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Efforts that began in 2015 with separate landholders approaching land trusts for assistance has culminated in the conservation of 1,033 acres across four municipalities in the western part of the state.
The landholders worked with the towns of Chesterfield, Westhampton and Williamsburg, the city of Northampton, the Hilltown Land Trust, the Kestrel Land Trust and MassWildlife to conserve the land in the Brewer Brook forest, ranked in the top 10% of natural areas to protect and part of a key corridor for wildlife.
“This is a really large, roadless area that has not been developed and is one of the largest intact tracts of forests,” said Sally Loomis, executive director of the Hilltown Land Trust. “We need north-south corridors [for wildlife] and diversity of habitat, so saving this land helps to expand that.
“It has a lot of ecological value and just happens to fall in an area where four towns meet.”
The Brewer Brook forest also connects several state and municipal conservation areas.
The total cost of the project was $1.6 million, with half of the funding coming from a Mass Landscape Partnership Project grant offered by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs as an incentive for private and public agencies to come together to protect at least 500 contiguous acres of conservation land. Additional funding came from the Open Space Institute and Beveridge Family Foundation.
Northampton Planning and Sustainability Director Wayne Feiden said this was a relatively easy project for the city, since the land trusts found most of the funding – often the most difficult part of conserving land.
“These partnerships are universally good,” Feiden said. “They’ve always made our life a lot easier. … You have to go into them really clear about everyone’s goals for the process, because they may be different.”
A project of this size requires significant coordination of meetings and notary needs, Loomis said. It’s necessary to have people with a breadth of knowledge, and strong partnerships with the conservation commissions in each town.
“It takes people who are willing to go the extra mile and willing to get creative and make the follow through a priority,” Loomis said. “There were so many people who made this happen and so much collaboration between volunteers, town staff, land trusts.”
Conservation commissions play a vital role in screening for opportunities for these types of projects and helping land trusts move them through the process. A number of state grants require this type of partnership.
“Small towns [with limited staff and resources] are often hard pressed to take on the conservation restrictions and easements required for projects like this, but we were fortunate that these towns were willing to do it,” Loomis said.
Moving forward, different portions of the land will be managed by Hilltown and Kestrel and MassWildlife. Northampton will manage the portion within that municipality.