In Western Maine along the New Hampshire border, the Mahoosuc Range compares only to Mt. Katahdin in its vast, unbroken high-elevation forest. As northbound travelers on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) cross into The Pine Tree State, the green sea of the Mahoosuc Mountains stretches before them.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve would build on a legacy of wildness in Western Maine. These mountains, also known as the Mountains of the Dawn in honor of the Wabanaki of Maine, or, the People of the Dawnland are some of the first mountains to greet the rising sun as day breaks over this continent. It is an area of high conservation importance, and one that the Wilderness Trust has turned its attention to in recent years. This keystone property sits directly between a vast public Ecological Preserve and a future conserved managed woodland. From the proposed Preserve, a few days’ hike north on the A.T. brings one to the outskirts of Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Lone Mountain and soon-to-be-conserved Redington Wilderness Sanctuaries, which cumulatively protect 4,455 forever-wild acres near Bigelow Preserve.
For Nature and People
People seeking to enjoy the solace of a remote adventure aren’t the only ones benefitting from the vast forestland of the Mahoosucs. The high-elevation forests are home to myriad bird species, including Bicknell’s thrush, spruce grouse, boreal chickadee, white-winged crossbill, black-backed woodpecker, many species of warblers and even nesting peregrine falcons. Mammals like American marten, long- and short-tailed weasels, fox, snowshoe hare, and Canada lynx find refuge here, and the region is home to the largest population of moose in the lower 48 states. The high ridgelines are used as migratory routes by songbirds, raptors, and bats.
Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve will also protect different kinds of high-elevation forest: Fir-Heart-leaved Birch Subalpine Forest, a rare forest type, and Spruce-Fir Montane Forest.
Here, people are visitors to this wild place who find solitude, peace, and beauty in its surreal realm of moss and conifers. The proposed Preserve sits just west of a two-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the Grafton State Forest. An official A.T. side trail, the Speck Pond Trail, traverses the future Grafton Wilderness Preserve for more than 1.5 miles.
A Natural Climate Solution
As the planet sits at the precipice of rapid climate change and biodiversity loss, the Northeast is poised to play an important role over the next several years with regards to climate stabilization. A 2020 study published in Science Advances identified the Northeastern United States as part of a ‘Global Safety Net’ where, if sufficient ecosystem protection and restoration occurs—quickly—we may have hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
The proposed Preserve, if protected as permanent wilderness, will continue to store incredible amounts of carbon within the mature, high-elevation forests. In the lower elevations of the property, where more recent logging has occurred, the forest will regenerate, capturing and retaining carbon. All told, the full carbon storage capacity of these 1,388 acres totals approximately 120,000 metric tonnes of carbon, which will never be lost to resource extraction if this land is conserved as forever-wild.
When selecting lands to conserve, Northeast Wilderness Trust places an emphasis on climate resiliency—the capacity of a place to support diverse flora and fauna as they move, migrate, and adapt in the face of a warming climate and more extreme weather events. A landscape evaluation tool developed by The Nature Conservancy ranks the resilience of Grafton Forest as well above average. It also considers the entirety of the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve a “Climate Flow Zone with Confirmed Diversity.” This means that high levels of plant and animal movement occur here, and there are known locations of rare species and unique natural communities.
The Wild Core to a Critical Corridor
The proposed Preserve lies within a 102,000-acre forest block, which is part of a five million-acre stretch of globally significant forest. This region includes more than half of the United States’ largest globally important bird area—providing habitat and breeding grounds for 34 northern woodland songbirds.
This vast expanse of habitat is an important wildlife corridor. Animals who roam or migrate long distances or have territories that are miles wide rely on large forests in order to forage, hunt, find mates, and raise their young. When wildlife corridors include lands that are left in their natural state, they allow species to adapt in the face of a rapidly changing climate. The Mountains of the Dawn are the critical ecological link between the western portion of the Northern Forest (the Adirondack, Green, and White Mountains) and its eastern stretches, which reach into New Brunswick and the Gaspé peninsula.
Such a forest complex is incredibly rare to find in the Northeastern U.S. Northeast Wilderness Trust is proud to be partnering with Forest Society of Maine (FSM) to protect the forested landscape of the Mahoosucs. Simultaneously with our effort to purchase the Preserve, FSM is working towards purchasing a timberland easement on 20,000 acres abutting the western boundary of the Preserve from the same landowner. The viewshed that will be protected by the Wilderness Preserve and the FSM easement is ranked as fifth out of 3,144 viewsheds along Maine’s A.T.
FSM is a nationally accredited land trust that has helped conserve approximately 1 million acres of Maine woodlands for their many ecological, recreational, cultural, and economic values. FSM has been at the forefront of developing and implementing effective means of overseeing compliance with harvesting best practices and ecological standards, along with other terms of large forestry easements. FSM is a longtime partner of the Wilderness Trust’s work in Maine and holds forever-wild easements on our Alder Stream Wilderness Preserve in Atkinson, Maine. Together, FSM and NEWT have a remarkable opportunity to permanently protect over 21,000 acres of stunning vistas and critical habitat.
What’s at Stake
In several places, the Maine’s A.T. lies just a few hundred feet from the proposed Preserve. If this land is not protected as forever-wild, a section of forest directly next to the A.T. may face serious risk of alteration—potentially sacrificing the wilderness experience of this highly popular hiking area.
If we are successful, this land will never again be logged. It will never be crossed by motor vehicles or bicycles. It will never have new trails or infrastructure built upon it. It will remain a permanent home for the wild creatures who depend upon this land.
As these wildlands sit directly adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and a current effort by Forest Society of Maine to protect 20,000 acres of managed woodlands, they represent an on-the-ground realization of the goals laid out in Wildlands & Woodlands, an initiative of Harvard Forest and Highstead Foundation. Wildlands & Woodlands calls for 70% of New England’s forests to be legally protected by 2060, and for at least 10% of those forests to be protected as wilderness. Currently, less than 3% of all conserved lands across the Northeast are protected as wilderness. Forever-wild conservation of the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve is another step in the right direction on a path towards creating a healthier, more resilient landscapes and communities across all of New England.
How You Can Help
Northeast Wilderness Trust must raise $1.4 million by December 15, 2021 to purchase the 1,388 acres and establish the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve.
Will you help with a donation to Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve?
Once Northeast Wilderness Trust acquires this property, it will be further safeguarded by a forever-wild easement held by Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust (MATLT). MATLT’s vision is to see a rich, interconnected system of land, water, flora and fauna within the A.T. region of Maine protected. MATLT also holds a forever-wild easement on the soon-to-be-conserved Redington Wilderness Sanctuary.
Many thanks to Appalachian Trail Conservancy and long-time partner Sweet Water Trust for their generous support of this conservation project.
Your gift will help the Wilderness Trust reach $1.4 million to protect 1,388 wild acres. Thank you!