Nonprofit’s Purchase of 15,000 Acres Will Provide Time to Develop
Permanent Conservation Solutions That Support the Legacy, Livelihood and Lifestyle of Local Communities
The Conservation Fund recently announced its purchase of 15,408 acres from Chadbourne Tree Farms, LLC in western Maine. The Fund’s acquisition is intended to protect this iconic and historic working forest landscape from fragmentation and development. It also provides time for the implementation of conservation strategies that will advance critical watershed protection for the City of Portland, conserve climate-resilient ecological areas, and provide regional economic benefits through enhanced recreational access and continued sustainable forestry operations and timber jobs.
The history of this white pine timberland dates back to 1634, when William Chadbourne was sent to Maine from Devonshire, England, by King Charles I to establish a sawmill. He built a water-powered sawmill in South Berwick that is thought to have been the first sawmill in America. William and subsequent generations worked as subsistence farmers and foresters in the area, and later generations moved to Waterford and then Bethel. The 15,408-acre timberland was assembled by the Chadbourne family over more than 150 years. It has been celebrated as one of the best-managed forests in New England thanks to the family’s exemplary focus on carefully cultivating the growth, composition, health, productivity and quality of the forests. The Chadbourne family will continue to own other forestland in the area.
The property was purchased from Chadbourne Tree Farms, LLC, which is managed by the 11th and 12th generations of the Chadbourne family, Bob Chadbourne and Nancy Lea Chadbourne Stearns.
Bob Chadbourne, 11th-generation family business owner said: “This forestland and its exceptional white pine timber resources reflect decades of long-term stewardship administered by my father, as well as generations of the Chadbourne family with the help of many skilled and hardworking employees, associates and contractors. For the past several decades, John Gray and Tim Sawyer have been very important players in management of this property. Bethel, Waterford and the surrounding communities have been extremely important communities to the Chadbourne family, and Bob and Nancy Chadbourne and Nancy and David Stearns still live in the area. Other members of the 12th and 13th generations of the Chadbourne family own property and spend time in Waterford. The Chadbourne family is so very pleased to work with The Conservation Fund to ensure that these lands will remain forested and continue to provide timber resources and other benefits.”
Over the next several years, The Conservation Fund will manage the Tree Farm, located primarily in Oxford County, providing time for the national nonprofit and its major partners—Mahoosuc Land Trust, Mahoosuc Pathways, Western Foothills Land Trust and the U.S. Forest Service—to raise the funding needed to permanently conserve it under mostly private ownership. Property taxes will continue to be paid during The Conservation Fund’s management.
The Fund will sustainably manage the forestland for the improvement and conservation of the forest resources, recreational assets, and climate-resilient wildlife habitat—an ecosystem able to absorb a disturbance like drought and flooding without shifting to an alternate state. To ensure that ecologically responsible timber practices are established, The Fund will seek to have the Tree Farm certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Forest Management Standard. Portions of the property will be open for public recreation, including hiking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling, paddling, rock climbing, horseback riding, backcountry skiing, and more.
“This exceptional forestland has been innately linked to the character of Western Maine for generations. Right now, when people are looking to be hopeful about our economy and get outdoors, this project could not have come at a better time,” said Tom Duffus, Vice President and Northeast Representative for The Conservation Fund in Freeport, Maine. “The Fund is committed to honoring the exemplary legacy of the Chadbourne family, and, together with our partners, we are working to raise private funding and secure public support to conserve this working forestland in perpetuity.”
The Fund’s purchase secures the fourth-largest privately-owned forest in the Sebago Lake watershed, the source of drinking water for more than 200,000 residents in the City of Portland and surrounding communities. With approximately 3,000 acres of the Chadbourne Tree Farm located within the Sebago Lake watershed, this effort, in partnership with the Western Foothills Land Trust, will secure nearly 10% of the 35,000-acre conservation goal established by the Portland Water District and the Sebago Clean Waters coalition for the watershed.
“Sebago Lake is one of only 50 public surface water supplies in the country that require no filtration before treatment. Conserving these forestlands is critical for the protection of the region’s lakes that provide pure drinking water and recreational opportunities,” said Karen Young, Coordinator at Sebago Clean Waters. “We are thrilled that The Conservation Fund and Western Foothills Land Trust are working together to protect the water quality and the enduring forest-based heritage of the region.”
The purchase will also secure 33.5 miles of river and tributary frontage, including 2.5 miles on the Androscoggin River and 13.5 miles on the Crooked River, which flows into Sebago Lake and eventually to the water taps in the Greater Portland region.
“The Chadbourne family lands are some of the finest working forestlands in western Maine that many drive through, recreate on and even earn their livings related to the resources they provide,” said Lee Dassler, Executive Director, Western Foothills Land Trust. “Securing these lands and protecting them as working lands forever—especially those in Waterford, Norway and Oxford—will be our greatest challenge to date, and we look forward to working with our conservation partners, state and federal agencies, and local municipalities to achieve this goal.”
This noteworthy conservation acquisition was made possible through The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund®, dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests. Proceeds from the Fund’s first-ever green bonds were utilized in this purchase as bridge capital to protect these large, ecologically and economically important forestlands from subdivision and fragmentation, allowing time for permanent conservation solutions to be implemented.
The Conservation Fund and its partners are seeking support from private and public sources including the USDA Forest Legacy Program through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program and Portland Water District. The Fund and partners are also seeking private support to complete this significant conservation effort over the next few years.
Working forests are a critical component of the economy in western Maine, supporting the livelihoods and outdoor-centric lifestyles of many residents and visitors. Nearly 10,000 acres surround and provide a scenic backdrop to the town of Bethel, a seasonal vacation destination for New Englanders. As the greater Bethel community looks to expand and diversify the local economy, the conservation of this land will not only protect forests close to people, it will also provide opportunities for recreational activities that attract outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
“Lands acquired by The Conservation Fund near Bethel will secure the last sites needed for Mahoosuc Pathways to realize our vision of connecting the Bethel Village multi-use trails network between the two ski areas—Sunday River Resort and Mt. Abram Resort—through the downtown, and near the local schools,” said Gabe Perkins, Mahoosuc Pathways Executive Director. “The scale and realization of this trail network will fundamentally benefit the community forever and will bolster a year-round economy.”
The Chadbourne Tree Farm also features the 978-acre Tumbledown Dick Mountain, one of the region’s beloved rock-climbing areas, with scenic vistas for hikers, and prime backcountry glade skiing terrain. The area is also a key corridor for wildlife movement between existing adjacent lands conserved by the USDA Forest Service, the State of Maine and the Mahoosuc Land Trust. The land trust will work with The Conservation Fund to protect this site to secure wildlife habitat in the face of a changing climate, and improve recreational access on both the mountain and the extensive Androscoggin River frontage.
“Recreational access and habitat connectivity together are a huge benefit to our region, so when we find a large area that can fulfill both needs, we have to seize the opportunity to make that conservation permanent,” said Kirk G. Siegel, Executive Director of the Mahoosuc Land Trust. “As our region’s population and tourism grow over time and our forest faces fragmentation, Tumbledown Dick is a place that we will look back on and be so glad we protected for future generations.”
Over the last decade, The Conservation Fund has placed more than 660,000 acres under conservation management through its Working Forest Fund® program, with the goal of purchasing and permanently protecting five million acres of working forests over the next 10 to 15 years.
To find out more about The Conseravation Fund or the Chadbourne Tree Farms sale, contact David Speirs, Director of Northeast and Lake States Region, Timberland, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207.874.4982.