$1M grant aids conservation projects in Harpswell, Brunswick

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HARPSWELL — A federal agency has awarded $1 million to a local effort seeking to preserve more than 86 acres of coastal wetlands around Middle Bay.

The Middle Bay Wetlands Partnership was one of 26 conservation projects across the country – and the only one in Maine – that shared $26.5 million in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to an announcement last week.

The local partnership is a collaboration between the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, and Maine Coast Heritage Land Trust.

Funding from the grant and some local sources will help the Harpswell trust buy nearly 14 acres of land off Harpswell Neck Road from the Lowell family. The land is largely forested and includes more than 1,600 feet of shoreline that will help protect 26.5 acres of marine wetlands.

In addition, federal and local funding sources will help the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust acquire a conservation easement on nearly 19 acres of fields from the Skolfield family in Brunswick, near the Harpswell border.

“Our members, along with the foresight of the Skolfield family, are making a tremendous contribution to our community in Brunswick,” Angela Twitchell, executive director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, said. “The property that will be protected has a rich history that will be told for many generations.”

The federal grants, made possible by the National Coastal Grants Wetlands Conservation Grants Program, were awarded after a federal study found that U.S. coastal wetlands are experiencing a net annual loss of more than 80,000 acres.

Though coastal wetlands only account for 10 percent of the country’s landmass, they support a significant group of wildlife species, according to the USFWS. That includes 75 percent of migratory birds, almost 80 percent of fish and shellfish, and nearly half of all threatened and endangered species.

“These wetlands are invaluable resources we must protect,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. “With these grants, states, territories and partners will be able to undertake high-priority projects.”

Twitchell said Middle Bay, in particular, is known to be a very productive clam flat that has been subdued by outside forces, including invasive green crabs. The area also provides habitat for a variety of plants and other animals, including shorebirds, bald eagles, blue mussels and horseshoe crabs.

“By doing land conservation projects like this, we can ensure that pollution” from man-made contaminants won’t happen in the future, she said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him onTwitter: @DylanLJMartin.