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Barn at Conte refuge housing birds in danger

  • A barn swallow makes trips to and from its nest in a barn at the Fort River Division of the National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley on Friday, July 13, 2018. The barn remains on the site from the former Bri-Mar Stables.



Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2018

HADLEY — A mandate for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce the amount of real property it maintains by 5 percent by 2020 has put in doubt the future of the deteriorating former stables building at the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

But even facing this mandate, the service’s Northeast Regional Office is working to develop a plan for future management of the barn off Moody Bridge Road where about 35 pairs of barn swallows placed nests this spring and summer.

Conte Refuge project leader Andrew French said the public will have until Sept. 14 to engage in the planning process for a draft environmental assessment that would include supplementing the five draft alternative ideas for the structure that were unveiled at a public meeting in mid-August.

“We’re looking for people to provide us any other ideas they have,” French said. “What we want to do is consider a range of alternatives.”

Alternative management scenarios could include maintenance, repair, modification or removal of the 22,500-square-foot, post-supported wooden building built more than 30 years ago for a private farm.

“In a nutshell, we’re preparing an environmental assessment consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act,” French said.

The five alternate ideas already unveiled include:

Taking no action, which would mean the building, which is already in poor condition, would eventually collapse and be removed from the site at a later date.

Replacing the existing roof with a metal roof and allow the building to continue serving as an artificial nest structure for barn swallows.

Rehabilitating the entire building so it could be used for both refuge operations and nesting of barn swallows.

Removing the entire building immediately, and turning its spot at the Fort River Division back into native habitat.

Reusing and modifying the building so that a portion of it can be a place for nesting barn swallows, with half the structure to be demolished after the 2019 nesting season.

Those with other ideas should understand that considerations for evaluating and comparing potential alternatives include the impact on the barn swallows; the opportunity to provide habitat for other aerial insectivores, such as tree and cliff swallows, purple martin, chimney swifts and bats; the safety for employees working in the area; the safety for the public visiting the 260-acre site; and the long-term maintenance costs and usability of the facility for operational purposes.

Anyone is welcome to send email to northeastplanning@fws.gov, or a hard copy letter to French, 103 East Plumtree Road, Sunderland MA 01375.

French said once alternatives are finalized, the draft environmental assessment will be released this fall, followed by a 30-day public comment period. A public meeting will be scheduled during the public comment period.

The draft environmental assessment and notice of the date, time and location of the public meeting will be posted online.

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