Conservation for Economy & Environment: Downeast Community Effort at a Grand Scale

With summer upon us, many of us are thinking about vacation destinations, but not as much as what’s happening behind the scenes to make these destinations so appealing. I recently had a peek into a beautiful place in Maine that I’ve yet to visit – Grand Lake Stream. The natural beauty and serenity of Grand Lake Stream has made that community a vacation destination for better than a century, fueling a classic Maine sporting camp industry there, as well as other small businesses.

The members of the community are working hard to preserve this natural splendor and way of life, and are depending on a variety of private/ public partnerships and socially minded business strategies to do it. I spoke with the Downeast Lakes Land Trust Executive Director Mark Berry about their work:

I know where coastal Downeast Maine is – where is the Downeast Lakes region?

The Downeast Lakes region is in the eastern corner of Maine- generally centered on village of Grand Lake Stream. It’s a spectacular landscape – it is home to the headwaters of many Maine rivers, diverse forests and expansive wetlands.

What is the mission of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust?

We contribute to the economic and environmental well being of Maine’s Downeast Lakes region through the conservation and exemplary management of its forests and waters.  In short, we summarize our work as ‘Forests and Lakes – For People – Forever.’

The environmental part of your mission makes sense. Why is economics getting equal attention?

It’s becoming more common for land trusts and conservation groups to look at the economic value of their work.

What’s unusual is our group was founded with a dual economic and environmental mission. It arose naturally. This region has a long heritage of recreation and the local economy depends on natural resources. Because people here are looking to sustain their economy and their way of life, environmental conservation is an economic strategy. Conservation is the right tool to accomplish an economic goal.

Define what a natural resource economy means to you.

It’s more than jobs. Yes, it’s jobs in the timber economy, jobs in tourism economy. But it’s also supporting craftsman so they get access to the woods they use. It’s quality of life, attracting people to the community as visitors and residents who appreciate the opportunities to enjoy the natural environment.

Where are you in the journey?

The trust was founded in 2001 and immediately proposed the conservation of 370 thousand acres around the village of Grand Lake Stream. With the help of a lot of partners and supporters through three capital campaigns, we’ve made incredible progress. The total 370 thousand acres are permanently conserved and will always be open for public recreation – this includes 465 miles of undeveloped lake shores. We own and manage a 34 thousand acre community forest.  The most recent large tract we conserved was the 22 thousand acre West Grand Lake Forest that was protected by conservation easement in December.

With the easement secured we’re now striking toward the purchase of that property to bring local stewardship and management to West Grand Lake Community Forest – for wildlife habitats, public recreation and a sustainable timber economy.

What do you need to accomplish that?

We need to raise another $5 million to complete the purchase.

This success depends on more than a single benefactor. Who are your collaborators?

This collaboration has included a wide range of partners. That remains important to our ongoing success. We definitely accomplish a lot more by working with others. That includes other conservation groups, public agencies and businesses. In some cases the business partners have been easy to find. Our neighboring forest landowners and managers are partners in cooperative management and recreation projects. Sporting camps and lodges in Grand Lake Stream are natural partners as we conserve the resources that sustain their businesses and attract visitors to the region.

Our current West Grand Lake Community Forest project came about through an interesting partnership with the Lyme Timber Co. They specialize in investing in forests that have high conservation values. Their private investment capital made it possible for us to negotiate the time we needed to raise money to eventually purchase the property. That partnership came about in part as they worked with CEI Capital Management and used federal New Markets Tax Credits, which also brought other economic benefits to the community, in addition to helping Lyme Timber finance their purchase.

What’s next on your agenda?

We have a long term role as steward of our community forest – what we own and what we seek to purchase. We’re working on education programs and habitat projects, and are always looking at additional conservation opportunities to benefit the region in the long term.

How do you enjoy your work?

This is an amazing opportunity to be a part of a community-led conservation effort.  I love the place, and so it has been easy to dedicate a lot of effort to protect the things that help make it special.  I came back from Oregon to take this job. I grew up in Southern Maine and would visit my grandparents’ place around Machias. I had a childhood connection to the Downeast landscape, and it resonates with me, but this is also a place that many people fall in love with.  The scale of the lakes and forests are hard to describe, but there are few places in the country that offer the same recreation opportunities available here.


About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.