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Barn work in Hadley continuing despite concerns for birds

  • —Submitted Photo

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Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2018

HADLEY — Even though no decisions have yet been made on what will happen to a deteriorating former stables building that has become a popular nesting site for barn swallows at the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, workers have been deconstructing portions of the interior this week.

Andrew French, project leader for the Conte Refuge, said Thursday that due to safety and security considerations, workers have been exposing structural features to better assess the building, disconnecting various utilities and removing tongue-and-groove pine boards that separated the stalls built for Bri-Mar Stables.

“We’re not demolishing the stables,” French said. “We resumed with what we were doing before, which was opening up the building and discontinuing utilities.”

French said he is responsible for protecting the integrity of refuge resources, buildings and equipment, and wants to make sure the stables building is prepared for the winter.

Though the building featured a combined 70 broods over the two mating seasons for barn swallows in the spring and summer, French said no barn swallows have been observed this week. The birds typically migrate to the Southern Hemisphere during the fall and winter.

But for Mara Silver, an ornithologist in Shelburne Falls who specializes in studying barn swallows, any work on the building is concerning. She said at an Aug. 16 public meeting at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife office, there was a pledge for no work to take place until after a draft environmental assessment on the property is released, which will embed ideas for the future of the stables that can be submitted through Friday.

“It damages the public trust with Fish and Wildlife to do any work on site,” Silver said. “It feels like they have wasted our time.”

Silver said so much material has been removed from the interior walls that the studs can be seen, as well as the exterior boards, and several inches of dirt have been displaced. While she isn’t sure that this will compromise the building, she fears it could mean that a demolition is being readied.

French disputes this, calling the work identical to what was being done before the nesting season that was halted when the birds were observed. “When we saw the barn swallows show up in the area, we stopped,” French said.

In addition, he said the work, which also includes removing dead and decaying animals from portions of the building, seems to be encouraging, rather than discouraging, barn swallows’ use of the building.

“What we had done prior to the nesting season didn’t negatively affect the barn swallows,” French said.

His observations of nests is that most are in the 156-foot long corridors, rather than the individual stalls, and most are attacked to the lights and conduits leading to the lights. These areas are not being disturbed.

Silver said she appreciates that none of the nests were disturbed.

French said 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 assessment will incorporate suggestions for the future of the building, including demolition, renovations or some combination.

Still, French notes that there has been a longstanding mandate from the federal government to reduce building stock, and it will be a hard sell to preserve the stables just for the birds.

“The structure is in very poor condition and is excess to our needs and for budget reason it makes no sense to put money into this,” French said.

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

http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Silvio_O_Conte/what_we_do/resource_management.html.

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