Starting in January 2018, the Maine West initiative embarked on an innovative mapping project to prioritize land conservation in western Maine. Unlike most of the Regional Conservation Partnerships (RCPs), Maine West’s membership draws organizations with community development, education, and health foci into their conservation efforts. It is only fitting that Maine West’s mapping efforts reflect a similarly integrative approach.
Maine West is an RCP centered on community development, having evolved in 2015 from the highly successful, more traditional Mahoosuc Initiative. Through this transition, Maine West greatly expanded its scope of work, incorporating conservation, rural economic development, education, and health initiatives into its programming. The composition of partner organizations within the RCP and geographic range of the initiative also shifted to accommodate these new program goals.
When Maine West started developing a method for prioritizing conservation in the region, they knew they wanted to go beyond usual factors used in conservation priority co-occurrence models, enabling prioritization of land conservation that would most positively impact rural western Maine communities. One of the greatest challenges facing rural communities is simply ensuring they are attractive, viable places to live. By integrating conservation into community revitalization efforts in a comprehensive way, local economic vitality and community resiliency in can be improved in these communities. A diversity of datasets were included in the Maine West model, guided by the two priorities of this mapping project: (1) Support Strong Local Economies, and (2) Support Climate Resilience of Natural and Human Communities. These data included factors important to forestry, agricultural, and recreational use, as well as The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) climate resilience data, FEMA floodplain maps, and more. In some cases, the mapping team had to create new datasets, such as those of informal trail networks and potential parklands within communities.
By integrating conservation into community revitalization efforts in a comprehensive way, local economic vitality and community resiliency in can be improved in these communities.
Ultimately, the priority maps created through this initiative will serve to inform both Maine West’s conservation strategy and outreach efforts. The maps can be used to broaden outreach to schools, planning commissions, and other entities, encouraging stakeholders throughout rural Maine communities to think about conservation in a new way, through relating it to other community needs. Looking forward, Maine West is recently formed a partnership with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies to further refine this mapping tool and its applications, identifying priority parcel conservation projects and continuing to find creative ways to incorporate new, relevant sources of data into Maine West’s conservation efforts.
To learn more about the process and goals of Maine West’s mapping initiative, and to view the resulting maps, see the Maine West Full Report.pdf.