W.D. Cowls officials warn illegal activity could force curtailed access to land now open for public use

Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2015

AMHERST — W.D. Cowls Inc., the Amherst-based company that owns thousands of acres of forests throughout western Massachusetts, is warning against increased illegal activity that might prompt company officials to make some of its property off-limits to the public.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones and Evan Jones, president of Cowls Building Supply, issued a statement this week expressing concern that some recreational use of woodland in both Hampshire and Franklin counties may be curtailed if such behavior — including illegal dumping and digging for minerals — continues.

“We regret to report that recent, inappropriate public activity on our land is now jeopardizing its continued public use,” the Joneses wrote. “We are working in cooperation with local police departments and utilizing surveillance devices in effort to stop these dangerous and illegal activities.”

Public use of the company’s land is governed by a “leave no trace” covenant, which restricts cutting down trees, damaging wetlands, removing natural resources or dumping garbage.

Cinda Jones said Thursday the statement was put out as a preemptive measure to remind the public about the natural resources they can enjoy.

“I really think and hope we won’t ever have to post our forestland, but we’d more likely prosecute violators of the law and trespass individuals who are abusing their privileges,” Jones said.

Incidents have occurred on parcels in several area communities, Jones said.

In Pelham, the company has already put up signs to keep people out from an area where individuals appear to be using pick-axes to dig for minerals.

In Belchertown, Cowls has worked with police officers to remove area youths who are hanging out on the land and to identify landscapers who have dumped woody debris without permission.

A dozen or more old computers were illegally dumped on a tract in Conway, and in Orange, at the Lake Rohunta site, debris left behind has included junk cars. A local group that has used the area to ride recreational all-terrain vehicles built a fence to keep junk cars from being left there and members cleaned up the parcel, Jones said.

Hikers, snowshoers, snowmobilers and ATVs are all currently allowed on Cowls land and its logging roads, Jones said.

Cowls has added signs in recent years reminding people when they are venturing onto the private land. Some signs read: “Tree farm, Private property, Public welcome!” and state that some of the managed land has been open to the public for more than 265 years. These signs list prohibited activities and provide company contact information. Other signs read: “Respectful public use welcome.”

The illegal activities can harm the green certification status for the company’s timber and also would run counter to forestry stewardship plans.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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