Troubling changes in the northern forest

Troubling changes in the northern forest

This is a terrific and important column by my friend Sandra Neily who lives in Greenville. Sandy has been an environmental advocate for decades. The photo with  this column, which she gave me permission to use, is Sandy fishing with a bald head, shortly after she’d received treatment for breast cancer.

 How We Lose and How We Find the Wild Maine

 November 19, 2019 by Sandra Neily

This week the undeveloped woods around my northern forest home were posted “No Trespassing.” Gates went up, cameras were leashed to trees, sheriffs were called; everything turned nasty. (Didn’t help that people angry about losing snowmobile access chain sawed their way through woods they didn’t own.)

For 30 years I’ve been slipping in and out of these woods, following old game trails and trails hunters have used for decades. I had a favorite tree that I sat under each fall as the last leaves fell. I had a favorite spot where a stream joined a lake, a spot so thick with animal tracks, it always felt like a gift to go there. My daughter and I liked to visit “fossil rock” where eons ago, small creatures left their imprints for us to find.

These owners have a perfect right to close off their property, create house lots, or enjoy it as they see fit. And I admit that I failed to understand that new owners wanted new ways of doing things, so it made sense that I was evicted.

But I will miss the porcupine haunts I visited. The marsh where I could hide and watch moose feed. The silent, early dusk nights where the only sound was my skis through snow and the surprise of seeing coyote tracks cross my tracks as I headed home.

Over the next few years, there will be driveways and more gates and more signs and maybe some lucky landowners will appreciate the marsh and the stream and fossil rock. At some point, just like Boothbay, development will displace most wildlife except for determined squirrels and skunks. Wildlife does not thrive on chunked up lots.

It’s a replay of my Boothbay childhood in dense woods that shielded the Damariscotta River. We played in sea caves, ran races on woodland trails, and slid trays on frozen streams. These places were also lost: roaded, gated, and posted No Trespassing.

So while accepting that these changes have come to my part of Maine (there are over 20 new camps on my road alone), today I am too sad to write anything inspirational.

I will leave readers with some photo memories of my time there, information on how to find parts of Maine (scroll down) that are conserved for all to enjoy, entities working on that good goal, and actions you can take. And some Aldo Leopold wisdom about what matters.

We will have to be vigilant and generous if our grandchildren are to have wild places.

quote from Aldo Leopold

Find Wild Maine; Help Grow and Preserve Public Access

Cold Stream Forest is part of Maine’s Public Lands

Maine’s Public Lands: Some of Maine’s most outstanding natural features and secluded locations are found on Maine’s Public Lands. The more than half million acres are managed for a variety of resource values including recreation, wildlife, and timber. See this GREAT Public Lands Video,“The Untold Secret.”

Portland Trails is a land trust.

Land Trusts (Find 80 of them, here!)  One reason Maine has such an active land trust community is because Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands among all states in our region. At 6.5%, it is also one of the lowest percentages in the country, lower than 36 other states. Most of our iconic coastline (at least 95%) is privately owned.

Boothbay Region Land Trust

Maine boasts more than 80 land trusts, community-supported, non-profits that have permanently conserved more than 2.5 million acres–12% of the state. ACTION: Find, walk, hike, hunt, fish, and paddle on Maine land trusts. Join a trust near you; donate and volunteer!

The Land for Maine’s Future Program is the State of Maine’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for its natural and recreational value. The program was established in 1987 when Maine citizens voted to fund $35 million to purchase lands of statewide importance.

Mt. Kineo was one of the first purchases of public land through this fund.

The prime focus remains the same – conserving the prime physical features of the Maine landscape and recognizing that working lands and public access to these lands is critical to preserving Maine’s quality of life. Most of these areas are managed as public lands.

  • LMF accomplishements:
  • 59 water access sites
  • 41 farms and 9,755 acres of farmlands conserved
  • 25 commercial working waterfront properties
  • Acquisitions include 1,272 miles of shorelines of rivers, lakes and ponds, 55 miles of coastline, and 158 miles of former railroad corridors for recreational trails.
  • Over 600,919 acres of conservation and recreation lands. This includes 333,425 acres of working lands reflecting LMF’s efforts to conserve the working landscape and keep lands in private ownership with permanent land conservation agreements

the Caribou Bog Recreation Area is also from the MOHF

ACTION: Contact your state Representative/Senator. Ask/her/him to always fully fund LMF bond proposals. Remind them that these purchases are always matched and supported by federal or privately raised funds. In other words, our state dollars attract millions more conservation dollars.

The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund has been helping to fund critical wildlife and conservation projects throughout the state since it was created by the Maine Legislature in 1996, in response to a grassroots effort from environmental and sportsman’s groups who recognized that wildlife and habitat conservation were poorly funded … if at all.

The MOHF and lots of dedicated volunteers made the Royal River Trail happen.

Supported through proceeds from a lottery ticket, MOHF often finds its funds lagging while grant proposals continue to pour in. The more tickets that are sold, the more wildlife and habitat can be protected

.Find tickets at convenience stores, gas stations, and other outlets where Maine State Lottery tickets are sold. ACTION: Buy MOHF tickets.Something simple you can do that will add up.) Thank You!

Wisdom From Aldo Leopold:  (father of wildlife ecology & our wilderness system)

“Man always kills the thing he loves. And so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” The Green Lagoons, A Sand County Almanac.

“To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” Conservation Esthetic, A Sand County Almanac.

“Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Conservation Economics, The River of the Mother of God.

“Our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides, but they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history, to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” Engineering and Conservation, The River of the Mother of God.

 Sandy writes about the disappearing Maine. Her novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on her website. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published early in 2020.


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.