Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve

Just Outside Our Back Door…

During the environmental movement of the early 20th century two complementary organizations emerged: preservationists and conservationists. Preservation and Conservation are closely linked and may seem to have the same meaning. Both terms involve a degree of protection, but how that protection is carried out is the key difference. Preservationists seek to protect land and eliminate human impact on nature altogether. Conservationists are more interested in protecting certain habitats while allowing restricted human access.

Within the last 40 or so years the word ‘conservation’ has also come to include mechanized human recreation, some forms of which might be seen as being detrimental to the land.  

Rewilding is a progressive approach to preservation and conservation that emerged recently in response to the loss of our forests, and to the threat of Climate Change. Rewilding enables natural processes to shape the land, repair damaged ecosystems, and restore degraded landscapes by allowing nature to take care of itself. In this way of thinking humans no longer ‘manage’ the land but allow nature to take the lead.

 A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where humans dominate the landscape, is recognized as an area where the earth and its community are not necessarily pristine but are free, and protected from human dominion. Rewilding is the most promising conservation strategy to slow down the mass extinction of species, and science demonstrates that there is perhaps no better solution for combating Climate Change than by protecting wild lands.

Wilderness preservation is fundamental to the idea of deep ecology, the philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of all living beings; this kind of thinking does not privilege humans over other species. 

The Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT) is a regional organization based in New England that incorporates this philosophy. It makes a commitment to rewild forests in an era when we are facing the loss of all but three percent of our old growth forest in the United States. NEWT is the only land trust that can promise that every acre they protect today will become old growth forest in the future. But because this organization takes a multivalent approach to land conservation, NEWT partners with other land trusts that focus on conserving well-managed timberlands and farms. 

As an example, NEWT partners with the New England Forestry Foundation. NEFF pursues innovative programs to advance conservation and forestry throughout New England. In partnership with landowners, NEFF has conserved more than 1.1 million acres of forest. This organization also works to provide timber for construction and supports local jobs.

According to NEWT land conservation can take many forms. Some conservation focuses on supporting human communities with a sustainable supply of forest and agricultural products (resource conservation). Others secure lands specifically for wildlife, so that they can have peaceful homes where ecological processes unfold naturally (nature conservation). These realms of conservation are essential and complementary.

At present The Northeast Wilderness Trust is trying to raise 1.4 million dollars by this coming December to create the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve, a forever – wild area along Maine’s Appalachian Trail in the spectacular Mahoosuc Mountain range. This area provides a critical ecological link between the western portion of the Northern Forest (the Adirondack, Green and White Mountains) and eastern stretches that reach into New Brunswick and beyond. The proposed preserve is part of a five million acre stretch that currently supports 34 northern woodland songbirds. This habitat is also an important wildlife corridor. Animals rely on large undisturbed forests to forage, mate, and raise their young. This region is also home to the largest population of moose in the lower 48 states. The high ridgelines are migratory routes for many migrating birds and bats.

The Proposed Grafton Wilderness Preserve also stores an incredible amount of carbon within its mature forest and will sequester more when forests are allowed to regenerate. Sequestered carbon slows Climate Change. The Northeast Wilderness places an emphasis on protecting land like this that has high climate resiliency, which is the capacity of a place to support diverse flora and fauna as they attempt to adapt to Climate Change. Diversity and carbon storage go hand in hand. Wild forests also promote restoration. If purchased, the 1388 acres, adjacent to the Appalachian Trail will connect the Grafton State Forest, the Mahoosuc’s Ecological Reserve, and a large managed forest that will also soon be protected.

The most exciting part of this proposed Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve is that it is practically in our own back yard. A picturesque drive will bring us to an official Appalachian side trail. The Speck Pond Trail traverses the future Grafton Wilderness Preserve for more than 1.5 miles and situates the visitor in an area of unparalleled beauty and solitude. 

 The Wilderness Trust was founded to help restore and preserve new wilderness areas on private land at a time when Climate Change has become our greatest threat. I see this kind of organization as writing a ‘new story’, one in which forests are allowed to reach maturity and beyond, one that encourages diversity, promotes resilience and encourages people who visit these areas to develop a quiet, contemplative, reciprocal relationship with nature that may even change lives. 

To Donate to the Proposed Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve:www.newildernesstrust.org/grafton-forest

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