Bold Conservation Efforts Yield Big Results: Downeast Lakes

We first started working in this area in 2005, when we joined a network of partners to protect more than 325,000 acres of working forest through a conservation easement. At the time, the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership was the second largest forestland conservation easement in U.S. history.

This bold conservation initiative has helped establish a landscape of more than one million permanently protected acres of essentially uninterrupted habitat across an international boundary. The protected forestlands are strategically positioned between more than 600,000 acres of conserved lands in New Brunswick, Canada, and 200,000 acres of state, federal and Native American lands in Maine. The lands contain 54 lakes with 336 miles of lake shoreline and more than 1,500 miles of river and stream shoreline in the Machias, East Machias, Dennys, Mattawamkeag and St. Croix River watersheds.

In 2012, we furthered this effort, with support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Providing funding to the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, we made it possible for the State of Maine to conserve roughly 22,000 acres of forestland. This land connects with the one million acres of already-conserved lands.

The Downeast Lakes project brought together an extraordinary group of public and private partners: New England Forestry Foundation; State of Maine; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Downeast Lakes Land Trust; The Richard King Mellon Foundation; Wal-Mart’s Acres for America program.

East Grand Lake

Through our Working Forest Fund, in 2011 we purchased more than 12,000 acres in the towns of Orient and Weston on the headwater lakes of the St. Croix River along the Canadian border. Focusing on long-term conservation outcomes and economic prosperity, we are working with both towns to incorporate the needs, interests and concerns of residents in order to create economic development projects that focus on youth, health and well-being as well as community growth needs.

For example, in Orient, The Conservation Fund will donate a property to the town for a new town building and will sell three home lots near Route 1 to help expand the tax base and growth of the community. In addition, a Healthy People Healthy Places grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation is supporting business planning for the East Grand Health Center and is providing resources to the East Grand School in Danforth for hands-on learning and outdoor exploration.

In 2016, we completed the permanent conservation of nearly 7,500 acres of this property in Orient by conveying 5,992 acres of land and a conservation easement on 1,494 acres to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands that will provide public access for hunting, guiding, snowmobiling, ATV riding, as well as fishing on revered East Grand Lake and Longley Lake. The land will continue to be sustainably harvested for timber supporting local jobs, while securing the largest white-tailed deer wintering area in the region, which supports the local recreation economy. 

This was made possible, in part, with funding from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and a grant from the Open Space Institute’s Northern Forest Transborder Protection Fund. This conservation project is part of a broader effort to preserve land within the East Grand Lake watershed and surrounding area.

Why These Projects Matter

Loon floating on 4th Machias Lake. Photo by David Gallagher/Flickr Loon floating on 4th Machias Lake. Photo by David Gallagher/FlickrProtecting this forestland in Maine sustains a natural resource based rural economy and the lifestyle of residents in Washington, Aroostook and Penobscot counties; maintains sustainable forestry practices; and ensures perpetual public access for outdoor recreation. Together, these forests, lakes and 50,800 acres of wetlands provide habitat for 180 bird species, including 23 warblers, bald eagles, American black ducks and wood ducks; as well as bear, moose, deer, pine marten, beaver and otter. As one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the northwest Atlantic, conservation in this region will also support efforts to restore groundfish to eastern Maine as well as Atlantic salmon and smallmouth bass, diversify fisheries and develop viable local economies.

At A Glance

  • 2005: Our first project in Downeast Maine was the landmark preservation of 325,000 acres of working forest through a conservation easement. At the time, this was the second largest forestland conservation easement in U.S. history.
  • 2012: We protected an additional 22,000 acres in eastern Maine that connects to one million acres of already-protected land.
  • 2016: We completed the preservation of nearly 7,500 acres within the East Grand Lake watershed in the town of Orient at the headwaters of the St. Croix River.

Impressive Partnership

This project brought together an extraordinary group of public and private partners to support the local economy, linked by tradition to the surrounding natural resource base. Our shared conservation success protects Maine’s legacy of working forest jobs and beautiful outdoor heritage.

Downeast Maine


Learn More

East Grand Lake news release
Places We Protect: Working Lands 

Why Do Forests Matter?

At The Conservation Fund, we believe that well-managed forests can be both economically viable and ecologically sustainable, but like all other necessary parts of our national infrastructure, they need to be invested in and maintained. That's why, since 1985, we've protected more than a million forest acres across America. Protecting and maintaining working forests, and the communities that depend on them, remains one of our top conservation priorities.

Video by The Conservation Fund.