Farms are often the largest remaining blocks of undeveloped land in Maine’s coastal communities, and they often contain significant wildlife habitat. But development pressure in coastal communities is the highest in the state, and farmland and marsh habitat are disappearing rapidly. A new project led by Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) in partnership with Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), The Nature Conservancy, Downeast Salmon Federation and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, will protect farmland that is adjacent to high value tidal marshes in Maine’s coastal plain, and mark a comprehensive effort to conserve Maine’s marshes.
NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program awarded $1,440,000 to MFT and partners for a project called “Conserving Farmland and Marsh Habitat in Maine.” The project aims to conserve both Maine farms and their associated high-value wetlands.
“Maine Farmland Trust’s focus is to protect farmland with agricultural easements, but agricultural easements on their own do not address other threats to tidal marshes that may occur on farm properties,” said Erica Buswell, MFT’s Vice President of Programs. “Working with our partners on this project will enable us to enhance the value of agricultural easements as a tool for conserving marsh habitat by combining farmland protection with specific conservation practices.”
Project partners will seek to protect agricultural resources and habitat for fish and wildlife and will work with farmers to identify resource concerns and the conservation practices to support the health of marsh habitat on their farms through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
“The partnership piece of this project is particularly exciting,” said Buswell. “Each partner organization will be working to accomplish its individual conservation objectives, while also contributing to broad, statewide conservation goals. We understand that by remaining singularly focused on our own missions and work, we sometimes miss opportunities to achieve bigger resource conservation impacts that are possible with more intentional, coordinated collaborations like this one.”
Throughout the northeast, farmland accounts for a significant portion of undeveloped land adjacent to tidal marshes that is not already in conservation; among New England states, Maine has the greatest number of agricultural parcels near tidal marshes. Protecting farmland as an upland buffer is crucial to protecting the diverse marsh habitat that so many plants and animal species rely upon.
MFT and MCHT are also the recipients of a related $600,000 Regional Conservation Partnership Program award to protect a specific cluster of farms on the shores of Little Kennebec Bay in Washington County.
“This partnership is part of a coast-wide initiative to protect Maine’s threatened coastal marshes,” said Betsy Ham, Land Protection Director at MCHT. “How and where farming is conducted not only affects the long-term sustainability of a farm property but also affects the health of the marshes associated with that farm and in turn impacts the harvest of fish and shellfish nearby. This partnership will help us ensure that coastal farms, fisheries, and wildlife habitat can continue to coexist and thrive long into the future”
Maine Farmland Trust and partners will use the Regional Conservation Partnership Program awards to fund related farmland protection projects for the next four years, directing over $2 million to owners of coastal farmland.