Sebasticook Regional Land Trust
In the summer of 2015, I spent eleven weeks working as an intern for the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust (SRLT) in Unity, ME. I experienced community based conservation firsthand and worked with SRLT to conserve critical habitat, increase local awareness about the rich landscape and wildlife of central Maine, and ensure that “community” land is truly available for the community. People have harnessed the natural resources of Maine for centuries, harvesting wood, fishing, hunting, and farming to sustain themselves and make a living. Many of these enterprises continue today, but there has been increasing awareness among local stakeholders that how resources are extracted can have important long term impacts on the landscape. Sebasticook Regional Land Trust is a non-profit working to negotiate how we can conserve land to avoid damage to local ecosystems while still using the land to meet our resource and recreational needs. My position, along with one other intern, can best be understood in three broad categories supporting these goals: trail maintenance, land management, and outreach. SRLT manages over 4,000 acres of permanently conserved land, which includes eleven properties under direct ownership and twelve conservation easements. Many of these properties have public trails, and even those that do not often require some form of upkeep. Trail maintenance consisted of lopping tree limbs/shrubs, weed-whacking, bow-sawing fallen trees, and installing or updating trail signage. Although at first glance this work may sound like pure manual labor, I learned valuable skills related to proper trail care, trail planning, and trail accessibility. Ensuring that there are passable, well-marked trails on SRLT properties not only adds to the experience of visitors but ensures that lands well-known for hunting, fishing, or ATV-use are minimally impacted due to concentrated disturbance. Well-planned and maintained trails guide visitors through the natural features of a property while protecting sensitive areas that might otherwise be crossed. Although trail maintenance is one of the most visible products of our work this summer, land management was the most time consuming. In order to carry out part of the land management requirements for SRLT properties, we created an invasive plants management protocol for three properties and then used this protocol to run transect surveys for seven invasive plants. The presence of invasives such as Morrow’s Honeysuckle and Purple Loosestrife can negatively impact other plants, but also wildlife that rely on native species as a source of food or habitat. By establishing baseline data on invasive plants in these three properties, SRLT can monitor changes in abundance of invasives and take preventative action to maintain diverse, native ecosystems. Last but not least, I was involved with the on-going effort to increase SRLT’s outreach efforts. The resulted in a number of projects including the creation of brochures for properties with heavy public use and a grant for wildlife cameras to add potential media sources for outreach programs. Additionally, I represented SRLT at three community events with three different children’s activities and created an Alewife Obstacle Course which will be replicated in the future. As with most environmental non-profits, SRLT faces the challenge of changing the narrative that local residents have in their minds about our relationship with the environment in order to achieve its conservation goals. “Engaging” and “compelling” are two words often used to describe an ideal campaign for a conservation organization, but for me those words had always remained amorphous and confusing. As I worked to create outreach activities this summer for children, I realized that compelling is “doing” rather than “showing” and a story rather than facts. When conservation becomes a story, even the parents stick around to listen. Working for SRLT was a perfect opportunity to gain experience in the practical details of land management and to hone my understanding of how we can best communicate the message of conservation to the public. Land trusts like SRLT are small organizations in the grand scheme of things, but the impact of their work far outsizes their small staff and usually even smaller budgets.