Conservation Technology Support Program:
GIS Stories from Prior Recipients

Maine Audubon Society

By Barbara Charry, 22 Jan 1997

Since its inception in 1843 as the Portland Society of Natural History, the Maine Audubon Society has become one of New England's leading regional organizations for environmental advocacy and education. An independent nonprofit organization supported by 6500 member households, Maine Audubon Society is dedicated to the protection, conservation, and enhancement of Maine's ecosystems through the promotion of individual understanding and actions.

The Maine Audubon Society is a community of people who share an appreciation of Maine's wildlife and outdoors, a concern for the stewardship of its natural resources, and a commitment to a clean environment. We want to ensure that future generations have a chance to enjoy and benefit from these assets. We'll help you get involved. Join us and become part of the solution.

Maine Audubon Society's Northern Forest Conservation Plan and GIS

Current development trends and forest practices are placing Maine's unique northern forest, 15 million acres of remote forested land, at risk. Due to the threats facing this region, Maine Audubon Society has dedicated much of its conservation efforts during the last five years toward ensuring a sustainable future for the region. Our proposed solutions are concentrated around three critical strategies: conserving Maine's most valuable forestlands; surrounding conserved lands with well-managed private forests; and supporting healthy rural economies. Maine Audubon first acquired a GIS for its Northern Forest Project in the spring of 1994. Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) donated software and training, and a grant from another source provided us with the funding to purchase the initial hardware, except for a plotter which is still needed. Maine Audubon has been using GIS continuously since then (particularly ArcView) to analyze data on the ecological and recreational resources of the Northern Forest; to identify and prioritize Maine Wildland Conservation Areas; to produce small (8 1/2" x 11") maps to communicate Maine Audubon's conservation plan for the Northern Forest with the public and stakeholders; and to produce large (3' x 4') maps for outreach with specific groups of landowners, stakeholders, local citizens and officials. We are currently revising the maps with updated information gathered through our outreach efforts and see the revisions as a continuing process. We have found GIS to be a key tool in addressing and involving the public in the statewide issue of the future of the Northern Forest and in communicating the issues facing the forest with the forest communities, stakeholders, government officials and broader public. Our goal is to ensure that the future of the Northern Forest is determined by careful planning for all values--ecological, recreational, economic--the forest contributes to Maine and the northeastern United States. Without careful planning now, the largest remote forested area in the northeast may not be here in 50 years. GIS allows us to visually, and dramatically, demonstrate the abundant resources found in the Northern Forest and to explain the serious consequences of development, logging and recreational use pressures to those who may not otherwise grasp them. GIS is particularly effective because it replicates the way people actually encounter the outdoors, experiencing many things at once, making it possible to draw the connections at public meetings. Currently, we are running our GIS on a Pentium PC 133 megahertz with 32 MB RAM and 2 gig hard drive, and are using ArcView GIS and PC ARC/INFO. The data we have purchased or created and are currently using includes, the 1:100,000 scale transportation, hydro and wetland coverage for the state; a statewide large land ownership layer; unorganized township deer wintering areas; Natural Areas Program rare plant and natural communities information; bald eagle essential habitat; rare animal information; canoe waterways; high value fishing rivers and lakes; boat ramps, campsites and campgrounds; waterfalls and gorges; airports; snowmobile trails and hiking trails.


Maine Wildland Conservation Areas

Maine Audubon Society is working to locate the best areas for conservation, commercial forestry, and rural development in Maine's Northern Forest. Amidst the 15 million acres of Northern Forest in Maine, we have identified five Maine Wildland Conservation Areas (MWCAs) totaling 4.3 million acres that host the most valuable concentrations of ecological and recreational assets. Maine Audubon's goal is to secure a future for valuable ecological and recreational wildlands within each MWCA with conservation strategies that enhance local economies and lifestyles. Each MWCA will be designed to ensure the future integrity of large, undeveloped landscapes in Maine, to provide opportunities for extended remote recreation, and to mimic natural processes that we hope will sustain the biological diversity of the Northern Forest. In addition, local communities will be encouraged to broaden their base of economic support by drawing on the multiple resources and values found within each MWCA.

Greater Baxter State Park MWCA

Although much has changed in the Maine woods since Thoreau's day, the Greater Baxter State Park MWCA is still prized for its mountains, waterfalls, lakes, glacial features, and old-growth forests. With many rare plants and animals, wetlands, and low road density, this MWCA possesses high ecological, scenic, and recreational values. Mt. Katahdin, Maine's highest mountain, supports a large number of alpine plant species, several of which, such as the dwarf willow and Lapland rosebay, are found nowhere else in the state. South of Baxter lies Rainbow Lake, ranked as one of Maine's finest remote ponds. This MWCA, composed of public reserves and managed private lands, offers a diversity of outdoor adventures such as hiking, rafting and canoeing, fishing, snowmobiling, and exploring remote backcountry and mountainous areas. The West and East branches of the Penobscot River contain some of the state's most scenic gorges and waterfalls and provide paddlers with whitewater rapids and long stretches of undeveloped shorelines. Lastly, this area supports a working forest that produces valuable forest products critical to the local economy.

Upper St. John River MWCA

The Upper St. John River MWCA begins near the confluence of the St. John and Allagash rivers and extends upstream to Baker Lake and the Canadian border, including the watersheds of the Big and Little Black rivers. This MWCA is an important timber-producing region, supplying wood to mills in Maine and Quebec. In addition, the St. John River ecosystem is noted for its rare and threatened plant species and offers visitors a high-quality recreational experience in one of the most remote regions of the eastern United States. More than 30 rare plants grow in this unique river ecosystem, most notably the Furbish's lousewort, but also the St. John tansy, New England violet, and northern painted cup. The Furbish's lousewort is found nowhere else in the world, growing only along the ice-scoured banks of the undammed, north-flowing St. John River. Recreationally, the St. John River trip is prized by canoeists for its length and wild, remote character. With this region's low road density and abundant scenic beauty, outdoor enthusiasts can also hunt and fish, snowmobile, and photograph magnificent botanical treasures and, perhaps, even the elusive lynx.

Downeast Lakes MWCA

The Downeast Lakes MWCA extends from the Narraguagus River northeast to the St. Croix River near Vanceboro, and east to the East Machias River. This region includes the watersheds and headwaters of four Class A rivers: the Narraguagus, Pleasant, Machias, and East Machias. These nationally significant rivers have been awarded the highest ranking a river can receive based on natural and recreational values. In addition, all four rivers support self-sustaining runs of the Atlantic salmon. Due to declines, however, the Atlantic salmon populations in these rivers have recently been proposed for listing as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. The Downeast Lakes area is ecologically, geologically, and recreationally rich. Its varied natural communities included vast upland forests, swamps, bogs, rivers, lakes, and marshes which support an abundance of wildlife, including a high concentration of nesting bald eagles and other rare species such as the Tomah mayfly. More than any place in Maine, this geologically significant area shows the work of the great continental glaciers. Eskers, moraines, and outwash plains, deposited by the recent retreat of the Wisconsin-age glacier, dominate the landscape. In addition, the abundance of extensive peatlands, or heaths, formed by the region's cool, moist climate, is unique in the East. The Great Heath, the largest peatland complex in Maine, covers 4,000 acres and harbors many unusual plants and animals.

Border Lakes MWCA

The Border Lakes MWCA is a working example of what Maine Audubon envisions a MWCA to become. Public and private groups have worked cooperatively to apply a variety of conservation measures to ensure that ecological resources and recreational opportunities are not diminished, while encouraging sustainably managed forests and focusing development in less sensitive areas. The forest industry, large private landowners, the state, and federal government have cooperated to protect important lands. The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, a local land trust, has been a key player in this process, working to protect significant resources of the Rangeley Lakes region.

Western Mountains MWCA

The Western Mountains MWCA provides users with opportunities for a variety of outdoor adventures. This area includes Flagstaff Lake and the mountainous areas to the south and north, as well as much of the upper Moose River watershed and Attean Pond, one of Maine's most picturesque lakes. This island-studded pond is part of a river loop formed by the Moose River and Holeb Pond and is prized by visitors for canoeing, fishing, and remote camping. The Moose River is one of the least developed river corridors in the Northeast. Mt. Abraham, Bigelow, and Sugarloaf mountains are among the mountains included in this MWCA. The 35,000 acre Bigelow Preserve, encompassing many peaks of the Bigelow Mountain range, features a mosaic of wetlands, a 6-mile-long glacier-deposited esker (a long ridge of sand and gravel), and fragile arctic-alpine plant species. Hikers and climbers of Bigelow Mountain and Mt. Abraham can explore one of the few alpine-tundra plant communities in the eastern United States.

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Text and graphics: Maine Audubon Society
January 2, 1997

Design and Layout: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
January 2, 1997

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