How We Lose and How We Find the Wild Maine

This week the undeveloped woods around my northern forest home were posted “No Trespassing.” Gates went up, cameras were leashed to trees, sheriffs were called; everything turned nasty. (Didn’t help that people angry about losing snowmobile access chain sawed their way through woods they didn’t own.)

All of us appreciated our times in the woods there.

For 30 years I’ve been slipping in and out of these woods, following old game trails and trails hunters have used for decades. I had a favorite tree that I sat under each fall as the last leaves fell. I had a favorite spot where a stream joined a lake, a spot so thick with animal tracks, it always felt like a gift to go there. My daughter and I liked to visit “fossil rock” where eons ago, small creatures left their imprints for us to find.

These owners have a perfect right to close off their property, create house lots, or enjoy it as they see fit. And I admit that I failed to understand that new owners wanted new ways of doing things, so it made sense that I was evicted.

But I will miss the porcupine haunts I visited. The marsh where I could hide and watch moose feed. The silent, early dusk nights where the only sound was my skis through snow and the surprise of seeing coyote tracks cross my tracks as I headed home.

Over the next few years, there will be driveways and more gates and more signs and maybe some lucky landowners will appreciate the marsh and the stream and fossil rock. At some point, just like Boothbay, development will displace most wildlife except for determined squirrels and skunks. Wildlife does not thrive on chunked up lots.

It’s a replay of my Boothbay childhood in dense woods that shielded the Damariscotta River. We played in sea caves, ran races on woodland trails, and slid trays on frozen streams. These places were also lost: roaded, gated, and posted No Trespassing.

So while accepting that these changes have come to my part of Maine (there are over 20 new camps on my road alone), today I am too sad to write anything inspirational.

I will leave readers with some photo memories of my time there, information on how to find parts of Maine (scroll down) that are conserved for all to enjoy, entities working on that good goal, and actions you can take. And some Aldo Leopold wisdom about what matters. 

We will have to be vigilant and generous if our grandchildren are to have wild places.

quote from Aldo Leopold


Find Wild Maine; Help Grow and Preserve Public Access

Cold Stream Forest is part of Maine’s Public Lands

Maine’s Public Lands: Some of Maine’s most outstanding natural features and secluded locations are found on Maine’s Public Lands. The more than half million acres are managed for a variety of resource values including recreation, wildlife, and timber. See this GREAT Public Lands Video,“The Untold Secret.”


Portland Trails is a land trust.

Land Trusts (Find 80 of them, here!)  One reason Maine has such an active land trust community is because Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands among all states in our region. At 6.5%, it is also one of the lowest percentages in the country, lower than 36 other states. Most of our iconic coastline (at least 95%) is privately owned.

Boothbay Region Land Trust

Maine boasts more than 80 land trusts, community-supported, non-profits that have permanently conserved more than 2.5 million acres–12% of the state. ACTION: Find, walk, hike, hunt, fish, and paddle on Maine land trusts. Join a trust near you; donate and volunteer!

The Land for Maine’s Future Program is the State of Maine’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for its natural and recreational value. The program was established in 1987 when Maine citizens voted to fund $35 million to purchase lands of statewide importance.

Mt. Kineo was one of the first purchases of public land through this fund.

The prime focus remains the same – conserving the prime physical features of the Maine landscape and recognizing that working lands and public access to these lands is critical to preserving Maine’s quality of life. Most of these areas are managed as public lands.

  • LMF accomplishements:
  • 59 water access sites
  • 41 farms and 9,755 acres of farmlands conserved
  • 25 commercial working waterfront properties
  • Acquisitions include 1,272 miles of shorelines of rivers, lakes and ponds, 55 miles of coastline, and 158 miles of former railroad corridors for recreational trails.
  • Over 600,919 acres of conservation and recreation lands. This includes 333,425 acres of working lands reflecting LMF’s efforts to conserve the working landscape and keep lands in private ownership with permanent land conservation agreements

    the Caribou Bog Recreation Area is also from the MOHF

ACTION: Contact your state Representative/Senator. Ask/her/him to always fully fund LMF bond proposals. Remind them that these purchases are always matched and supported by federal or privately raised funds. In other words, our state dollars attract millions more conservation dollars.

The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund has been helping to fund critical wildlife and conservation projects throughout the state since it was created by the Maine Legislature in 1996, in response to a grassroots effort from environmental and sportsman’s groups who recognized that wildlife and habitat conservation were poorly funded … if at all.

The MOHF and lots of dedicated volunteers made the Royal River Trail happen.

Supported through proceeds from a lottery ticket, MOHF often finds its funds lagging while grant proposals continue to pour in. The more tickets that are sold, the more wildlife and habitat can be protected.

Find tickets at convenience stores, gas stations, and other outlets where Maine State Lottery tickets are sold. ACTION: Buy MOHF tickets.Something simple you can do that will add up.) Thank You!*****


Wisdom From Aldo Leopold:  (father of wildlife ecology & our wilderness system)

“Man always kills the thing he loves. And so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” The Green Lagoons, A Sand County Almanac.

“To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” Conservation Esthetic, A Sand County Almanac.

“Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Conservation Economics, The River of the Mother of God.

“Our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides, but they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history, to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” Engineering and Conservation, The River of the Mother of God.


Sandy writes about the disappearing Maine. Her novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on her website. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published early in 2020..


About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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6 Responses to How We Lose and How We Find the Wild Maine

  1. John Clark says:

    I understand your sense of loss and agree we need to support funds for access wherever and whenever possible.

  2. sandy neily says:

    Thanks, John. Much appreciated. All hands on deck…….

  3. Sandy: I’m 100% on board with you. Unfortunately, there is an element that has no respect for other people’s property. If you know who the new owners are you might approach them to obtain permission (preferably in writing) to enter the land. Companies like Irving are also at fault. I ride my ATV every summer. There was an area along a ridge that was beautiful in its natural state. Last spring, on my first ride, I was shocked to see what remains of the area. It had been clear-cut and looked like a battlefield after an artillery barrage. To make matters worse anything they didn’t want was left on the ground. Two years ago they did the same to an area where I enjoyed bird hunting (notice I said Hunting and not killing) along a particular woods road where the animal population was high. I’ve actually had a moose come out of the woods about ten yards behind me. We had a staring contest for almost a minute before he decided I was no interest and walked back into the woods. Now there is nothing, no trees nor animals. I’m reminded of a song from the sixties. The singer was Joni Mitchell and was entitled “Big Yellow Taxi”. The lyric I’ve always remembered was: “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot”

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks for sharing that loss, Vaughn. Actually on Maine’s corporately owned lands (over 10 million acres) the standing stock of mature trees is less about 1% of any ownership and the most common plant is raspberry. So, most of the real forest is gone on those lands as trees can be cut young and broken down for wood pellet fuel or broken down and recombined as wood composite products. State biologists say that deer need about 8-10% of stands in mature growth as habitat (habitat that many species require; goshawks, pine martens, migrating neotropical birds). But of course, those are voluntary recommendations to landowners. I take pictures of the clear cuts (as far as the eye can see) and share them out any time I can, especially in letters to the editor about various forest issues. Seems people do think there’s some vast green forest up here that is intact, productive and ongoing. Not really. Pockets of conservation lands here and there. Hope you take some pics and share them with your legislators! Yes, these corporations own the dirt and plants. However, Maine people own, by law, all the wildlife on these lands. Seems to me my property rights get violated all the time when there’s insufficient habitat for wildlife. Working on it….and thanks for caring.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. It is painful to see amazing, inspirational places slip away. Absolutely heartbreaking.

    You have identified several good ways to stay engaged with the land and in the fight. This is a big part of my non-writing life (I’ve served on the boards of and represented, several land trusts, work with folks looking to conserve land, also do some contract work for LMF) and I try to bring the beauty of wild Maine into my books as well. Your words and photos always capture what matters. Thank you.

  5. Sandra Neily says:

    HI Brenda! Thank you for doing the GOOD work on your paid time ….and volunteering off it! And bringing into your books in small touching ways that make a difference. Am saving up my pennies to give out about 350 free copies of the next novel to influencers and people who might need a bit of a wake up call. I’ll get back to you for some ideas about who to add to the list. Take care!

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