater mussels, lynx, bald eagles, and roseate terns all live in LURC jurisdiction2.

            The forests host 30% of rare plant species in Maine, and 15% are limited to northern Maine.  Natural communities are identified by the Maine Natural Areas Program.  They are areas with minimal human impact and are characterized by plant and animal interactions in their environment across a landscape2.   An example of an imperiled natural community in the northern forests is the alpine ecosystem, while more secure ecosystem in northern Maine is the spruce-fir northern hardwood forest ecosystem.  MNAP is also responsible for listing rare, threatened or endangered plants, which includes several hundred plants2.

Since 1995, MNAP has conducted systematic eco-regional surveys to locate and assess the conservation status of threatened and endangered species, plants, and natural communities.  Information gathered from these inventories has shown that some species and communities are more common than previously thought.  Thirty plants have since been downlisted from the threatened and endangered species list2.

The State’s biodiversity is still being surveyed and the complete inventory for Maine’s northern woods is incomplete.  According to current available information, loss of biodiversity is not an imminent threat2. 


Public and private conservation efforts in Maine have grown since the 1970s.  The pace and scale of conservation efforts and the array of conservation tools have also increased.  Conservation tools include certified sustainable forestry, the Tree Growth Tax Law (TGTL), conservation easements, and land acquisition by public agencies and conservation oriented non-profit organizations5. 

Sustainable forestry certification and the Tree Growth Tax Law both encourage good biodiversity practices by requiring long-term forest management practices.  Sustainable forestry certification is an important tool used to protect biodiversity and the forest-based economy.  It not only requires long-term management of forests, but also gives timber products a special niche in the global marketplace5.

Conservation easements are a relatively new tool that were started in the 1980s and have since become heavily used to conserve land by restricting a landowner’s right to develop on their private land.  Landowners usually give up certain development or land use rights and management is placed under a land trust, a public agency, or a non-profit conservation group.  Working forest easements are the most common easement used to protect the North woods.  This easement allows sustainable forestry, but restricts commercial or residential development39.  An example of a working forest easement in the North Woods is the West Branch Project, shown in Case Study 3. 3. 

Table 3.6 shows the scope of various conservation easement terms.  These range from very limited access and resource use in ecological reserves, like the State’s Debsconeag Lakes, to open access and a wider range of permitted traditional recreation and forestry activity, like in the lands conserved under the Kathadin project40, 41.


Table 3.6  Access and Use of Lands Under Conservation Easement3, 39-42



Public access



Commercial and


West Branch Project




sustainable forestry


Nicatous Lake




sustainable forestry


Kathadin project




sustainable forestry


Pingree Easement




sustainable forestry



Roxanne Quimby wildlife sanctuary



no hunting, snowmobiling




Debsconeag Lakes ecological reserve



hunting, fishing




Conservation easements can be sold to public or non-profit organizations interested in conservation or they can be donated by landowners and managed through a land trust.  The Pingree easement, for example, covers 750,000 acres of land owned by the Pingree family.  The family worked with NEFF to develop the easement, which is managed by the New England Forestry Foundation39.  The Common goals in easements are protection of biodiversity and recreational access, maintaining a landscape, such as a working forest, and preventing fragmentation3. 

Land acquisition for conservation by public and non-profit organizations is more expensive and is used much less extensively in Maine than easements.  Unlike conservation easements, land ownership actually changes hands in fee ownership transactions.  This tool is used for lands that are especially important to Maine’s culture or recreation, under considerable development pressures, or ecologically sensitive.  The State owns 80,000 acres of ecological reserves43.

Case Study 3. 3  West Branch Project: A Cooperative Success


The West Branch Project covers 329,000 acres, making it the largest contiguous block of land ever protected in Maine.  The deal was completed in 2003 between the Forest Society of Maine and the landowner, Merriweather, LLC.  It protects areas in the West, North, and South branches of the Penobscot River, Baker Lake, and parts of the St. John Rivers headwater ponds.  This was a landmark project in its scale of working forest protection, utilization of public funds for conservation easements, and meaningful cooperation among diverse interests and public opinion3. 

The West Branch Project effectively met the goals of protecting the working forest landscape, public access for recreation, and ecologically significant areas that sustain important wildlife habitat.  The Forest Society of Maine achieved this through a public-private partnership that included over three hundred contributors.  Major partners were federal and state actors, the forest industry, local communities and private individuals, recreational-interest groups, and environmental groups.

Forest Society of Maine

USFS Forest Legacy Program

Maine Department of Conservation

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Merriweather LLC

Wagner Forest Management

The Nature Conservancy

Northern Forest Protection Fund


The Forest Society of Maine in cooperation with the Department of Conservation went through multiple rounds of negotiations with the landowner to ensure that the working forest easement design met the objectives of various partners.  Of particular concern was the assurance of that easement terms met the state’s standards for sustainable forestry and public access.  These terms were met and today the Forest Society of Maine monitors an easement of 282,000 acres.  The State acquired an adjacent 47,000 acres of lands in fee ownership that are of special recreational value and ecological sensitivity3.

Lands managed by the FSM under easement are protected from development, but allow sustainable commercial forestry that also conserves the landscape’s ecological value.  Current standards for sustainable forestry are strengthened with performance expectations based on an initial ecological baseline inventory.  Baseline data establishes performance expectations by documenting the location of rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals, as well as stocking data for stand types.  This allows for evaluating management practices to see if the goals of maintaining the forest and ecological health are being met.  Adaptive management of the easement is a flexible mechanism for future management success through ongoing dialogue between FSM and the landowner.

Conservation easements can be a tool to maintain the economic, cultural, and ecological values of Maine’s forests in the face of rapid transitions in land ownership.  The West Branch Project models the cooperative efforts necessary between public and private groups to develop a meaningful protection strategy of the forest resource3.





Threats to Conservation of Biodiversity

            There are three major threats in Maine’s North Woods to the conservation of biodiversity: fragmentation, parcelization, and harvesting practices.  Fragmentation happens when development, roads, utility corridors, or clearings disrupt the landscape.  Forestland is divided into smaller, more isolated parcels with less connectivity between patches, and habitat area is lost5.  Parcelization occurs when landowners divide and sell their land into smaller parcels19.  Fragmentation and land parcelization make landscape-level management of biodiversity and good harvesting practices difficult.  Harvesting practices are influenced by the marketplace and laws.  One problem resulting from market driven harvesting practices is lack of incentive for landowners interested in profit to maintain old growth or late successional stands.  The Maine Forest Practices Act (MFPA) limits clear cutting, and thereby threatens species that rely on this disturbance for early successional habitat.

            Compared to southern Maine, LURC jurisdiction is not significantly fragmented by roads and development.  Land management roads, major utility lines, and some development in riparian areas are features in the region that fragment the landscape.  Land management roads are necessary for utilizing the resources of a working forest2.  Development pressures on LURC land today do threaten to fragment the land in the future.  If more profitable land uses like residential development are lucrative enough to pursue over working forest, fragmentation will have a much more extensive impact on landscape-level habitat protection.

            Division of land into smaller parcels is caused by rapid changes in ownership.    TGTL enrollment and land transactions both show the average size of parcels has been declining.  This is visible in the TGTL over the last twenty years and in transaction deals between 2002 and 200513.  Parcelization threatens biodiversity because of reduced contiguous habitat and possibly discordant management schemes.  Studies show smaller parcel sizes, higher land values, proximity to roads, and higher population densities all reduce a landowner’s commitment to long-term forest management5.  Good forest management that results in better biodiversity practices is more difficult and therefore less likely on smaller parcels of forestland.  Landscape-level management of biodiversity is difficult because of the array of landowners and management strategies.  Stable ownership of northern forests will decrease the sale of land into smaller parcels and promote long-term management of forests.  Land ownership stability is the foundation for strong biodiversity practices.

            Human development disturbs natural communities that provide habitat for the diverse flora and fauna of the North Woods.  Species can be categorized as generalists or specialists based on their sensitivity to human disturbances.  Generalists are not negatively impacted by this loss of natural landscape, but habitat specialists are sensitive to human disturbances that cause habitat loss, fragmentation, and increased predation.  Specialists include species dependent on specific habitat characteristics for survival, such as large habitat blocks, riparian areas, early successional or old growth forests, pristine cold or warm-water aquatic habitat, vernal pools, or wetlands2.  Area sensitive species like the American marten require large blocks of non-fragmented and undisturbed forests habitat44.  Some forest birds, large mammals, and turtles also require large blocks of undisturbed forests.  Riparian areas are especially valuable for over half of the forests’ fauna who live, forage, reproduce or travel there.  Brook trout are specialists who survive only in cold, pristine rivers and streams.  LURC has warm-water habitat, vernal pools, and wetlands that support a rich diversity of “fish, waterfowl, wading birds, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates”2.

Today old growth and late successional forests are facing harvesting pressures that could threaten their already limited distribution across Maine’s forested landscape.  It is estimated that in 1800 84% of stands were older than 75 years and 59% were older than 150 years44.  In 2005 late successional forests made up about 2.8% of forest land statewide.  Harvesting history left pockets of late successional forests and individual old trees within harvested stands due to historically limited access, a lack of markets, and different landowner objectives.  Today these remaining late successional patches and individual old trees are threatened by improved road access, better timber markets, and new silviculture practices5.  Landowners today do not have an economic incentive to leave late successional trees and patches standing. Economic necessities, changes in technology and good markets make it more profitable to a landowner to harvest smaller diameter trees at younger ages when they have a fast growth rate.  Ecological reserves and passively managed forests alone will not continue to protect late successional forests across the landscape with these new market and access pressures5. More direct and active management is necessary to conserve these areas.

Early successional habitats are also threatened by changes in the forest industry.  With the passage of the Maine Forest Practices Act (MFPA) in 1989, clear cutting was severely limited as a harvesting method.  Clear cuts were the main source of stand-replacing disturbances necessary for regeneration and the establishment of early successional habitats.  Species that rely on these habitats like the woodcock, snowshoe hare, and Canada lynx may be negatively impacted as the early successional habitat from the 1970s and 1980s clear cuts mature and no new early successional habitat is established44.

Liquidation harvesting is a fast profit-driven management scheme that has no regard for long term forest management.  The practice is characterized by new landowners coming in, harvesting intensively for a short period of about five years, and then selling the land for uses other than forestry.  This harvesting severely damages wildlife habitat by spoiling water quality, soil productivity, stand structure and the forest’s ability to regenerate5.  Liquidation harvesting is a larger threat today than it was 20 years ago because of the changes in land ownership, and new landowners are typically less interested in long term management.  This practice harms both the environment and rural Maine communities, whose long-term economic needs are not met.  Liquidation harvesting puts long-term forest management at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace because the company is not incurring the cost of management and time required for forest regeneration and health. A 2003 study analyzed the impact of liquidation harvesting and found lands that were bought, harvested quickly, then resold suffered prevalent degradation of residual stand quality.  82% of stands barely met the minimum required post-harvest stocking levels required by the MFPA.  Despite heavy harvesting, no violations of MFPA were found5.


Maine Natural Areas Program

            The mission of the Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP) is to “ensure the maintenance of Maine’s natural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations”43. Within Maine’s Department of Conservation, MNAP manages a data system with information about natural features of the State.  This department collects information through surveys on rare, threatened, and endangered plant species and natural communities.  Informed decision-making in development planning, conservation and natural resource management is encouraged through the distribution of this data.  MNAP is responsible for protecting endangered plant species and natural communities.  Natural communities are ranked on a scale of one to five based on their relative rarity, geographic distribution, and threats from conflicting land uses 2.  Many of Maine’s natural communities, such as alpine summits and floodplain forests, are within LURC jurisdiction. 

MNAP also maintains a list of threatened and endangered plants.  The conservation status of plant species is determined by their scarcity, special habitat requirements, geographical restrictions, range limitations, and population vulnerability.  “Endangered plants are those in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range within the state, while threatened plants are those likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future”2.  MNAP collaborates with the Maine Field Office of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on conservation projects43.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

            The mission of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) is “to preserve, protect, and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the state”44.  In Maine, the DIFW has worked with MNAP to establish the Beginning with Habitat program.  This program provides GIS maps of areas of ecological significance that are meant as a non-regulatory tool for informed and responsible development.  Maps include high value plant and animal habitats, undeveloped habitat blocks, and water resources, and riparian habitats44.  MDIFW also enforces Maine’s Endangered Species Act (MESA), which deals with animal species of concern in the State.

Management of Conservation Easements

            Non-profits like The Nature Conservancy and public agencies like the Department of Conservation usually purchase land through conservation easements to protect biodiversity and maintain working forests.  Landowners sell development rights to these groups, which purchase them in a cost-effective manner.  The terms of the easement are negotiated between the landowner and the conservation-interest groups, and the easement buyer monitors and manages the land according to the easement terms.  Land for Maine’s future is a State program that offers grants to purchase easements and oversees the easement-design process.  The State sometimes purchases lands in fee or through an easement for conservation and public recreation.  When the State purchases land in fee, meaning ownership is given to the buyer, agencies like the Bureau of Parks and Lands within the Department of Conservation are responsible for management.  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a major purchaser of conservation easements in Maine; it purchased land south of Baxter State Park in the Kathadin Project.  Private landowners can establish conservation easements on their own land by setting the terms of an easement and then placing management responsibilities in the hands of a land trust.  Major land trusts in Maine include Maine Coast Heritage Trust, New England Forestry Foundation, and the Forest Society of Maine.

            There are several difficulties when managing easements, including accountability, clarity, and the perpetuity of easement terms45.  Those who manage easements must be accountable and adhere to terms of the easement.  This is probably not an issue when large organizations such as the State government or conservation groups like TNC and Forest Society of Maine (FSM) are managing easements, but smaller land trusts that may be less financially endowed or are not held accountable to the public may encounter difficulties monitoring and enforcing the terms of an easement.  When a private landowner places land under a conservation easement, the public does not normally have the power to enforce the terms of an easement because it is a biparty agreement between the owner and the trust.  Clarity is also important when defining easement terms because certain rights are given up, and therefore managers would benefit from clear guidelines that define what the allowable potential land uses are.  Loopholes could lead to unforeseen exploitation opportunities.  Possible activities allowed by easements could include types of acceptable resource extraction, specific biodiversity stipulations, and the level of public access.  Finally, conservation easements are meant to be in perpetuity.  A difficulty faced is that easement terms need to be strong and clear enough to provide meaningful management guidance, but flexible enough to survive the uncertainty and changes of the future, for example new scientific knowledge and changes in the political climate45.

The incentive for landowners to place their land under conservation easements is that they provide income, estate, and property tax benefits to the landowner46.  Taxes are lowered because conservation easements reduce the value of land by restricting current and future development options.  Lower income and property taxes on easement lands makes large blocks of land less costly to own; additionally, reduced taxes ease the financial burden on future generations who inherit large blocks of land and otherwise may not have been able to afford the estate tax.

            Public and non-profit conservation groups have limited financial resources and therefore purchase of lands in fee or through conservation easements is determined by a cost-benefit analysis.  Lands under development pressure, such as shoreline, are more expensive than more remote forested areas.  About 85% of lands purchased by the State of Maine and nonprofits are purchased via conservation easements, and the remaining 15% are purchased in fee ownership of the land13.  It is cheaper to buy conservation easements than lands in fee ownership.

            Conservation easements have costs associated with them aside from the initial purchase of development rights from the landowner.  Administrators of the conservation easement must pay for recreation management.  As an example, the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) pays for this cost with funding from the legislature and their general fund.  BPL also increased timber harvesting on existing public lands and established recreation fees.  Administrators must also pay for monitoring costs, which include monitoring timber harvesting practices, enforcing easement terms through the legal system, and penalizing violators.  Due to the perpetual nature of conservation easements, monitoring costs are indefinite.  There is also the opportunity cost of conservation easements, which is the cost of forgoing the most profitable alternative land use option, such as development47. 

            The economic benefits of easements include protection of land from unwanted development and keeping certain land use options open for the future by limiting current development.  Additionally, guaranteed access and protection of the ecological forest values through provisions for protecting biodiversity provide a public benefit.  By purchasing conservation easements instead of land ownership in fee, the government can continue to collect taxes from the landowner47.  Conservation easements are limited by funds available to establish and monitor them, so resources have to be allocated efficiently.


Laws, Institutions and Management

There are three major Maine state laws that affect biodiversity protection in Maine’s north woods.  These are the Maine Endangered Species Act (MESA), the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA), and the Maine Forest Practices Act (MFPA).  LURC also has its own statutes to protect habitat and does so primarily through zoning that is designated based on the fragility of different ecosystems.


Table 3.7  Description of Laws and LURC Zones Relevant to Land and Resource Use in the Unorganized Territory2, 44

LURC Zoning Subdistricts

Protection Zones


Description 2

Fish and Wildlife Protection Zone



Protects deer wintering habitat, coastal seabird nesting sites, and other important fish and wildlife habitat

Accessible Lake Protection Zone



Protects accessible, undeveloped, high value lakes

Great Pond Protection Zone



Covers lakes and ponds more than 10 acres and a 250 foot wide buffer bordering those water bodies.

Special River Transition Protection Zone



Applies to developed shorelines on outstanding river segments in LURC jurisdiction next to organized towns

Shoreland Protection Zone


Protects shorelands of rivers and streams, ocean, and small ponds

Wetland Protection Zone



Encompasses all submerged lands and other wetlands

Mountain Area Protection Zone



Covers mountainous areas higher than 2,700 feet elevation

Unusual Area Protection Zone


Applies to unusually significant scenic, historic, scientific, recreational, and natural areas not adequately protected by other zoning

Resource Plan Protection Zone


Allows landowners to  create a resource management plan for an area and allows land use activities approved by LURC




Maine Endangered Species Act (MESA)


Identifies threatened and endangered wildlife species and provides protection of their habitat

Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA)



Identifies and protects Significant Wildlife Habitat

Identifies threatened and endangered plants and natural communities of Maine

Maine Forest Practices Act


Limits the number of acres allowed to be clearcut




Maine’s Endangered Species Act (MESA) protects endangered and threatened animals and their habitats.  It is the State version of the national Endangered Species Act.  Under MESA the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) identifies and maps Essential Habitats, which are areas critical to the conservation of a species.  Development projects that require state or municipal permits or funding and are located in Essential Habitat must be reviewed by MDIFW. Development usually continues after review, but plans are modified to mitigate negative impacts on animals and habitats.  Forest management concerns less than one fourth of endangered and threatened species, and not all endangered and threatened species require essential habitat designation for survival.  The bald eagle and the roseate tern are the only State listed endangered or threatened species that have designated Essential Habitat in LURC jurisdiction44. 

            The Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) protects significant State resources from degradation by providing identification and maps of habitats for species with very specific requirements; these are Significant Wildlife Habitats (SWH).  Under NRPA endangered and threatened species habitat, high and moderate value deer wintering areas and travel corridors have been mapped.  Maps also exist for waterfowl, shorebirds, seabirds and in the future will include vernal pools and Atlantic salmon habitat.  Seabird habitats are the only ones that have been formally designated as SWH44.

            The Maine Forest Practices Act (MFPA) has had a significant impact on timber harvest practices in the North Woods as well as on biodiversity and habitats.  This law restricted the size of clear cuts to smaller harvesting units.  There is a concern that harvesting practices as a result of MFPA will promote fragmentation of habitat types and fewer large blocks containing interior forest.  Before the MFPA, 90% of forestry practiced was clear cutting; today, as a result of the MFPA 96% of forestry practiced is partial cutting and shelterwood harvesting and less than 5% of harvest practice is clear cutting5.  MFPA resulted in a strong shift away from large-block clear cutting in northern Maine and lead to smaller and more fragmented patches of habitat where clear cuts are still used.  Clear cuts create a large block of early successional habitat.  Partial harvesting can maintain blocks of relatively mature forests.  Shelterwood harvesting creates large blocks of early successional forests and is not limited in size by MFPA.  The volume of timber harvested has not changed significantly since before the MFPA because what the MFPA limited in clear cuts was compensated for by putting more acreage under partial and shelterwood harvesting.  In 1999 an amendment to MFPA allowed for more flexibility in the use of clear cuts, but the acreage of partially harvested forest has not decreased44.

            LURC is obliged to protect biodiversity and preserve the ecological values of the forest resource.  LURC uses zoning, land use standards, and directs development to protect ecologically significant areas.  Zoning is the most direct tool for habitat protection, and conserves deeryards and coastal nesting islands.  The Fish and Wildlife Protection Subdistrict (P-FW) directly protects habitat, like deer wintering areas and seabird nesting islands by prohibiting land uses that would degrade those habitats.  Shoreland zones that protect riparian and aquatic habitat include the Accessible Lake Protection (P-AL) Subdistrict, the Shoreland Protection (P-SL) Subdistrict, and the Flood Prone Protection (P-FP) Subdistrict.  The Wetland Protection (P-WL) Subdistrict is a major zone area that covers over 300,000 acres in LURC jurisdiction.  The Unusual Area Protection (P-UA) Subdistrict has been used to protect old-growth forests, and the Resource Protection (P-RP) Subdistrict conserves Furbish’s Lousewort habitat, an endangered plant species2.  In addition to zoning, LURC manages habitat on a landscape level by allowing organized development in appropriate areas, near existing developed areas to avoid sprawl.

            To preserve the ecological values of the North Woods, LURC works in cooperation with the Maine DIFW and MNAP.  Both state agencies provide LURC with data and maps from surveys and input on potential large development projects, such as Plum Creek’s proposed development of Moosehead Lake (see case study).  LURC works in accordance with new scientific evidence that supports landscape-level protection.  This approach is appropriate for the Commission because of its vast territory; as of 2006, LURC jurisdiction has over 1.6 million of its 17.1 million acres of land under conservation easements2.


Ecological Health

The level of biodiversity protection on land in Maine’s North Woods is influenced by several factors including landowner type, certified sustainable forestry, and the nature of any existing easements.

Biodiversity Practices by Landowner Type

According to a Manomot survey of landowners, industry, large family landowners, public and non-profit groups are the landowner types with the best forest practices, most compatible with the existing biodiversity.  Overall land management of these owners included better biodiversity staff training (public owners), biodiversity monitoring and assessment, better forest structure, habitat management, rare species and habitats protection, landscape level management, and late successional forest management.  Contractors and Financial Investors, all of whom are newer landowner types, have weaker biodiversity practices in these categories overall in forest management19.  These new landowners are also the ones most involved in the purchase and sale of large amounts of land transactions today. 

Additionally, the survey found that no contractors or developers were certified sustainable for forestry.  In contrast, financial investors, industry owners, and large family landowners had a large proportion of lands certified.  Financial investors that bought certified land continued sustainable forest certification despite the change in ownership19.  Sustainable forestry practices on lands certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the Forest Stewardship Council are less damaging and better preserve wildlife habitat.

 In maintaining the ecological value of Maine’s forest within LURC jurisdiction, it is important that new land owners continue the quality of land management standards of traditional landowners like the State, industry, and large family landowners.  Traditional landowners are better at managing their lands in ways that sustain biodiversity supported by the forest.  Sustainable forestry certification is also an important tool for protecting biodiversity and should be pursued by new landowners.  This highlights the threats to biodiversity resulting from rapid transitions in ownership and the entry of new landowners.

Habitat Protection and Harvesting Practices

            Land use in the northern forest is dominated by the timber industry because of its enormous economic importance to the State.  Harvesting inevitably impacts the forest habitat, and species with specialized habitat needs can be easily disturbed by industrial land uses.  Protection of rare habitats in a limited area has been easier to safeguard than habitats scattered across the landscape, such as deer wintering areas and riparian and aquatic ecosystems2.

            Forest harvesting is much more compatible overall with habitat preservation than other land uses that are more permanent, like residential development.  New development pressures for residential areas are a more permanent land use and threaten to fragment Maine’s forests.  Harvest practices have left a much more natural landscape because they are less intensive and allow forest regeneration2.  In fact, early successional habitats are established by clear cuts, which creates habitat for certain specialist species, like the lynx.

Large Blocks of Habitat & Umbrella Species

The American marten has been suggested by DIFW as an umbrella species for biodiversity planning efforts and to protect species richness in Maine’s northern forests.  The marten could be used as an indicator species because it is considered the most area-sensitive forest specialized mammal in northern Maine.  Martens strongly prefer habitat where stands are over forty feet tall with greater than 30% winter canopy cover and a residual basal area of over eighty square feet per acre44.  Martens will not travel between several small patches to meet home range-scale requirements; they require a large contiguous patch of habitat.  Martens do not inhabit landscapes with scattered clear cuts and areas of residual and partially harvested stands.  700 to twelve 1,250 acres of high quality marten habitat are required to support five resident males and ten resident females44.  If blocks of forest are managed to protect marten habitat, then this umbrella species will also help protect other plants and animals within that area.  Habitat loss and fragmentation will adversely effect this species, which requires maintenance of large blocks of forest.

Early Successional Species & Clear Cutting

Clear cutting was restricted by MFPA and since then there has been a shift in timber harvesting practices.  The acreage of clear cuts has decreased enormously, while partial and shelterwood harvesting have increased substantially to maintain timber harvest volumes.  The sharp decline in clear cuts from 90% to 5% of harvests has not benefited species that require early successional habitat, which regenerates from stand-replacing disturbances44.  These disturbances open the canopy and allow for the regeneration of shade-intolerant tree species.  Black bear and moose feed in early successional habitats.  The woodcock, Canada lynx and snowshoe hare are particularly dependent on young forests regenerated after clear cuts, but now face habitat loss as a result of alternative harvesting methods.

The woodcock is heavily reliant on early successional habitat for survival.  Woodcocks require all phases of early successional habitat to complete their life cycle, and they are most densely populated in areas composed of all phases of early successional habitat.  The larger the distance between early successional habitats the higher the energy costs and predation risk, which leads to reduced survival rates44.

            Another more charismatic species that will be negatively impacted without stand replacing forest practices is the Canada lynx, an elusive wildcat. When clear cutting was broadly used in the 1970s and 1980s, regenerating early successional forests provided good habitat for snowshoe hare, the main prey of Canada lynx.  Large areas with dense stands of balsam fir and northern hardwood 10-20 years after a major forest disturbance, such as a clear cut, also provide good den sites for lynx48.  The MFPA restricted clear cutting and in doing so, the disturbance required to renew snowshoe hare habitat and lynx prey.  Partial harvesting practices that have since replaced clear cutting do not create new habitat for snowshoe hare.  As a result, prime early successional habitat created from clear cutting in the 1970s and 1980s is aging and lynx and snowshoe hare habitat is decreasing44.

Old Growth and Late Successional Forests 

            Old growth and late successional patches of forest and old individual trees still remain today because they were historically inaccessible and unmarketable.  Today landowners have access and markets to harvest these areas and convert them into younger more profitable forests.  There are no economic incentives for landowners to maintain late successional forest habitats5.  They are, however, a valuable component of biodiversity.  Late successional forests are areas that have survived a long period without a major stand-replacing disturbance and have individual trees or stands older than the average time between major disturbances.  They contain both small young trees and large trees that can be over 100 years old.  They have multiple canopy layers, pit and mound forest floor topography, and an array of old-growth moss, lichen and fungi specialists5.  Old growth forests are characterized by a stabilized tree species composition and a net growth of about zero.  The forest is older than the time between the average natural disturbance and dominant trees have reached their life expectancy. Some vertebrates require old growth forests for nesting, roosting, and denning.  Although vertebrates are more mobile and less closely tied to old growth habitat, they still are at risk of extirpation or extinction if this habitat is lost.  Certain mosses, fungi, lichens and insects specialize on old growth habitat for survival44.  Scientifically, old growth forests are important as benchmarks from which to compare human disturbance.  The structure, function and natural disturbance regimes of forests without human disturbances are important to science and are used in forest management.

The Distribution of Conserved Land Across Maine

            The distribution of conserved land across Maine is uneven, with much more acreage conserved in the northern half of the State than in southern and coastal areas.  This reflects the tradeoffs in conservation due to limited resources, alternative competing land uses, and varying degrees of ecological sensitivity.  There is some competition between conservation and other land uses, like industry, recreation and development.  Public opinion and economic pressures weigh heavily on which land use is most appropriate.  Within conservation efforts, resources are limited and have to be allocated strategically to protect ecological values.  In some cases, money is used to buy vast areas for conservation, especially if the land is relatively inexpensive and may contain a variety of ecosystems that each support distinct clusters of species.  In this way, an array of biodiversity is protected.  On the other hand, conservationists may also choose to allocate their money to preserve fewer acres of more expensive lands if the area contains an especially sensitive or rare ecosystem or faces heavy development pressures, like shorelines.  Lands in Maine have been conserved with these tradeoffs in mind. 

            Maine has fifteen Biophysical Regions.  These were classified by Janet McMahon in 1990 based on 95 woody taxa and 22 environmental variables that characterize the different climates of the regions49. Because each Biophysical Region provides habitat for distinct groups of biodiversity, I was interested in researching the amount of conservation lands in each region.  I used Geographic Information System (GIS), ArcEditor, and data from MaineGIS to determine what percentage of land was conserved by Biophysical Region and what percent of total conserved land was located in each biophysical region.  Maine’s Biophysical Regions and conserved lands are shown in Figure 3.13.


Figure 3.13  Conserved Lands by Biophysical Region49, 50

There were limitations on the available data for this analysis.  Some data on conserved lands on islands off the coast of Maine did not overlap with the data for the Biophysical Regions.  Because of this, I was not able to include 127 acres of these coastal conserved lands in my analysis.  Additionally, the data on conservation lands was incomplete.  The most obvious deficiency was that a large conservation easement in Down East Maine was not included in the data.



Biophysical Region

Acreage Conserved

Percent Conserved

Percent of Total

Aroostook Hills




Aroostook Lowlands




Boundary Plateau




Central Interior




Central Mountains




East Coastal Region




Eastern Interior




Eastern Lowlands




Midcoast Region




Penobscot Bay Region




Saint John Uplands




South Coastal Region




Southwest Interior




Western Foothills




Western Mountains




Table 3.8  Distribution of Land Conserved by Biophysical Region in Maine49, 50




Figure 3.14  Percent of Total Conserved Lands by Biophysical Region49, 50



Table 3.8 summarizes the results.  Of all the biophysical regions, the Boundary Plateau by far has the highest percentage of its land conserved (51%) followed by the Central Mountains (29%) and the Aroostook Hills (28%).  The Central Interior and Midcoast Region have the lowest percentage of their land conserved, 2.1% and 2.5% respectively, indicating it may be worthwhile to invest more resources into conserving lands in those Biophysical Regions.  Of the total lands conserved in Maine, most occur in the Aroostook Hills (26%), and the least acreage of conserved lands are contained within the South Coastal Region (0.5% ) and Midcoast Region (0.3%).  These results are shown in both Table 3.8 and Figure 3.14.

Case Study 3. 4  Plum Creek Proposal for the Moosehead Region


Moosehead Lake is surrounded by the working forest landscape of Maine’s North Woods, and is the largest lake within one state east of the Mississippi.  Recreationists take advantage of this natural place for recreational activities like bird watching, skiing, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, and ATV use.  The rapid transition in landownership of the North Woods has affected the Moosehead Lake region, which is now under high development pressure.  In the 1970s, development was mostly restricted to the southern end of Moosehead Lake, but between 1971 and 1991 building permits, including 452 residential permits, were issued in nearly every township along the lake4.

            Plum Creek Timber is a Seattle-based Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) and the largest private landowner in the country. It currently owns 928,000 acres of land in Maine, about half of which around the Moosehead region6.  Plum Creek has petitioned LURC for rezoning 421,000 acres surrounding Moosehead Lake. Their concept plan (Figure 3.15) includes 20,500 acres for residential, nonresidential, and resort development, with no development beyond the proposed development zones. This includes a maximum of 975 residential lots, including 236 shorefront lots, and two resorts with 250 and 800 housing units respectively7. A conservation easement of 91,000 acres to balance development is also included in the concept plan. Additionally, a conservation framework comprised 340,000 acres to be sold to the Nature Conservancy and the Appalachian Mountain Club. This sale is stipulated on the approval of the development component of the concept plan. The plan also includes stipulations on recreation, including hiking, fishing, canoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobile trail easements8.

            Plum Creek’s concept plan is the largest development plan in Maine’s history and has created widespread publicity and debate statewide. The debate that has emerged is primarily over the scope of the plan. Proponents of Plum Creek’s plan cite the proposal’s vast conservation lands that guarantee public access and, because conservation easements are in perpetuity, provides for stable access in the North Woods. Proponents also advocate for the contribution this development will bring the regional economies.  Opponents of Plum Creek’s plan argue that the development proposal is too large, some development occurs in inappropriate places–mainly not near existing development, and that the proposal will change the wild character of the region. Additionally, many opponents have also questioned the integrity of the conservation easements proposed in the concept plan.

            LURC will review the concept plan, which has gone through three rounds of revision.  The goal of LURC is to balance conservation and development interests by ensuring new developments are well-planned, while allowing for multiple uses of the natural resources, and preserving ecological values within the jurisdiction.  Criteria for accepting concept plan proposals and new development include avoid having undue adverse effects on the region and promoting orderly development2.  LURC’s decision regarding Plum Creek’s proposal could be a turning point for the region and may result in further efforts to develop the region for land uses other than forestry, particularly residential developments for second-home demands.



Figure 3.15  Plum Creek Concept Plan51




Analysis and Discussion


Pressures in the North Woods continue to force changes in traditional land and resource uses, bringing the unorganized territory into the heart of environmental concerns in Maine. Global changes in the forest products industry have contributed to a dramatic change in land ownership in Maine’s unorganized territory, resulting in the replacement of large, industrial timberland owners with a new class of investor owners. Transitioning landownership has sweeping implications for conservation, public access, and traditional resource use. Over the past few decades, investor owners and conservation groups have established a presence in the unorganized territory and introduced new interests in land use, resulting in a deviation from long-term industrial management practices. Emerging interests in land and resource use has the potential to erode the working landscape in the North Woods, since many new landowners no longer prioritize industrial timber supply. Landownership change could challenge the industry’s ability to compete with international market pressures as access to fiber sources in Maine’s North Woods becomes more restrictive. This growing uncertainty as to the future viability of Maine’s forest products industry has increased public concern about forest sustainability and traditional recreational access to privately owned forest around the state.

Rapid changes in landownership have created an unprecedented potential for fragmentation, conversion, and conservation of timberland and pose a threat to traditional resource access in the North Woods. In response to changing landownership conditions, Maine has taken advantage of financial incentives to promote long-term forest management practices and reduce land conversion. Forest certification efforts are a financially viable and effective means of ensuring the long-term viability of forest practices and land use. Programs such as Tree Growth Tax Law and the Farm and Open Space Tax Law serve as positive incentives to support Maine’s forest-based economy, protect biodiversity, and preserve the state’s open land tradition.

The open land tradition in Maine is being challenged and may continue to be strained in the future as shifting landownership patterns in the North Woods persist. With these shifts come changes in attitudes for land use and possible negative implications for resource access. While the state continues its campaign for land acquisition, the amount of public land in the North Woods still pales in comparison to the vast acres of privately owned land and is unlikely to ever meet the demand for outdoor recreational access. However, open access is more than just a tradition; laws and policies in Maine encourage and, to some extent, guarantee the continued public use of private lands and right to access. Coupled with landownership changes is the changing face of recreation in Maine. Popularity for motorized recreation is increasing rapidly in Maine; this trend is reflected both by the increase in licenses for snowmobiles and ATVs as well as the increase in trail funding from the State. Meanwhile, more primitive and traditional sports such as hunting and fishing are declining, particularly from visitors. The transitions in ownership and recreational preferences conflict in a number of ways and could pose a challenge for stakeholders and policymakers in the future.

The rapid changes in ownership in Maine’s North Woods and the resulting instability of the future of forest resources in Maine threaten the natural landscape and wild character of the region.  Changes in ownership, parcelization, and conversion are major forces which threaten biodiversity in the unorganized territory.   In contrast, long-term forest management practices help to promote biodiversity, ecological processes, and a sustainable working landscape.  In response to these dynamic changes, conservation efforts have increased dramatically in the region.  Public, non-governmental, and private groups have allocated funding to acquire development rights and land for the conservation of unique ecological values of the area.  Conservation easements and buying lands in fee have been a new and heavily used tool to preserve the forest character of the region. 

Habitats are at risk due to forestry practices, increased access, and market pressures resulting in land conversion, liquidation harvesting, and fragmentation.  Parcelization has direct impacts on species like the American marten, which require large tracts of undisturbed forest to survive. Currently, early successional habitat is decreasing in the North Woods, which negatively impacts species that specialize in this habitat type like lynx and the American woodcock.  Significant decline in the use of clear cutting in forest harvesting practices have reduced the major source of stand-replacing disturbances necessary for the generation of early successional habitat.  Market pressures and improved access threaten the remaining, and very limited, old growth forests in the North Woods. Stability in landownership and long-term management schemes are necessary for the protection of biodiversity and the ecological value of Maine’s forest resource. As impacted acreage continues to increase in the North Woods, it is important that we assess the implications of forestry practices on the ecological viability of wildlife habitat as well as the role of productive tree stands in the sustainability of Maine’s forest-based industry.

The prevailing climate of uncertainty in Maine’s unorganized territory has implications for interests in recreation, conservation, and biodiversity. As new management schemes, land use practices, and objectives are introduced, the North Woods will continue to face extensive change. Processes of parcelization could potentially jeopardize Maine’s open land tradition, as well as the viability of critical habitat. These processes, in addition to rapid changes in landownership pose a challenge to timber management as well as industrial access to timber resources in the North Woods. Public and private conservation funding have played an important part in landownership trends. Thorough and persistent conservation efforts help to ensure stability in the forest products industry, as well public recreational access, and ecological integrity.




            Having discussed the status of land and resource use in the unorganized territory and the causal trends and processes, we project some scenarios for the future of the unorganized territory and possible changes in the landscape. Results from our analysis and discussion and these projections are used to make policy recommendations.         

            As the central governing body of the region, LURC’s decision-making process is integral to the future of the North Woods; management hinges on this mechanism. LURC’s goals, policies, and implementation measures are based on “a vision for the future” of the area2. As such, the Commission’s decisions are based on LURC’s land use objectives and how it ultimately defines the “distinctive character” of the region. While seemingly subjective, this character is based on four principal values that “cannot be compromised”. These four principals include:


(1) Diverse, abundant, and unique natural resource values2

(2) Fiber and food production, and the tradition of a working landscape2

(3) Diverse and abundant recreational opportunities, particularly for primitive pursuits2

(4) Remoteness and natural character values2


Scenario one illustrates the status quo. Currently, it is likely that parcelization and land ownership transitions will continue; likewise, conflicts for recreation and conservation constituencies will probably continue. Furthermore, as pressure from investor owners to maximize the profitability of land assets continues to increase, so will demand for development. Plum Creek Timber Company’s experience in Maine (Case Study 3. 4) exemplifies these current pressures and the challenges posed to LURC’s regulatory capacity. The absence of public policy responses to address these trends will result in further conversion and erosion of the jurisdiction’s working landscape.

In the second scenario, development and suburbanization take over. Population, sprawl, and subdivision of land grow and expand into the unorganized territory from southern Maine. Lots preserved for working forest and fiber harvest decline and the tradition of a multi-use forest becomes constrained. Land is not reserved for critical habitat or other conservation purposes and endangered species’ populations decline in the region. Little land is set aside for public use causing conflicts between landowners and recreationists to intensify. Maine Guides and other people dependent on open access for nature-based tourism have fewer places to access for their business, which has implications for an important part of the North Woods’ economy. The level of trust and cooperation among stakeholders in the region declines; the open land tradition dies.

            There are several pressures and key policy instruments that contribute to the evolution of this scenario. A key tipping point could be LURC’s approval of the Plum Creek proposal for the rezoning of 421,000 acres in the Moosehead Lake region. By approving this proposal, LURC, as the planning and zoning authority for the region, would set a precedent that such development is appropriate and does not compromise the four principal values from which it guides its policy. Likewise, independent of whether the Plum Creek proposal is approved, LURC could also facilitate the development of this scenario by expanding Development Zones within the jurisdiction at the expense of current General Management Zones designated for multiple use.

A third plausible factor contributing to this scenario is that the State government recognizes, welcomes, and exploits the development potential of the unorganized territory. Although the State has a lesser degree of control over changing management schemes, it could promote an environment conducive to investment and development. The State could court institutions within and from outside the state, and advertise the North Woods as a place where development activity will flourish. A fourth factor is that parcelization persists and investment owners continue to flock to the North Woods. Lastly, a fifth plausible, although less likely, factor is that the state’s forest products industry declines, and that forestry related uses become less profitable; thus, land conversion toward development would become an economic driver of the region.

             In the third scenario, preservation and conservation becomes the focus of management decisions. Land is set aside for fiber harvest, recreational use, and preservation of critical habitat. Development is contained and not permitted on a large scale. Characteristically conflicting stakeholders adopt a collaborative approach and pursue common objectives. Natural resource-based economy thrives and natural resources are devoted to traditional uses.

There are several pressures and key policy instruments that contribute to the development of this scenario. As with the first scenario, a major factor could be LURC’s decision surrounding the Plum Creek proposal and future rezoning bids. A rejection of the proposal would indicate that development of such a scale is not compatible with the character of the jurisdiction, as defined by LURC. Likewise, independent of whether the Plum Creek proposal is rejected, another policy instrument conducive to scenario three is LURC expanding the number of Protection Zones within the jurisdiction.

A third policy instrument is an increase in taxation schemes analogous to the Tree Growth Tax Law program. These types of taxation programs, in addition to independent certification schemes, could be used to promote long-term management as well as forestry related uses that preserve habitat for biodiversity. A fourth policy instrument is the continuation of popular referendums that increase funding opportunities for the Land for Maine’s Future program. This would enable the state to purchase larger tracts of land for recreation and wildlife preservation and secure access points in the North Woods. Another factor is requiring more stringent conservation easements. Easements with provisions for biodiversity protection and recreational access would be an effective means of acquiring more land in the North Woods for these two purposes. A sixth possible, although unlikely, policy tool is the acquisition of land through charitable donation from philanthropists, as was the case in Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park. Lastly, a plausible, although even less likely tool is the State seizing land for public access and for habitat preservation through eminent domain.



Fragmentation and changing ownership in the North Woods have posed considerable challenges to regulatory and management efforts in Maine. We have identified a number of policy recommendations, which complement a vision for the North Woods identified in our third scenario. Our policy recommendations are designed to support sustainable communities, economies, and working forests while preserving the integrity of wildlife populations. Governor Baldacci’s Steering Committee on Maine’s Natural Resource-based Industry (2006) has identified the network of open space, natural land, and access facilities as the major components of the state’s ‘green infrastructure’52. Green infrastructure can be interpreted as “the availability of and access to rural lands and natural resources” which contribute to the economy in various ways52. Despite the significance of these resources, there is a lack of coordinated and comprehensive planning to help determine future of resource use in the state. Collaboration between private, public, and non-profit sectors is fundamental to the State’s ability to address current challenges and to maintain the viability of green infrastructure. By prioritizing planning and investment in green infrastructure, the State will protect natural resources as well as their economic potential. The following policy recommendations seek to maximize and protect the assets and opportunities associated with resource use in the unorganized territory.

Statewide Comprehensive Planning

The State Planning Office has acknowledged that comprehensive municipal planning has not been successful in managing and containing local growth52. In order to preserve rural character throughout the state, planning efforts and initiatives should be designed to reinforce green infrastructure and encourage appropriate community growth by limiting sprawl. As indicated in our research, and as depicted in Figure 3.3, sprawl and parcelization are already beginning to impact the southern portions of the unorganized territory. While several planning initiatives have been implemented to address issues associated with green infrastructure, they have failed to develop a cross-sectoral plan for the state. Implementing a state-wide program to assess green infrastructure assets and plan future investment will improve planning efforts and ensure the long-term viability of natural resource-based industry.

Reducing Stakeholder Conflict

As described in our paper, the North Woods landscape draws differing stakeholders whose interests and objectives often conflict. It is important that policy initiatives and future decisions be reflective of these constituent objectives and public opinion overall. As identified in our paper, recreational access is an important and politically charged issue in Maine, one that often competes with conservation interests, especially within the North Woods. While these actors often take different approaches, there is clearly a common ground between them; recreationists and conservationists both lobby for large tracts of open space. However, current contentions between recreation and conservation interests in the state have challenged this objective.

         We recommend that forums be held frequently to allow stakeholders to communicate and identify cooperative solutions to land use objectives. These actors should collaborate on key initiatives that will benefit both parties, such as resource-based tourism, and lobby the State as a unified voice when appropriate. Likewise, to ensure that public opinion is taken into consideration, public hearings should remain a critical component of LURC’s regulatory decision-making process. LURC zoning can also be an effective tool to address incompatibilities in stakeholder objectives.

LURC Zoning

LURC zoning is an important policy tool that could be used more effectively to guide land use within the jurisdiction. Currently, zoning is being challenged by the Plum Creek proposal (Case Study 3. 4), and could be vulnerable to further contestations. General Management Zones, which currently account for 70% of LURC territory, allow for and encourage multiple use and do not impose significant restrictions on land use2. Sub-districts such as the Highly Productive (M-HP) and Natural Character Management Zones (M-NC) should be implemented to help further specify land use objectives within the jurisdiction and limit potential conversion to other uses. LURC should also use Development Zones to consolidate development efforts and to guide appropriate community growth that complements existing local economies, such as that of Greenville. Conservation offsets for development, like the 91,000-acre Balance Easement in the Plum Creek proposal, are an important means of balancing development and maintaining conservation objectives as growth in the unorganized territory continues.

Defining Easements

There is a heavy reliance on conservation easements to protect open space and working forest in the unorganized territory. Given their importance as a conservation tool, we suggest that a management body be established to oversee and catalogue easements and conservation efforts throughout the state. Working forest easements are an important policy tool to maintain working lands and the natural resource industries they support.

Many conservation easements do not have stipulations to protect biodiversity, and instead maintain land use status quo at the expense of biodiversity interests. Ambiguity regarding easement stipulations poses a liability to conservation efforts in the unorganized territory. We suggest that LURC or the State provide easement guidelines to define and identify appropriate conditions, particularly in the case of conservation offsets for development in LURC territory.

Increase Land for Maine’s Future Program Funding

The Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program is the State’s most important publicly funded mechanism to protect working forestland. Successful bond initiatives in the past have demonstrated widespread public support for the LMF program. Given its success as a tool for acquisition, protection, and public access, it is critical that the program receive more consistent funding. Current funding levels have been insufficient to meet the demand for public access, easements, and land acquisition52. We suggest that funding increase for the program to enhance State-led conservation efforts and effectively compete with rival land use interests. The Maine Forest Service as well as the Governor’s Steering Committee on Maine’s Natural Resource-based Industry advocate an increase in LMF funding for the acquisition of working forest easements and protection of ecological assets.


Taxation schemes such as TGTL and the Farm and Open Space Tax Law serve as positive incentives to support Maine’s working landscape. The State should maximize the leverage capacity of such incentives to help promote land uses that complement the Commission’s vision for the jurisdiction.  Penalties for withdrawing land from working forest status should be increased to act as a disincentive against conversion.

Biodiversity Concerns

Both old growth forests and early successional habitats should be maintained throughout the landscape in the unorganized territory.  Given their economic appeal, old growth forests need to be actively shielded from market pressures by providing tax or other incentives to landowners to allow these areas to persist. Clear cuts provide open canopies to allow regeneration of early successional habitat necessary for species like the Canada lynx.  Because of this, clear cutting should be managed with input from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in order to maintain this habitat type. Protection zoning can also be applied by LURC as an effective regulatory tool to uphold conservation interests in these areas.

Capitalize on Sustainable Marketing Opportunities

Maine has an opportunity to take advantage of its reputation for sustainable management to distinguish the state’s forest products industry in the global market. Maine can further capitalize on the growing global demand for sustainable forest products by remaining a leader in forest certification and by promoting environmental initiatives to protect forest resources. In order to maintain and possibly increase forest productivity in the unorganized territory, it is critical that LURC adopts an effective regulatory approach to help maximize sustainable outputs5. Incentives for forest certification would be an effective means of encouraging sustainable business practices that complement the Commision’s vision for the jurisdiction.

Specify CLUP Language

LURC is charged with planning for future growth within its jurisdiction. The Goals and Policies of the Commission, as defined in Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), mirror our vision for the unorganized territory. Future development pressures on the North Woods pose a significant threat to biodiversity through the parcelization and permanent conversion of working forests and habitat. We recommend that LURC development policies be more explicitly defined to guide sustainable growth without compromising principle values and land uses. The CLUP should be established as a more concrete framework for management and decision-making in the unorganized territory to be used when confronted with proposals for development and protection. This provides consistent decisions throughout the changing nature of the Commission and provides unyielding policy through wavering political times.



Works Cited


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4.         Maine Land Use Regulation Commission. Comprehensive Land Use Plan, Chapter 4 (Accessed from:, 1997).

5.         Maine Forest Service: Forest Policy Management Division. The 2005 Biennial Report on the State of the Forest and Progress Report on the Forest Sustainability Standards. Report to the Joint Standing Committee of the 122nd Legislature on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. Maine Department of Conservation (2005).

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State of Maine's Environment, Colby College Environmental Studies Program
Content by Students in ES493: Environmental Policy Practicum
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
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