Gulf of Maine Coastal Program
Northeast Region

Funding success stories

Coastal Wetlands Grants

Thomas Island

Picture of Thomas Island.
Thomas Island. Credit: USFWS

Thomas Island, a 66-acre island surrounded by 56 acres of marine intertidal wetlands, is located in the biologically productive Mount Desert Narrows region of downeast Maine near the gateway to Acadia National Park. The shallow swiftly-moving waters surrounding Thomas Island remain ice-free and flowing through the winter, creating a wealth of productive wintering habitat for waterfowl. The extensive mudflats also provide vitally important roosting and feeding habitat for migratory shorebirds, wading birds and other waterbirds. In addition, Thomas Island is immediately adjacent to South Twinnie Island, which protects a bald eagle nesting site. South Twinnie Island is part of Coastal Maine Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and the eagle nest on South Twinnie depends for its long-term survival on undisturbed habitat and alternative nest sites on Thomas Island.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust, identified as a Subgrantee by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, applied for a $453K National Coastal Wetland Grant to purchase and permanently protect the important wetland and waterbird complex at Thomas Island. Gulf of Maine Coastal Program provided significant support and strategic advice in developing the final proposal. This habitat protection initiative, supported with a bargain sale donation from the original owner, helped save the Island from an unfortunate alternate future as a campground or high-end residential development -- that would have devastated the natural resource values of this ecologically sensitive and biologically rich area.

Little River

Aerial photo of the Little River.
Aerial photo of the Little River. © Michael Morrison

The Little River salt marsh, located at the southern tip of Georgetown, Maine between Sheepscot Bay and the Kennebec River, is the largest salt marsh of its size in Maine that has never been ditched, intersected by roads or negatively impacted by invasive plants. The Little River Estuary offers researchers and naturalists a unique opportunity to examine a remarkably pristine system, and the high concentration of pools on the salt marsh provide exceptional habitat for black ducks, other waterfowl, wading birds, migrating shorebirds, nesting salt marsh sparrows and migrating raptors. The salt marsh grasses provide important nesting habitat for rare salt marsh sparrows, and the streams and upland buffer support a diverse assemblage of searun fish, breeding landbirds, aquatic and upland furbearers and other wildlife.

Prior to its protection, the entire parcel was marketed as “Little River Farms” an 18-lot subdivision, with shoreland zoning requirements weaker than the state’s minimum guidelines. Only three homes were built, and the owners of the undeveloped portions of the subdivision worked cooperatively with conservation partners to support this habitat protection effort. Eliminating the threat of the subdivision eliminated a host of potential negative impacts to the marsh (i.e. septic system and landscaping runoff, dock construction, road building, utility corridors, habitat destruction, wildlife disturbance on the marsh and upland buffer).

The Coastal Wetland Grant, written by Gulf of Maine Coastal Program and orchestrated with significant support from The Nature Conservancy and the Lower Kennebec Region Land Trust, provided $250,000 to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and ultimately helped protect 387.7 acres of coastal salt marsh and associated upland buffer and 3.7 miles of shoreline. The Little River property is adjacent to 735-acre Reid State Park, creating a contiguous preserve of 1,122.7 acres -- one of the largest and most biologically valuable assemblages of undisturbed coastal wetland and associated upland buffer still available in a contiguous tract in coastal Maine.

Flag Island

Aerial photo of Flag Island.
Aerial photo of Flag Island. Credit: USFWS

Flag Island, a 41.6 acre island in Casco Bay was permanently protected by the cooperative efforts of a unique array of federal, state and private partners from Maine to Rhode Island. With more than 600 pair of nesting common eiders, Flag Island ranks as the eighth highest value island for nesting eiders statewide. In addition, Flag Island is particularly significant for its high concentration of nesting eiders near the southern end of their breeding range. Flag Island also supports other nesting birds, including gulls, great blue herons, osprey and woodcock.

Flag Island was advertised on the open market for development of second homes. To prevent disruption to the nationally significant concentration of nesting waterbirds, a National Coastal Wetland Grant prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, which provided half of the one million dollar purchase price. In addition, several hundred thousand dollars were provided by the Natural Resource Trustees, as compensation for wintering eiders killed in the North Cape Oil Spill in Rhode Island. Remaining funds were provided by the Land for Maine’s Future Program, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Program, the Julie N Oil Spill Fund and the Casco Bay Estuary Project’s Habitat Protection Fund. Additional funds from the North Cape Spill are being used to monitor and manage the nesting eiders.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust played a pivotal role by pre-acquiring Flag Island when it was on the real estate market, in order to hold the property until conservation partners identified all of the funding sources needed for final acquisition by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program and Maine Coast Heritage Trust played key roles in strategizing the complex approach that ultimately provided all of the funds needed to permanently protect the island. Flag Island is now permanently protected as part of the State’s Coast of Maine Wildlife Management Area.


Last updated: September 5, 2013

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