Parsonsfield, ME - Northeast Wilderness Trust has announced the creation of the Great Oaks Wilderness Sanctuary. This diverse and exemplary landscape has been permanently protected as forever-wild. Support for the project was provided by a generous donation of land by the Lougee Family; a dedicated fund at Northeast Wilderness Trust for the establishment of wilderness sanctuaries; as well as support from individual donors.
The Lougees, among the three founding families of Parsonsfield, Maine, settled the land in 1778, clearing fields, farming the land, and planting apple trees. “Our parents—Arthur and Laura—purchased the Great Oaks property in the late 1940s and added to it in subsequent decades, seeking to conserve Dearborn Mountain,” David Lougee, said. “Their intention was to save Dearborn and the surrounding landscapes as a ‘wild’ sanctuary set aside for the study of its unique geology and its rare and threatened species of ferns and flowers, as well as abundant wildlife, while also protecting many springs that drain into West Pond.
By protecting the property as forever-wild—a similar designation to the State of Maine’s Ecological Reserve system—Great Oaks Wilderness Sanctuary’s 500+ acres will have the chance to naturally evolve into an old-growth forest through permanent passive management. The Sanctuary includes some of the only forever-wild land within the 68,000-acre Pine River Matrix Forest Block, which spans New Hampshire and Maine, and is a priority area for conservation.
Eighty-six hundred acres of conserved land managed for sustainable forestry known as the Leavitt Plantation shares a boundary with the Sanctuary. In forever-wild conservation, landscape context is important as core wilderness areas have positive spillover effects on surrounding managed lands including being a source area for biodiversity and serving as a baseline for study and comparison. The protection of both wildlands and managed woodlands are part of a holistic approach to land conservation.
‘Wilderness conservation plays a significant and special role in land conservation. There has been an incredible amount of important conservation work in the surrounding landscape, though so few lands are forever-wild. Thanks to the Lougee’s gift and our organizational commitment, forever-wild has a foothold in this forest block,” Caitlin Mather, Land Protection Manager at the Wilderness Trust.
True to its namesake, the Sanctuary is home to many majestic, towering oaks. Talus slopes (loose rock with little plant cover sitting below cliffs) and Red Oak-Ironwood forests are found at Great Oaks Wilderness Sanctuary, which are unusual natural communities for Maine. The sandy loam soils of the Sanctuary favor beech, birch, and maple, with red oak and eastern hemlock often making up about a quarter of the canopy’s tapestry.
The 1,500 feet of shoreline on West Pond overhangs with shade trees and provides underwater woody debris, benefiting breeding fish and amphibians. There are also headwater streams of the Saco River within the Sanctuary. By protecting this land as forever-wild, these headwater streams will contribute to improved water quality for the whole watershed.
Prior to its permanent conservation, the property had seen little commercial forestry activity for many decades. As a result, fallen trees, standing dead tree trunks, and hollow stumps and logs are prevalent across the Sanctuary and provide denning, foraging, and nesting habitat for a variety of wildlife, including weasels, songbirds, bears, and coyotes. At least nine rare or threatened understory plant species have been found on the land, including Douglas’s knotweed, Back’s sedge, blunt-lobed woodsia fern, small whorled pogonia, and Fogg’s goosefoot.
“Our late brother, Jim, studied and stewarded the land,” David said. “The responsibility for continuing this tradition of conservation has fallen to my sister Eleanor and her daughter Paige as well as to me and my daughter Ellen. We are all delighted to be able to gift the land to the Northeast Wilderness Trust so that it will be a forever-wild sanctuary.”
Thanks to the topographic diversity of the Sanctuary, which stretches from the summit of Dearborn Mountain down to the shoreline of West Pond, the property boasts a range of ecosystems and is considered a resilient landscape based on The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Resilient Land Mapping tool. Resiliency is the measurement of a particular landscape’s capacity to maintain species diversity and ecological function as the climate changes.
Designated a “Wilderness Sanctuary" by Northeast Wilderness Trust, Great Oaks Wilderness Sanctuary is open to on-foot, backcountry exploration. Logging, motorized vehicles, mechanized uses, and hunting are prohibited.
“Wilderness Sanctuaries represent forever-wild conservation in its most distilled form. They are places where natural processes will direct the ebb and flow of life, by intention,” Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of Northeast Wilderness Trust, said. “We are honored to carry on the wild legacy of the Lougee family by safeguarding this extraordinary place, ensuring its continued role as a refuge to wildlife and a haven for people to find wildness that nourishes the soul. What is more, Great Oaks Wilderness Sanctuary’s old forest will continue storing and sequestering immense amounts of carbon for years to come.”
For more details on Great Oaks Wilderness Sanctuary, please go to https://newildernesstrust.org/projects/great-oaks-wilderness-sanctuary/
Source: Northeast Wilderness Trust