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‘Demo forest’ in Pelham to fight climate change

  • —Kestral Land Trust



Staff Writer
Thursday, March 02, 2017

PELHAM — The fight against climate change will soon have a very real feel to it in this small town.

That’s because Pelham, in partnership with the Kestrel Land Trust, is about to launch a “demonstration forest” using 161 acres of land permanently preserved this week. The land will serve as a living laboratory and be actively managed using principles that showcase resilience to climate change, proponents said.

The Buffam Brook Community Forest, with three parcels situated along Buffam Road between Boyden and North Valley roads, will become just the second demonstration forest in the state, following the Plimpton Community Forest in Sturbridge.

In addition to prohibiting development, the land will remain open to the public and also be used for educational purposes.

Kat Deely, community conservation manager for Kestrel Trust in Amherst, said Friday that the community forest will help to illustrate a balance between public access and active management.

“This is about 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,” Deely said.

In acquiring the four properties from three private landowners for about $585,000, Kestrel, which will hold the conservation restriction in perpetuity, worked with the Pelham Conservation Commission and the University of Massachusetts Economic Conservation Department.

Pelham Conservation Commission Chairman Dana MacDonald said residents appreciate that the use of the land will not change significantly and that those who have visited the site for hiking, hunting and birding will continue to do so. Residents committed $100,000 in Community Preservation Act funds at a special Town Meeting last year.

“This project really reflects how land and open space is utilized in Pelham,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the land will remain home to a viable and sustainable wood supply and remain in productive use.

“This is an important quality to maintain on the landscape,” MacDonald said.

Demonstration forest

As a demonstration forest, the Buffam Brook Community Forest will become a living laboratory that will show how sustainable forestry practices can be used in a time as the Earth’s climate is changing, Deely said. The forest will also be used for public programming to teach about the impacts of different management techniques.

Professional foresters and experts at UMass will assist in writing a forest stewardship plan. Deely said the focus of this plan will be to confront the increase in frequency and intensity of weather events such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts, caused by climate change, and to support forest resilience by increasing the species diversity and structural diversity so that recovery time is decreased.

As a teaching tool, both UMass students and children attending programs at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment will learn how to care for forests. Landowners will also be invited to visit to learn how management can support increase forest resiliency on property they own.

The purchase was also covered by a $257,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Program, $162,500 in “bargain sales” from landowners being willing to accept below-market payments, and $70,000 raised by Kestrel Land Trust from private foundation grants.

The concept also received support from retired U.S. Rep John Olver.

“This Pelham community forest will be a living laboratory to demonstrate the climate action benefits of sustainable forestry,” Olver said.

West of the Quabbin Reservoir, the land borders about 1,000 acres of already protected land, including Amherst conservation land managed specifically to protect the water quality of Amherst’s public water supply.

The landscape is important, Deely said, as it is home to an endangered species habitat, as well as a popular place for moose, black bear, bobcat and amphibians in existing vernal pools.

Designated trails for walking and cross country skiing, will remain and be expanded and connected, Deely said, and portions of the land will be open to hunting, where permissible by state hunting safety regulations.

Small parking areas will be created for access.

MacDonald said ensuring modest access areas was an important selling point to residents.

Kestrel Executive Director Kristin DeBoer said in a statement that this will be a different protected land than some are accustomed to.

“This community forest 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,” DeBoer said.

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