27 May 2008

Partnership Project Promotes Conservation of Central Maine Wetlands

Habitats for flora and fauna within the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc corridor of central Maine will be conserved through an ongoing effort by a partnership of local, state, and federal groups.

The project, which recently received funding from the North America Wetlands Conservation Act managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was "created by the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Project Committee of the Bangor Land Trust and the Orono Land Trust. The vision of the project partners is to create a continuous greenway corridor including a total of about 6000 acres of undeveloped land for wildlife habitat and public use commencing just north of the Bangor Mall and running north between Interstate-95 and Pushaw Lake to Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Hudson."

Total funding of $2 million includes $666,566 from the federal grant and $1.4 million from Land for Maine's Future, Bangor Land Trust, University of Maine, University of Maine Foundation, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Outdoors Heritage Fund, Orono Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Maine Audubon.

These funds will be used to acquire about 3100 acres and place a conservation easement on another 686 acres of habitats including wetlands, adjacent uplands, and "over three miles of lake, stream and pond shoreline." The acreage is spread among ten parcels within a larger 21,758 acre wetland complex.

"This NAWCA grant allows us to purchase a large parcel of 850 acres and conserve several other large parcels through donated easements and fee purchases that bridge gaps to provide much improved connectivity among parcels already conserved," said Sally Jacobs, spokesperson for the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Conservation Project Committee. "The two land trusts and the LMF Program had initiated this project prior to receiving the grant and had already made selected purchases in the corridor."

"The University of Maine and the University of Maine Foundation donated land and easements to be used as matching funds needed to make the project eligible for grant funding. The UM donations were combined with funds previously obtained by the two land trusts from the Land for Maine's Future Program, private donations, and Maine Outdoor Heritage funding to complete the necessary match."

The project area has "crucial" American Black Duck and American Woodcock habitat.

"The beaver-created wetlands, and peatlands, make a matrix of ideal nesting habitat within large blocks of unfragmented land that provide the isolated habitats preferred by the American Black Duck," said Jacobs. "The Penjajawoc Marsh is good brood-rearing habitat and is an extremely valuable staging area for migration of American Black Ducks and other water fowl.

"The 850 acres of the Sewall land that is being bought with NAWCA and Land for Maine's Future Funds includes early successional habitat that will be managed for the American Woodcock. The mixed deciduous/conifer forests, some in early successional stages that is being acquired are ideal nesting habitat for the woodcock and Whip-poor-will."

The area is also important other waterbirds, including the Canada Goose, Mallard, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck and American Bittern.

"The rich maple/yellow birch, white pine/oak forests, and spruce/fir forest along with black spruce and red maple forested wetlands are important habitat to priority songbirds." Neotropic species of concern identified are the Wood Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Olive-sided Flycatcher.

The Penjajawoc Marsh has more webless, wetland-dependent bird species than any other marsh studied in Maine," Jacobs explained. "Furthermore, as of 2001, Penjajawoc Marsh contained more endangered/special concern species than any of 106 inland marshes in the state recently studied by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife."

Wetlands types present include "emergent marsh, submerged aquatic vegetation, red maple swamp, coniferous forested wetlands, and palustrine shrub habitat" according to the NAWCA grant. "The wetlands are surrounded by northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests and provide valuable water quality protection from human development and encroachment."

The Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc corridor has been a target for conservation for about two decades, the grant summary said. The area is under intense commercial and residential development pressure due to its location in the fast-growing Bangor/Orono suburbs area adjacent to Interstate-95.

"All lands acquired through the Caribou Bog-Penjajwoc Project will be available for research and teaching," Jacobs said, "including on subjects of hydrology and sustainable forestry with a special emphasis on management for wildlife habitat. Low impact recreation also will be available.

"Proceeds from forestry on the 850 Sewall tract will be going to the University of Maine to support scholarship and research efforts in forestry and wildlife management. The proximity to the University campus make this tract particularly valuable. Students in forestry, wildlife and recreation/tourism will be using all of the lands in the corridor for their studies."

Selected wetlands in the corridor are on the Maine Birding Trail. The local Audubon Society, the two local land trusts, and Hirundo Wildlife refuge all provide tours on these lands, Jacobs said. The Penjajawoc Marsh, a primary target for conservation in the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Project, is an important destination along this trail.

"The Caribou Bog has been studied extensively and is considered the third most important peatland in Maine and is listed as an Exemplary Natural Community by Maine Natural Areas Program. It also has been studied extensively by researchers at the University of Maine who have found a number of endangered invertebrate species there. The entire corridor is an area of special interest to the State's Beginning with Habitat Program."

An estimated 50,000 people use the area each year for hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, photography environmental education and interpretation, and outdoor recreation, according to the NAWCA grant summary. Another 30,000 annually use the trails and the Orono Bog boardwalk with its interpretive stations that provide educational information about the wetlands.

"Many of the visitors are students who come from elementary and high schools, and the University, for guided tours by the boardwalk volunteer guides," Jacobs said.

"The project has been extremely successful in accomplishing its initial vision of guiding development into the most appropriate areas and balancing development with the preservation of large blocks of open land and prime wildlife habitat," Jacobs said. "It is exciting to see the project become a recognized part of the landscape and to see the positive effect it has had on regional municipal planning. Much of the vision has been incorporated into town planning and recently has expanded to a Trust for Public Land 13-town green-printing project.

"The project continues to move forward and is being recognized by state planning and conservation agencies as well as state-wide non-profit conservation organizations. Recently the Maine Chapter of the Wildlife Society recognized the two land trusts with an award for their visionary collaboration and their extraordinary work to establish the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Project: A Conservation-Recreation Corridor."

The land acquisition and easements are expected to be completed within two years.

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