Editorial: Kestrel forest project has many benefits

Published: 2/27/2017 8:53:32 PM

The Kestrel Land Trust’s latest project, a 161-acre “demonstration forest” in Pelham, is an extensive partnership that preserves the land, including its use for recreation, while creating an educational laboratory to test theories about the impacts of a changing climate.

The Buffam Brook Community Forest comprises three parcels of land along Buffam and Boyden roads which were purchased for about $585,000. They are west of the Quabbin Reservoir and border about 1,000 acres of protected watershed land.

Kestrel worked with officials in Pelham, which contributed $100,000 in Community Preservation Act money, and the University of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Conservation in shaping a project that will have multiple benefits. The U.S. Forest Service awarded a $257,000 grant as part of its support for forest management that provides educational, recreational and economic benefits.

Retired Congressman John Olver of Amherst, one of the three landowners whose property was bought, is a key proponent of protecting the forest. “This Pelham Community Forest will be a living laboratory to demonstrate the climate action benefits of sustainable forestry,” he said.

In addition to forest land, the property is a habitat for wildlife, including moose, black bears and amphibians.

Kat Deely, community conservation manager for Kestrel, says the project balances public access and active management of a forested area. “This is ... thinking about ways the community can both have access to open space for passive recreation and the town itself can be generating revenue, and the ecological system can benefit.”

Dana MacDonald, chairman of the Pelham Conservation Commission, echoed the enthusiasm for a project that benefits many people and continues the land’s use as a sustainable source of wood through selective logging. Local residents appreciate that the forest will remain open for hiking, cross country skiing, birding and hunting, where permitted by state regulations, MacDonald said. “This project really reflects how land and open space is utilized in Pelham.”

This is the second demonstration forest in Massachusetts, with the other in Sturbridge.  An advisory group of community volunteers, including professional foresters and other experts at UMass, will work this spring to develop a stewardship plan for the Buffam Brook Community Forest, with an emphasis on protecting it from the effects of potential storms such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts caused by changes in climate. Among the goals is diversifying the age and species of trees to allow for quicker recovery from a devastating storm.

Paul Catanzaro, an assistant professor at UMass whose forest measurements students helped catalog trees, other plants and wildlife, says, “The size of the properties and the forest on them is very typical for Massachusetts, which is its strength. The Buffam Brook Community Forest provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate different forest stewardship techniques that landowners can implement on their own land to increase forest resiliency. It also provides the chance to monitor the forest over time so that we can better understand the forests’ response to the challenges they face.”

The demonstration forest will be used for programs that teach management techniques to owners of other similar land. And Kestrel will work with Pelham and other organizations, such as the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, to provide an outdoor classroom for children.

That “will give the community of Pelham the opportunity to engage residents to enjoy and learn from the forest in a way that is not always possible on private protected lands,” says Kristin DeBoer, executive director of the land trust which is based in Amherst.

This is the second major conservation project in Pelham announced recently by Kestrel. In December, it received an $85,000 state grant to protect 52 acres along the east side of Arnold Road which is adjacent to other conservation areas. It will connect a series of hiking trails and preserve habitat for wildlife including white-tail deer, wild turkey and other game species for hunters. 

Kestrel Land Trust now has protected some 20,000 acres of wildlands, woodlands, farmlands and riverlands since it was established in 1970 and merged with the Valley Land Fund in 2011. This latest demonstration forest highlights Kestrel’s innovative approach to conservation and education.

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