The New England Forestry Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group in Groton, Massachusetts, and the Pingree family, owners of vast tracts of Maine forestland for generations, have finalized the details of the largest conservation easement in U.S. history.
The easement, which will allow selective logging on the land to continue, calls for the Pingree family to relinquish its development rights to 762,192 acres of Maine woods — an area larger than Rhode Island — in return for more than $28 million.
In a news conference at the Maine statehouse in Augusta, Gov. Angus King hailed the deal as a victory for the Pingrees, NEFF, and future generations.
"Buildings can fall down," said King. "Programs can be changed. Anything that we do here can be changed a generation hence. What we're doing, however, today, in terms of setting aside this land for the people of Maine, and indeed the people of the United States, is permanent."
The acreage protected by the deal includes more than 2,000 miles of river frontage, 110 lakes and ponds, more than 215 miles of lakeshore, over 72,000 acres of wetlands, 67 rare and endangered plant sites, bald eagle and peregrine falcon nesting sites, and moose, bear, lynx, and migratory bird habitat unrivaled in the Northeast.
The easement, which had been in the works since 1999, required NEFF to raise approximately $37 an acre — a goal that many thought it would never achieve. Undaunted, the small nonprofit was able to secure support from over forty-four foundations, more than one thousand individuals, and the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy to make the deal a reality.
According to the New York Times, the previous largest easement on U.S. forestland involved 110,000 acres in New York State's Adirondack region.