OSI assists Patrick-Murray administration in completing MA’s largest conservation restriction on private land

UPDATE: June 4, 2012 - Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan joined local, state and federal officials on May 29, 2012 to formally dedicate the Paul C. Jones Working Forest and celebrate the protection of 3,486 acres of land in Leverett and Shutesbury.

The conserved forest, named for Cowls’ recently deceased 8th generation family leader, represents the largest restriction on a contiguous block of privately owned land in Massachusetts history, and the Commonwealth’s largest private land conservation deal since the 1920s. 

“This successful and historic land conservation effort is the result of a unique partnership that protects close to 3,500 acres of forest land and honors a man whose family has been stewards of working forests for generations,” said Governor Patrick. “Today’s dedication ensures the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural beauty for generations to come.”

The Open Space Institute provided $839,600 through two grants from its Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund and Saving New England’s Wildlife, which were made possible with funds from the Kohlberg Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The grants represent OSI's most significant investment in any land conservation project in Massachusetts.

*************OSI Press Release***************

BOSTON — December 23, 2011 — Utilizing two grants from the Open Space Institute—one from OSI’s Western Massachusetts Land Protection Fund and another from the Saving New England’s Wildlife initiative—the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and two land trusts have completed an historic conservation deal, the Commonwealth’s largest since the 1920s. The partnership between the DFG, Kestrel Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust, and North Amherst-based W.D. Cowls, Inc. resulted in the protection of 3,486 acres of working forestland in the towns of Leverett and Shutesbury.

“This successful land conservation initiative is the result of a unique partnership that will protect this treasure for generations,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. “This land will forever be home to iconic wildlife, while remaining a productive working forest that supports local jobs and allows hunters, anglers and hikers to enjoy the great outdoors.”

The 5.4 square mile area encompasses almost all of Brushy Mountain and includes additional adjacent parcels. Brushy Mountain and its adjoining Rattlesnake Gutter was recently named by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism as one of the state's “Best 1,000 Places.” The conservation restriction ensures that the property will not be developed—protecting key wildlife habitat—and guarantees public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreation. Motorized vehicle use, except for snowmobiles, motorized wheelchairs and owner forestry related vehicles, will not be permitted.

Over the past four years, the Patrick-Murray Administration has conserved 85,000 acres of land across the state, and the conservation restriction acquired by the DFG and its Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) from W.D. Cowls for $8.8 million is the largest on a contiguous block of privately owned land in Massachusetts history. Approximately $3 million of the purchase price is state funding, comprising DFG’s investment of over $1.4 million from the Commonwealth’s open space bond authorization and $500,000 in Land Stamp funds from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses, as well as $1 million awarded to DFG and the land trusts by EEA’s new Landscape Partnership Grant Program.

The Kestrel Land Trust of Amherst and the Franklin Land Trust of Shelburne Falls partnered with DFG in a four-year negotiation process with landowner W.D. Cowls. In addition to state funding, the land trusts secured $5 million toward the purchase through the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which receives funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The land trusts also secured $839,600 through the two grants from OSI, which were made possible by the support of the Kohlberg Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Brushy Mountain grants represent OSI’s most significant investment in any land conservation project in Massachusetts.

“This project conserves one of Southern New England’s largest tracts of unbroken forest land, and ensuring the connectivity of our forests is essential to enabling wildlife and humans to adapt to a changing climate, ”said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “This project also brings tremendous benefits to the local community through sustainable forest management and recreational access.”

The newly conserved forest will be named the Paul C. Jones Working Forest in honor of Cowls’ recently deceased 8th generation family leader, Mr. Paul C. Jones, who, for four decades, spearheaded the company’s forestry and lumber manufacturing operations, and also promoted public sportsman access on thousands of acres of timberland throughout his lifetime.

“It has been a tremendous privilege to work on such a significant conservation project for the benefit of the Connecticut River Valley and for the entire  Commonwealth,” said Kristin DeBoer, executive director of Kestrel Land Trust. “It is a rare opportunity to conserve virtually an entire mountain in a single conservation project with a single landowner. It can take decades to conserve thousands of acres of land. Kestrel Land Trust has been honored to work with Cowls, the state, and our other partners to complete this Conservation Restriction. We are delighted that the Jones family had the foresight to conserve such a significant portion of their woodlands for future generations.”

As Massachusetts' largest private landowner, W.D. Cowls, Inc., Land Company, owns and manages timberland in 28 towns in Western Massachusetts. Cowls' Tree Farms produce trees as a crop. In addition to managing its land to produce wood, Cowls also provides public recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.

The Paul C. Jones Working Forest was acquired by the Cowls family in small-acre parcel purchases over hundreds of years and has been sustainably forested throughout the land company's ownership history. Cowls will continue to own and manage the woodland and conduct sustainable forestry operations under a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan. Simultaneous with selling the restriction, Cowls added Forest Stewardship Council Green Certification to its existing Tree Farm and Chapter 61 certifications on the property.

A 2009 Conservation and Assessment Prioritization System analysis by the University of Massachusetts ranked 2,400 acres of Brushy Mountain at the highest level of ecological integrity. The area contains five interim wellhead protection areas supplying water to local schools, town centers and state recreation areas. The village centers of North Leverett and Shutesbury, where hundreds of private wells are located, are less than a half-mile from Brushy Mountain.

The northern section of the Paul C. Jones Working Forest drains into the Sawmill River, which is stocked with Atlantic salmon fry through the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program. Doolittle Brook, Roaring Brook and Sawmill River, which flow through or very near the project area, are important coldwater fisheries resources and support populations of native brook trout.

The Paul C. Jones Working Forest directly abuts a mosaic of 630 acres of additional permanently protected open space and is located between several important reserves, including Mount Toby State Reservation, the Quabbin Reservoir, Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area, and the Wendell and Erving State Forests. Many wildlife species, including wide-ranging mammals such as black bear, moose, and bobcat, as well as forest birds such as scarlet tanager, Blackburnian warbler, and Canada warbler, require large, intact forest to thrive. The conserved areas provide a critical core and corridor for wildlife living and moving through these areas and larger forested regions.

About 70 percent of the project area is recognized by MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program as BioMap2 Core Habitat, and 97 percent of the property is characterized as critical natural landscape—defined as an area that is well-suited to support
ecological processes, disturbances and wide-ranging species. Core Habitat identifies key areas to ensure the long-term persistence of wildlife species of conservation concern, exemplary natural communities, and intact ecosystems across the Commonwealth.

“The Brushy Mountain Forest Legacy Project is the largest contiguous single ownership of working woodlands protected in the history of the Forest Legacy Program in Massachusetts, said Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Edward Lambert, whose agency administers the Forest Legacy program. “The protection of these working woodlands, which have been sustainably managed by W.D. Cowls for many years, addresses the primary issues of forest fragmentation and parcelization identified in the Massachusetts Forest Legacy Program Assessment of Need.”

“We're obviously in it for the long run and this conservation achievement demonstrates how commercial forest management can complement open space conservation and recreation,” said Cinda Jones, W.D. Cowls’ 9th-generation co-owner and president. “My dad was really proud that we were making this happen and I’m so proud that we’re naming the conserved forest after him.”

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