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News Release

USDA conservation funding to help protect crucial watershed in Southern Maine

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BANGOR, Maine (Dec. 22, 2021) – A nearly $2 million agreement from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help protect the drinking water of one-sixth of Maine’s population.

NRCS provided $1.86 million in funding from its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for a conservation easement to a coalition of partner agencies aiming to permanently protect a crucial watershed in Southern Maine. The Mahoosuc Land Trust, as part of the Sebago Clean Waters coalition of partners, will use the funds to help conserve more than 12,000 acres of forestland in Maine’s Oxford County that filter water into the Sebago Lake Watershed; currently only about 11 percent of the watershed is protected from development.

The project – a major milestone for resource conservation efforts in the Northeast – will help protect the forestland from further development and ensure the drinking water of more than 200,000 people in the Portland area remains clean and accessible.

“The scope and importance of this project is immense, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service is proud to be a part of an investment that is so vital for the preservation of Maine’s forests and clean drinking water,” NRCS-Maine Assistant State Conservationist for Partnership Initiatives Ben Naumann said. “Federal investments – coupled with locally led partnerships like the Sebago Clean Waters coalition – can truly have major, positive impacts on our environmental efforts across the country. Future projects under this program can focus on climate-smart agriculture, forestry, urban agriculture and other conservation priorities, as well as improving program access for historically underserved producers.”

The RCPP funding is part of a five-year Alternative Funding Arrangement award from NRCS to the Sebago Clean Waters coalition, and will improve aquatic organism passageways, restore wetlands, improve forest management, control aquatic invasive plant species, and educate landowners. NRCS will provide up to $8 million in contributions during the span of the project, which will be matched by partners.

“This conservation easement in the headwaters of the Sebago Watershed on working forestland is critical in assuring healthy drinking water for the greater Portland area for future generations,” NRCS-Maine State Conservationist Matt Walker said, noting that the funding for the easement was a pilot venture and the “first of its kind” under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Additionally, this milestone really demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in delivering results for agriculture and conservation in Maine,” Walker added. “NRCS’ Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on private land, and one of its successes is the ability to leverage partner contributions. Throughout its history, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA.”

Earlier this month members of Sebago Clean Waters, along with forestland owners Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler, announced the closure of the conservation easement on 12,268 acres of forestland in Maine’s Oxford County, which filters waters into the Sebago Watershed. The easement lands owned by McFadden and Stifler will provide opportunities for hunting and other recreational activities such as snowmobiling and hiking.

“This historic project marks a significant milestone in our efforts to conserve Sebago region forests to protect water quality, wildlife and the Maine way of life,” said Karen Young, partnership director of Sebago Clean Waters. “It demonstrates the power of collaboration and the collective Sebago Clean Waters vision to inspire action to protect places that are critical to our well-being.”

The Sebago Clean Waters coalition hopes to conserve more than 35,000 acres in the Sebago region forests for water quality, economic and ecological benefits. Coalition partners include the Portland Water District, Mahoosuc Land Trust, The Conservation Fund, and the Western Foothills Land Trust.

For more information on NRCS’s efforts to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns, please visit the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program website or visit Farmers.gov to find and contact your local USDA Service Center.

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