Conservation collaborative connects the dots between people and the environment

MaineBiz, January 9, 2017

by James McCarthy

Jessica Burton has been the executive director of the Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative since its founding in 2012. From her office on Portland’s Commercial Street, Burton provides professional support services to 19 member land trusts and conservation organizations in York and Cumberland counties.

The work ranges from providing back office support for all-volunteer organizations that don’t have paid staff to developing outreach programs such as the monthly sustainability series focusing on Maine’s changing climate that the collaborative organized in partnership with the Portland Public Library and Community Network Television 5. The collaborative’s members include those with broad missions such as Maine Audubon or the Saco Valley Land Trust to others having a particular focus, like Portland Trails, or the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, which serves as a conservation steward for the Presumpscot River watershed and the western shore of Sebago Lake.

In a telling example of its impact, the collaborative helped three all-volunteer land trust members achieve accreditation: Three Rivers Land Trust, Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust and Oceanside Conservation Trust of Casco Bay. Nationally, of the 357 land trusts that are accredited, only 20 are all-volunteer organizations. Mainebiz recently caught up with Burton at her office. The following is an edited version of the conversation.

Mainebiz: How would you describe the collaborative’s work?

Jessica Burton: Our work is really based on relationship: The relationship I have with the individuals I’m helping, and the relationships that individuals in the collaborative have with each other. We’re sharing the work, essentially, and in a lot of ways we’re trying to facilitate the conversations about that work. It involves talking about what we can accomplish all together and then breaking it down to how individual members might be in a position to do some part of that. In some ways, we’re a hub.

MB: What role can businesses play in the conservation work done by your members?

JB: Obviously, businesses are funding conservation in many ways: They make donations, they sponsor events like races. They also help us market. Rising Tide Brewing Co., for example, created Maine Island Trail Ale. L.L.Bean also does all sorts of great marketing for conservation organizations and land trusts.

But there are other ways businesses can be involved that aren’t as obvious. I think businesses, on the whole, could be more involved in the conversation about the importance of protecting our natural resources and how that benefits their business. One obvious example: For big employers I would think it’s easier for them to recruit good employees if they’re located within or near Portland, which has the Portland Trails network for anyone to use.

Businesses help, too, just by modeling a more sustainable approach to being in this world. Focusing on waste reduction, or employee wellness, are just two ways that businesses help move the conversation along.

MB: How does conservation benefit communities?

JB: In Scarborough, there’s Broadturn Farm. That’s a 434-acre farm purchased in 2004 by the Scarborough Land Trust. It’s a working farm and woodlands that’s been leased to John Bliss and Stacy Brenner, who’ve been farming it for 10 years. They run an incredible business: They have a community supported agriculture program, they sell flowers, they do weddings, there’s a summer camp and during the summer the land trust has a farm-to-table dinner as a fundraiser. It’s really a great place to go to.

Another example: There is a very big project happening in southern Maine with Three Rivers Land Trust. They’re calling it the “Goat Hill Conservation Project.” It’s huge. It’s 3,000 acres in southern Maine, within an hour of Boston, and over the next four years they are hoping to conserve this incredible undeveloped forestland. It runs through a number of towns in southern Maine. It’s still very rural. The opportunity there is really great.