Land conservation, Roy Bouchard counsels, begins with the owner’s values.
When he and his late wife Sue Gawler placed a conservation easement on 100 acres they owned in 2013, the move reflected their commitment to conserving habitat, protecting a place elemental to their family’s life, and preserving a local tradition of farmsteads and open spaces.
Conservation easements let landowners retain ownership while legally restricting future development in perpetuity. 7 Lakes Alliance often conserves land to protect water quality; undeveloped land is up to 10 times less likely to erode and degrade water quality. 7 Lakes also seeks to preserve habitat and provide outdoor recreational opportunities.
Bouchard and Gawler’s interest in conservation was organic. He worked more than two decades for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and was a founder of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, 7 Lakes’ precursor. She was a landscape and plant population ecologist who earned the BRCA’s Eddie Mayer Conservation Award.
Sue’s parents bought 600-plus acres along the Guptill Road in the 1960s. The Gawlers later donated nearly 400 acres to the state as a game management preserve. They kept 100 acres and split the remaining land among their five children. In 1985, Roy and Sue moved to the family compound, where the siblings and close friends raised 10 children. They later purchased the 100 acres from Sue’s family. The farm is best known for its 25 years hosting the Buttermilk Hill music shows.
“There was a strong family connection to the land,” Bouchard said. “There was a feeling of responsibility and joy with that land.”
Placing an easement on their property was also logical. It abuts the land in state conservation and other large tracts. Because of their emotional attachment to it and its value to the community, they wanted to prevent the property from being subdivided and developed. The easement would protect habitat. And the Gawler clan realized future owners might not share their values, thus the easement’s prohibitions on mining and cell towers.
“If you want to honor the ethic and the emotional ties to the land, you can do that with an easement,” Bouchard said. “It doesn’t take land out of production, but allows for scenic and aesthetic opportunities, recreation, habitat preservation. And it leaves intact a piece of history that could easily get swallowed up.”
Bouchard recommends families thoughtfully consider what they want from conserving their property, focusing on the family’s values, interests and needs, including financial and tax implications. Consulting with 7 Lakes Alliance, an accredited land trust, about options and factors to consider is the first step, he said. This clarifies and eases the process for landowners.
Bouchard sold the property in 2017 following his wife’s passing. The new owners are maintaining its character while renovating barns, building fences and trails, and raising sheep.
Bouchard encouraged owners with deep ties to their land to consider conservation. “You’ll feel better if you know the land is cared for and reflects your values,” he said.
NOTE: This article appeared in the fall edition of The Conservationist, 7 Lakes' newsletter, which is posted at this link. Printed copies are available in our offices, 137 Main St. in the Belgrade Lakes village. To receive future editions by mail, email your request to email@example.com.