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Land Conservation

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13MAAB-Land-Conservation.jpg

Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the country. Six million people share five million acres of terrestrial and freshwater habitats with over 80 different mammals, 460 birds, 29 reptiles, 21 amphibians, and 57 types of freshwater fish. These numbers obviously don’t include insects, mollusks, and quantities of other invertebrates breeding or moving through the state. These numbers pose a significant challenge for wildlife conservation. Habitat —food, water, shelter, and space— is key to the existence of wildlife. Since the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) is charged with the stewardship of wildlife in Massachusetts, including endangered kinds of wildlife and plants, habitat protection is one of the highest priorities for both the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. To address the challenge, a land acquisition program was created with the following goals:

  • protect and perpetuate ecosystems containing important fish and wildlife resources and natural communities,
  • preserve the biological diversity of the state’s fish and wildlife, and
  • ensure public access to the Commonwealth’s lands and waters for wildlife-related recreation.

13MAAB-Land-Conservation-1.jpgHabitat acquisition efforts involve the Department of Fish and Game, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, as well as land trusts and other conservation partners. Every year, potential acquisitions are reviewed and prioritized by a Lands Committee that determines each property’s resource and recreational value. Technical input is provided by the DFW Districts and a representative from Section staff in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Natural Heritage and Endangered Species. DFG also provides legal, fiscal, mapping, and technical support for the habitat acquisition program.

Funding for the land acquisition program comes from several sources. The primary funding mechanism is the Commonwealth’s open space bond authorization. Fishing, hunting, and trapping license buyers also contribute a $5 fee, known as the “Wildlands Stamp,” to the Wildlands Fund for wildlife habitat acquisition, with annual revenue $1 – 1.5 million dollars. Wildlife enthusiasts and other conservation-minded people support the agency’s habitat conservation efforts by donating to the Wildlands Fund. Landowners who want to keep their land undeveloped sometimes gift their land to the Commonwealth.

During FY12, DFG/DFW utilized and received funding from federal, state, and private grant programs for land protection projects. Mitigation funds were another new funding source for two acquisition projects.

During a period when few state governments are capable of responding to favorable opportunities in the real estate market, this year’s land conservation projects added significant opportunities for sporting and other wildlife related recreation access across the state. In FY 2012 (July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012), 5,629 acres of fish and wildlife habitat were acquired bringing the total amount of land acreage currently under the care and control of DFG and DFW to over 195,000 acres. More than 500 acres were acquired in the Berkshires, close to 3,700 acres in the Connecticut Valley, about 800 acres in central Massachusetts, and approximately 640 acres in eastern Massachusetts. Forty-two acquisitions were completed in 32 towns across the state for a total investment of nearly $14 million. More than $5.2 million came from open space bond fund, $975,000 in Wildlands stamp funds with an additional $7.7 million leveraged from outside sources such as state, federal and private grants and mitigation funds. In addition, gifts of land by landowners totaled just over 243 acres.

All these lands are open to the public for hunting, fishing, bird watching, hiking, cross-country skiing, and other passive wildlife-related recreation activities. A listing of the FY12 acquisitions and funding sources can be found on the DFW website at: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/habitat/land/land_acquisitions.htm.

13MAAB-Land-Conservation-2.jpgAll habitat acquisitions are important but some projects stand out. In FY 12, of particular significance was the completion of the Commonwealth’s largest private land conservation deal since the 1920s. A partnership between DFG/DFW, Kestrel Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust, and North Amherst-based W.D. Cowls, Inc. resulted in the protection of 3,486 acres of working forest land in the towns of Leverett and Shutesbury. Now known as the Paul C. Jones Working Forest, it is the largest conservation restriction on a contiguous block of privately owned land in Massachusetts’ history. The 5.4 square mile area encompasses almost all of Brushy Mountain and includes additional adjacent parcels. The conservation restriction ensures that the property will remain undeveloped, protecting critical wildlife habitat and providing public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreation. The majority of funding for this $8.8 million dollar project was provided by a $5 million grant from the federal Forest Legacy grant program. An additional $1 million in funding came from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Landscape Partnership grant program, together with $839,600 in private grant funding from the Open Space Institute, $500,000 in DFW land stamp funds, and $1,460,400 in DFG open space bond funds.

A new WMA located in West Brookfield and New Braintree is the 320-acre Whortleberry Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA). This property has been has been operated as a farm since 1896 and provides varied habitats of managed hayfields, wet meadows, old orchards, mature upland forests, and brushy field habitats. Many wildlife species including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear, otter, mink, black ducks, mallards, Virginia rail, mallard, song birds, diverse insects, and amphibians all use the land. This acquisition also conserves 6,800 feet of frontage on the Mill Brook a coldwater fishery hosting a native population of Eastern Brook Trout. Another 3,640 feet of frontage protects two intermittent tributaries to Mill Brook, a primary tributary that drains into Lake Wickaboag. The WMA was acquired with a land trust partner, the East Quabbin Land Trust (EQLT) which was instrumental in facilitating the state’s acquisition. EQLT pre-acquired the property from the McRevey Family Trust, then the property was purchased by the DFW/DFG using $570,000 of open space bond funds.

In the southeastern part of Massachusetts, a new WMA consisting of about 15 parcels of land make up the Poor Meadow Brook WMA in East Bridgewater. The property is a mosaic of red maple swamps, hardwoods, and areas of open, fresh meadow. It contains Priority Habitat and Critical Natural Landscape and is home to two rare plants. This acquisition is designed to protect the area surrounding the brook of the same name that flows southward along a corridor of municipal watershed land toward Robbins Pond where the Office of Fishing and Boating Access has a heavily-used car-top boat access area. These parcels include 2,000 of frontage on Poor Meadow Brook and 1,500 feet of frontage on the Satucket River, an important tributary of the Taunton River. A Great Blue Heron heronry is located here. The herons are frequently observed feeding at nearby Burrage Pond WMA and flying to and from Poor Meadow Brook.

On the other end of the geographic spectrum, a new 2.5 acre North Egremont WMA is a small but significant property on the Green River. The new WMA provides excellent fishing access to the public and protects a small but significant stretch of river frontage on the Green River containing Priority Habitat for state-listed species, BioMap2 Core Habitat for Species of Conservation Concern, as well as Aquatic Core Habitat. The WMA also provides an important connection across the river to a 20-acre parcel owned by the Egremont Land Trust with a conservation restriction held by DFG/DFW.

In many cases, acquisitions add to existing WMAs. Examples include 137 acres added to the Hubbard Brook WMA in Sheffield; 93 acres at the Townsend Hill WMA, Townsend; 104 acres at Hockomock Swamp WMA in Bridgewater; and 109 acres added to Winchendon Springs WMA in Winchendon.

Anyone who enjoys the great outdoors is encouraged to use and enjoy the opportunities available on all these properties. With continued support from sportsmen and women, land trusts, other environmental partners, and the current administration, significant progress towards protection of 200,000 acres of wildlife habitat may be a goal achieved by 2014.

Total Acreage by Area Type (as of June 30, 2012)

Area Type

Acreage

Wildlife Management Areas – 147

135,331.66

Wildlife Sanctuaries – 13

1,197

Fish Hatcheries – 5

534.30

Game Farms – 3

382.1

River Access – 35

3,044.05

Salt Marsh – 7

774.7

Lake, Pond and Coastal Access – 27

295.6

Fisheries & Wildlife Areas – 6

515

Natural Heritage Areas – 33

2,728.5

Wildlife Conservation Easements – 63

(Some acreage included in WMAs)

35,352.13

Other

652.85

TOTAL

195,807.95

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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