Beaver Deceivers to Protect Deering Pond

By Kevin McKeon

On a recent warm November day, as part of its directives of preserving special places and maintaining critical habitats, Mousam Way Land Trust worked with the Sanford Trails Committee and a generous donor to complete a project along Sanford’s Rail Trail.

Spring time typically brings snow melt and spring rains, causing water runoff; with that, beaver get busy repairing and building up their dams to hold back, or impound, water for summer storage. This creates the habitat that the beaver need to survive. This activity has often resulted in the water at Deering Pond to rise to a level where overflow has caused erosion to wash out a section of Sanford’s Rail Trail.

In an effort to mitigate this costly issue, Skip Lisle was contracted this past summer to install a flow device of his own design, called a “Beaver Deceiver,” at the pond’s outlet, where culverts were installed years ago and where beaver have since been active in damming the culverts, greatly slowing the outlet flow and causing the erosion. This particular Beaver Deceiver installation will act to protect the culverts from becoming dammed, while also allowing the beaver to impound enough water for the pond to maintain its traditional healthy habitat. Concurrent with this install, the Rail Trail was re-engineered to a higher level at the area subject to erosion, and a secondary overflow culvert installed.

Realizing this new culvert would attract beaver damming activity, Skip returned months later and donated his time, his materials, and most importantly, his expertise in beaver knowledge, and installed another Beaver Deceiver to protect this new culvert. Working with volunteers from the Trust and Committee, Skip has helped to ensure that the Rail Trail remains intact for the community’s use, that the resident beaver population will continue their instinctive water-based activities, and that Deering Pond will be maintained at a biologically healthy level in support of the myriad of flora and fauna within the pond’s surrounding landscape.

Skip has solved beaver damming issues world-wide with his devices, which are site-specific and custom made for each site’s particular issues. He’s been doing this for decades, applying the knowledge gained over the years to allow beaver, a “keystone species” to build and maintain their valuable habitat while mitigating the damage that can be caused by uncontrolled water-level rises affecting human properties. Mousam Way Land Trust thanks Skip for sharing his expertise, hard work, and leadership in safeguarding the hundreds of beaver habitats his flow devices have enhanced.

Kennebunk Savings supports community garden expansion

Kennebunk Savings recently provided a donation of over $3,000 to the Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust in support of its new and already-expanding community garden. The bank has been a partner on this project from the beginning, with donations totaling over $18,000 since the initial purchase of the land.

“Land is a precious resource in Maine,” said Bradford C. Paige, Kennebunk Savings president and CEO, in an email. “It’s why we all live here – the beauty of the natural landscape, the bounty of our natural resources. Preserving it and, just as critically, fostering an appreciation for it in future generations is an awesome responsibility.”

In 2017, the Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust purchased a plot of “ecologically significant” land on Blanchard Road. The 72-acre parcel of mostly former logging trails contained significant habitat for life forms in need of protection and conservation.

“We fell in love with the land because of its very diverse nature,” said Bud Johnston, the trust’s director, in an email.

Many of the state of Maine’s sensitive habitats are impacted by local development – even the areas protected by shore land zoning. The desire to protect them for future generations of humans and wildlife alike has led to the formation of land trusts, legally bound to preserve these areas forever. The Mousam Way Trust owns just over 800 acres in Sanford and Springvale.

When the former owners of the parcel on Blanchard Road subsequently donated an additional 38 acres – including an existing barn, an outdoor restroom and a deep well left intact by the previous owners – Johnston saw an opportunity to take a more active role in fostering appreciation and preservation in the community. To Johnston, this additional land suggested a new community center and garden.

The Pence Community Eco-Center, named in honor of frequent and significant donors David and Linda Pence, broke ground in 2018. A community garden, with gardening plots available at low-to-no-cost for low income families, was established alongside the Eco-Center. Initially, a $25 fee was set for use of a bed, but after 80 percent of applicants met the qualifications to have the fee waived last summer, it was eliminated.

A large plot was set aside for the trust’s work with the Sanford Backpack Program, which sends nutritious food home with food-insecure school children over the weekends. The need was greater than anticipated, and so the community garden is now expanding – by adding an additional 2,000 square feet, they will be able to yield 1,000 pounds of vegetables each year.

Kennebunk Savings’ initial donation was a $5,000 matching grant to support the purchase of the land. Traditionally, matching grants are offered for a period of several months, but the funds were matched by private donations within just a few weeks. The bank later donated $10,000 for the construction of the gardens, and then over $3,000 for expansions. A team of volunteers from the bank also painted the bathrooms.

“We have been thrilled with the results so far,” said Johnston. The community gardens added a waiting list this year, and on the plot of initially purchased land, relatively uncommon spicebush plants were discovered. The shrub is the only source of food for the larval stage of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, which were soon seen flitting around the community gardens. Spicebush swallowtails were last seen in Maine in 1934.

Since 1994, Kennebunk Savings has set aside 10 percent of its annual earnings for local charities. Since then, Kennebunk Savings’ charitable giving has exceeded $14 million, including over $1 million in 2019 alone. In 2020, the bank has shifted and stretched its giving guidelines to assist many organizations in weathering the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and was named a “COVID-19 All Star” by the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce.

The Sanford Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust is a nonprofit, community-oriented organization dedicated to the permanent protection of local land for the benefit of the public and future generations as well as providing livable habitat for present and future generations of humans, plant and animal life in the Sanford area. It does this without cost to the town through public education and protection of significant natural resources, farmland, historic areas and scenic vistas and by working with landowners who seek to protect their land through conservation easements or by transfer of deed to the land trust.

City Committee and Trust Complete Major Improvement

A trails connection between Blanchard Road in Springvale and Sanford City’s Rail Trail was recently competed. This long-awaited, joint effort between Sanford Trails Committee and Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust connects non-motorized trail users to the 2 ½ miles of trails on the McKeon Reserve from the 5 ½ mile Rail Trail. This project also results in a joint agreement between the City and the Trust that permits city maintenance vehicles access to the ½ mile of Rail Trail previously inaccessible due to the narrow footbridge over Branch River. More importantly, Fire, Emergency, and EMT vehicles will be enabled, and response times will be greatly improved. 

Beaver Deceiver: Device aims to mitigate Rail Trail’s dam problem

York County Coast Star, August 6, 2020

By Shawn Sullivan


SPRINGVALE, Maine – For years, beaver dams have caused flooding after high watershed events along the Rail Trail abutting the wetlands of Deering Pond, but the installation of a new device on site is expected to help resolve the issue for decades to come.

Skip Lyle, the founder and owner of Beaver Deceiver International, traveled to the community on July 30 and worked with Kevin McKeon and Steve Mallon, both of the Sanford-Springvale Trails Committee, to install one of Lyle’s custom-designed flow-control devices at Deering Pond’s culverts within the Hall Environmental Reserve. Lyle, of Grafton, Vermont, is a conservationist, builder, biologist, inventor and entrepreneur.

“My goal is to protect any threatened property while at the same time maximizing ecological and hydrological value,” Lyle said.

The Rail Trail, a popular stretch of the community’s vast network of paths, has often flooded and washed away as a result of a culvert-clogging beaver dam that causes Deering Pond’s water level to rise after a storm or a spring runoff.

The Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust, the Sanford Trails Committee, and the Sanford ATV Club joined forces to resolve this ongoing conflict between human and beaver, in a way that protects the environment of Deering Pond within the reserve and maintains the integrity of the Rail Trail.

According to McKeon, the three groups used to take a “caveman style” approach to the issue, occasionally sending members to the site to clean out the culverts – a task that needed to be done as often as two or three times a week during the high-water season of spring.

“A subcommittee was actually formed to rotate volunteers!” McKeon said.

Now, thanks to one of Lyle’s Beaver Deceivers, the issue has been resolved in a way that’s a win-win for humans and those busy little dam builders.

A typical Beaver Deceiver is “either a rectangular fence that protects the upstream opening of a culvert or a trapezoidal fence that is narrow at the culvert and widens upstream,” according to Lyle’s website. Each device is custom built to suit the site .

“It fools the beaver into thinking that they’re creating a dam to hold back the water,” McKeon explained. “But in reality, the water is going through.”

McKeon said beavers instinctively build dams wherever they hear or sense water flow.

“If they hear it, if they see it, if they feel it, they will try to stop it,” he said. “They can’t help themselves. It’s a natural thing that they do.”

Lyle said his devices are effective anywhere between 30 and 40 years and are a more practical, long-term and humane alternative to trapping and killing beavers.

Trapping in the area also is risky for the trappers themselves, McKeon noted.

“This is a peat bog,” he said. “Unless you know the area pretty well, you could be walking along the shore of Deering Pond and all of a sudden you could find yourself chest-deep in muck. It’s a pretty dangerous area for trappers to be trapping.”

The entire installation of the Beaver Deceiver cost about $2,900, according to Trails Committee Chair Lee Burnett. The committee will cover the expenses, with hopes of being reimbursed through the state’s Municipal ATV Grant program, Burnett said.

Mousam Way Land Trust funded a video production of the installation as part of the organization’s goal of increasing the awareness of how people exist within their environment, McKeon said. WSSRTV, the broadcast station out of Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center, produced the video and is currently editing it for availability soon.

McKeon said another culvert – which this time would be installed underneath the Rail Trail – is also a component of the overall solution recommended by Lyle. The Beaver Deceiver solves the flooding issue at the existing culvert, but not the one at the Rail Trail. Under certain circumstances, water washes over the Rail Trail when its level rises not just in Deering Pond but in its attached wetlands, as well.

“Currently, we didn’t know that that was going to be needed, and that is under discussion among the Trails Committee members,” McKeon said. “It’s a pretty inexpensive solution, even if it proves that it’s not really required. It’s a pretty good guarantee that the water wouldn’t go over the Rail Trail and erode it there. It would go underneath, through the culvert, to the ditch on the other side that carries water now.”

While the Beaver Deceiver addresses the negative issues related to the beavers and their dams, it also allows the animals’ work to continue. Lyle said he, McKeon and Mallon installed a “starter dam” at the Beaver Deceiver to encourage beavers to construct there to “build up the pond.”

Lyle and McKeon said this will help ensure the continuation of a healthy ecology at the site – a habitat for birds, critters, plants and more that are healthy for them and an attraction for those who enjoy nature.

Walmart Awards Community Grant to Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust

The Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust is happy to announce that it has been awarded a “Walmart Community Grants Team” grant, from the company’s Sanford Store, to support the Trust’s Sanford Community Garden. This $750.00 award was used to buy, build, and install a Produce Wash Station to enable gardeners to clean both their produce, and the produce that they’ve grown for the local food pantry. It’s a wonderful and healthy addition to the Sanford Community Garden project.  
The Garden, built within the Trust’s McKeon Environmental Reserve in Springvale, is part of the Trust’s commitment to support the local community’s interest in not only growing their own food, but also its interest in promoting healthful and rewarding gardening practices. The Trust’s joint partnership with the University of Maine Extension Service’s York County Master Gardener Volunteer Program helps the community gardeners with any issues that may crop up during the growing season, such as pest, weed, and disease managements, various raised bed growing methods, and healthful gardening practices. All community gardeners along with the Master Gardeners help care for the several raised beds set aside for growing fresh produce for local food pantries.
Utilizing the funds from the grant, industrial-rated stainless steel sink, wash table, and faucet were obtained, a water supply was extended to the station, and the equipment was all tied together. Work was accomplished by jointly by Trust members and Master Gardener Volunteers.

Why Did the Amphibian Cross the Road?

About 370 million years ago, the first animals crawled out of the oceans to live on land. Known as amphibians (“two-lives”: amphi ‘both’ + bios ‘life’), they still require water for part of their life cycle. Beginning their life in water with gills and tails, they later develop lungs and legs for their life on land. They are also “cold-blooded” and assume a body temperature equal to their surrounding environment; warming themselves by basking in the sun and cooling down by lounging in a pool of water. Their thin, moist skin allows them to “breath” air and “drink” water, but also results in their drying out easily, so they don’t venture very far from a water source or damp environment, like Vernal Pools. 

Vernal Pools are special bodies of water, having no inlet or outlet, and are unable to sustain some aquatic predators, such as fish and some invertebrates. They are also readily found throughout the landscape; anywhere a depression exists, a pool of water likely forms for a short period. These pools can also be a variety of sizes; be it as large as a permanent wetland and several feet deep, or only a few square meters with inches of water, it seems nearly any pool size will suffice a breeding amphibian. (Click here for more info on Vernal Pools.). 

Certain early-spring conditions trigger a massive migration, when our ancient amphibians travel from their woodsy homes to Vernal Pools to breed. When the snow melts and the ground thaws, and temperatures rise above 45°, on a very wet night—either rainy or very foggy—“The Big Night” event happens. This event sometimes happens during a single night, but often over several nights. Vernal Pools become swelled with the snow-melt and wet weather, and our amorous crawlers are answering the call to procreate!

Their travels back to their breeding waters often require them to cross roads, and upwards of 30% of our frog, toad and salamander friends are killed by human road traffic…each time they cross the road. And they need to cross twice: once to get to the pools and once to return to their woodsy homes. Of the near 8,000 described amphibian species, almost half are in decline. According to a recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List report, over a quarter of amphibians are currently at risk of extinction, making them one of the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. 

Hope does exist, however. A small yet fast-growing movement involves citizens throughout the northeastern US who have been taking notice of the challenges migrating amphibians face as they attempt road crossing. “The Big Night” project focuses on recruiting volunteers to go out into the warm rainy nights of spring to monitor key migration points on roads. Not only are volunteers assisting amphibians in crossing roads, they are also collecting valuable data that could help to both detect critical crossing points and increase habitat connectivity areas.

While driving along roads, many of us are accustomed to swerving around those amphibians that we can see, and also help them cross when we stop. The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) has noticed the dangers motorists thus create; single and multiple road accidents are being tabulated along with road damage. The evidence shows that as folks instinctively try to avoid needlessly killing these creatures, the costs of accident responses and road repairs are mounting. So MDOT is partnering with The Big Night project, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and other parties to design and build amphibian crossings into new road construction projects as a known cost-saving actions.   

Stream Foam

Walk along a woodland stream and the occasional sight of a glob of foamy stuff comes into view. So where does this sudsy-looking stuff come from? 

Stream foam is most common during periods of heavy rain and snow melt. Surface water mixes with topsoil rich in organic matter like leaves and twigs. The organic matter contains naturally-occurring chemicals called “surfactants”: materials that reduce surface tension in water. The surfactants become mixed with the water runoff much like the flavor of tea leaves become infused into the water in your teacup. Surfactants act to make water easier to spread or “more wet”. Soap is the most common surfactant we use, acting to ease cleaning operations; it allows water to “stretch”…and to form bubbles.

As the stream’s water flows over branches and rocks it becomes oxygenated, a major source of atmospheric oxygen mixing into our global waters feeding fish. Bubbles are formed and, due to the decreased surface tension from the surfactants, these bubbles become persistent and are somewhat stabilized. The bubbles congregate in areas of the stream called eddies—where the shape of rocks, branches, and other stream structors cause a circular flow of water to persist in a given spot.  

There are, however, some materials like detergents and yes, soaps, that can also cause foam, but these foamy areas will usually be found near houses or drainages areas from parking lots. So if you’re out in the woods and are so inclined, scoop up some stream foam and give it a smell test! It may have an earthy, fresh-cut grass or fishy scent. 

There’s another naturally-occurring foam caused by something different. Found along shorelines and beaches, “foam-lines” are caused by the seawater mixing with decaying matter from certain microscopic creatures called algae. Some of this algae can be harmful and the release of air from the collapsing bubbles from these algae can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulties to those with asthma and respiratory issues. Some sea birds can become affected by the damage to waterproofing oils on their feathers, making flight more difficult and compromising survival.  

Phytoplankton: The Invisible Forest

     Recent news reports regarding the ongoing fires in the Amazon Rain Forest have been a bit inaccurate about the oxygen generated by this wondrous landscape. The title “lungs of the Earth”—is a gross overestimate. As several scientists have pointed out recently, the Amazon’s net contribution to the oxygen we breathe likely hovers around zero.
     Plants also use oxygen during times of lowered oxygen availability (like during nighttime), and decomposing plant matter also uses oxygen. “Because of this balance between oxygen production and consumption, modern ecosystems barely budge oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Instead, the oxygen we breathe is the legacy of phytoplankton in the ocean that have over billions of years steadily accumulated oxygen that made the atmosphere breathable”, explains Scott Denning, at atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University.
     A sea water filled soda can holds 75-100 million phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that live wherever sunlight shines on water, creating their own food via photosynthesis. Over 50% of the oxygen we breath is made by this Invisible Forest, which also removes CO2 added by human activities from the oceans & atmosphere…effectively maintaining the CO2/O2 balance for the past 550 million years.
     Phytoplankton use carbon, water, and nutrients in sea water to live and grow. Nutrient-rich waters rise, from the cold ocean’s depths to the surface in an ongoing cycle called “The Biological Pump”, or Ocean Inversion, an upwelling of water caused by differences in water densities, temperatures, and currents. As plankton blooms deplete the nutrients and die, their remains sink to the ocean floor and, through inversion, resurface as nutrients to feed other plankton…much like tilled-in plants feed the soil in our gardens.
     This plankton-nutrient-plankton cycle takes about 1600 years. Some of the dead plankton form layers of carbon-rich matter on the sea floor acting as the Earth’s carbon sink…effectively holding carbon as a soil-turned-to-rock layer for 100’s of millions of years. The White Cliffs of Dover were thus formed by calcium-rich plankton. Chemicals released by decaying phytoplankton give the sea-shore area it’s familiar “sea air” scent.
     Global warming is increasing precipitation rates and melting sea ice, adding fresh water to the ocean. This reduces sea water density, effectively capping the seas with a light layer of water causing the Ocean Inversion action to slow. The cycling of nutrient-rich waters from the depths to feed phytoplankton are slowed and their populations suffer. Oxygen manufacturing by phytoplankton is thus slowed, CO2 cycling is reduced, and the health of our atmosphere is disrupted.
     This elevated level of CO2 causes a wetter, warmer atmosphere…increasing the occurrences and strengths of storms, adding yet more fresh water to the ocean, further depleting phytoplankton populations…
     By the way, over 50% of Earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton.

Sanford Community Garden Sign-up Form & SPECIAL COVID-19 RULES


Sanford Community Garden will open this season on April 22, Earth Day. Please read the following interim rules regarding COVID-19 safety. As things progress, the following restrictions will be revisited and modified to ensure health and safety. These are unprecedented conditions and will eventually ease. 

Interim Rules

  1. The Tool Shed, Restroom, and Wash Station will be closed to public use. Water will be off. CHANGE: The Water will be turned on.
  2. Gardeners will be required to use their own tools, kneeling pads, baskets/containers, and anything else used at the Garden. Removal of these items are required when not in use. If items are found unattended, they will be removed and destroyed. CHANGE: They will be sequestered for 1 week.
  3. Use of the 30’ to 50’ long water hoses has been determined to be an unacceptable risk of virus exposure. Wiping them with proper cleansers is not practicable and costly. We are considering modifying one hose faucet so as to be relatively easily disinfected, but personal watering cans and buckets will need to be supplied by individual gardeners, and removed when not in use. CHANGE: Hoses will be available and water turned on. There’s an adapter on the center hose to allow the filling of watering buckets.  

Please note that the above rules supersede the usual rules; other portions of the usual rules are still in effect. As we all have learned, it is imperative that we all remain at the advised 6 foot minimum distance from each other. The best and only current COVID-19 vaccine is “ Social Distancing”.

Thank You all for understanding these conditions. 

Happy & SAFE Gardening!

Sanford Community Garden Hosted by Sanford/Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust; Managed by University of Maine Extension Service’s York County Master Gardener Volunteers

After an absence of several years, Sanford has a community garden where folks can grow their own organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The Sanford Community Garden is located at the Pence Community Ecology Center in the McKeon Environmental Reserve on Blanchard Road in Springvale. Last May, the garden was created by applicants, Master Gardener Volunteers, Land Trust members, and others. Access road and parking lot improvements, and a tool shed followed.

Garden Philosophy

The tool shed will serve as a communications center. Notices will be posted, along with the garden guidelines, and lists of approved organic soil amendments, pesticides, and herbicides. Master Gardener Volunteer contact for help with any problems and questions you may have, and a message board will also be there.

You’ll be encouraged to use the square foot gardening procedure developed by Mel Bartholomew as a means of getting the most out of a limited space, but you can use whatever layout you want. By the same token, certain species and varieties will be recommended based on experience. Again, you may choose your own. In any case, the point you should keep in mind is that the size of the bed places a limit on how many types of plants you can grow.

The Garden

Each selected applicant will have a four-foot by twelve-foot, 10 inch high raised bed filled with blended topsoil amended with compost. Two plots will be reserved for home school students and their families. Three other plots are for local food pantry donations and Community Gardeners are asked to help with tending these. 

Selected applicants will be assigned plots on a first-come, first-served basis, and will be expected to volunteer at least three hours of caring for the food pantry plot during the growing season; this is a requirement for having a plot in the garden another year.

Gardening tools, water, and a first aid kit will be available for gardeners to use. Master Gardeners will provide advice and help, if needed. They will also oversee the garden beds and the food pantry plot. An ADA-accessible outdoor restroom is on site. 

Applicants, Master Gardeners, and land trust members plan to gather prior to the growing season to go over guidelines, review some of the techniques of square-foot gardening, and answer any questions folks might have about the garden or gardening. This meeting will be announced in March.

General Policies

  1. The following are not allowed: Smoking, alcohol, pets, subletting plots, non-organic control materials, unattended children, fresh manure, cannabis, illegal or invasive plants.
  2. Place disease-free plants, parts, and weeds in the compost pile provided.
  3. When leaving the garden, return any tools you used to the tool shed, lock it, and make sure the water spigot is turned off.
  4. Consider neighboring plots when planting vine or tall-growing plants such as cucumbers, squash, corn or sunflowers; use dwarf-type varieties and plant tall or trellised crops down the center of the bed.
  5. Plots should be fully planted by June 8, and be properly cared for during the whole season; ask for help if you need it!

Using a plot at the Sanford Community Garden is a privilege; the Advisory Committee reserves the right to revoke the privilege of any gardener at any time for any reason it deems appropriate. To be considered for a raised bed, complete and submit the “Application For Community Garden Plot”. Also, copy and print the Waiver and Contract. After reading, understanding, and signing it, send it via email. You can alternatively send it via Post Office mail to: Kev & Patty McKeon, 246 Blanchard Rd., Springvale, Me. 04083.

General Contact and Master Gardener Volunteer help/advice:

Kev: 207-206-5934; Patty: 207-206-5933;

Facebook Community Page:

Application For Community Garden Plot

                                 SANFORD SPRINGVALE MOUSAM WAY LAND TRUST                                     Waiver and Contract

Sanford Community Garden:

I agree to waive, release and hold harmless the Sanford Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust, York County Cooperative Extension, and Master Gardeners from any and all damages, claims, suits or injuries.  By using the Sanford Community Garden located at Blanchard Road in Springvale, I assume responsibility for all risks, damages to self or personal property and hazards, including any third parties or children I may bring onto said property, for the purpose of gardening or otherwise.  Insurance coverage is my own responsibility.  I agree to act in a safe, sensible and responsible manner and will use respect with property and other people while at the garden.  I also understand and agree to follow the general policies of the garden.

Photographic Release:

I agree on my behalf and my minor children to be photographed while in the garden area and grant permission to use the photograph/s for publication, promotion or news purposes and waive any rights I/we or they may have to compensation for or ownership of the photograph/s.        

Signing below signifies that I have read, understand and agree to these waivers and policies.

Signature_______________________________________  Date_________________________________                                    

Prehistoric trees saved from Australia’s fires

By Sara Spary, CNN

 January 16, 2020

An ancient grove of pine trees whose ancestors are thought to have stood tall among dinosaurs some 200 million years ago has been saved from Australian bushfires in a covert firefighting mission.

Firefighters in New South Wales (NSW) were enlisted by the local government to save the prehistoric Wollemi Pine grove, which exists in a secret location within the 5,000-square-kilometer (1,930-square-mile) Wollemi National Park northwest of Sydney.

There are fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines left in the wild.

The oldest fossil of the rare pine species dates back 90 million years and the pines are thought to have existed during the Jurassic period.

Large air tankers of fire retardant were dropped inside the remote grove as part of the mission, while specialist firefighters attached to helicopters were winched down to set up an irrigation system to protect the trees from catching alight.

Swathes of the Wollemi National Park have been affected by the devastating bushfires and some of the precious pine trees have been charred.

“Wollemi National Park is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild and, with less than 200 left, we knew we needed to do everything we could to save them,” Matt Kean, the NSW environment minister, said in a statement.

“The pines, which prior to 1994 were thought to be extinct and whose location is kept secret to prevent contamination, benefited from an unprecedented environmental protection mission,” he added.

The NSW government had carried out a detailed scientific assessment and, while some trees have been damaged, the species has survived, he said.