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Saving New England's wildlife grant keeps the Dead Branch River teaming with wildlife

NORTHAMPTON, MASS. — January 21, 2010 — Though its name may imply the opposite, Dead Branch Brook thrives with freshwater life. Brook trout and Atlantic salmon rely on its clear and cold water, while turtles and salamanders forage and travel in and alongside the streambed.

With a grant from the Open Space Institute’s Saving New England’s Wildlife program, The Nature Conservancy has preserved an additional 2,000 feet of frontage along this high-quality tributary to the Westfield River with the purchase of 32 acres in Chesterfield from the Bisbee family.

“This purchase creates a two-mile long corridor of protected river on Dead Branch Brook, the forests that buffer it and the wildlife that live and travel in it,” said Markelle Smith, land protection specialist for The Nature Conservancy. “We’re grateful to the Bisbee family and the Open Space Institute for their generosity in helping make this happen.”

“This sale is historic in that this land has been part of the family for over 150 years,” said Bill Bisbee. “For more than a century, the Dead Branch Brook provided the water power to operate Bisbee sawmill in the days before electricity. The Bisbee family is glad to have worked with The Nature Conservancy to preserve the family's historic legacy in the area and to conserve this stretch of the Dead Branch that is so rich in natural beauty.”

Launched in July 2009 and capitalized with a lead grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, OSI’s Saving New England’s Wildlife initiative awards grants in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to sustain, protect and enhance ecologically critical lands and waters identified by State Wildlife Action Plans, making the vision of the action plans a reality.

The Westfield River was Massachusetts’s first Wild and Scenic designated river. Today, more than 78 miles of the Westfield River’s tributaries and main branches have been designated “wild and scenic” by the National Park Service.

The land is also situated in the heart of a vast, intact forest. Immediately to the north is the Fisk Meadows Wildlife Management Area, which includes more than 1,300 acres of protected land. To the south is a complex of protected land owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation totaling almost 1,100 acres.

“This project protects and links key forest and riverfront lands, all of which supports important wildlife habitat,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “It’s proof that small projects can have a great impact in the overall composition of a landscape.”

Increasing and connecting protected areas, TNC scientists say, can help enhance resiliency and reduce the disruptive effects of climate change.

“Large, intact forests and free-flowing rivers are better able to withstand dramatic changes in temperature and precipitation, which are two of the expected impacts of climate change,” said Laura Marx, forest ecologist for The Nature Conservancy. “In turn, these healthy natural areas will be better able to help us, by feeding our water supply and protecting our homes from floods, to name only a few.”

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