Mount Grace worked with Victoria Shaw in 2009 to protect this extremely rare 81-acre wetland which contains an exemplary northern Atlantic white cedar swamp, one of only two in Massachusetts. Mount Grace pre-acquired this property and re-sold it to the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.
Victoria Shaw lives on a wooded lot in North orange next to her family’s sawmill. Three generations of Shaws have earned a livelihood in part from timber harvests on family owned woodlands around the region. This winter Shaw permanently protected 104 acres of those woodlands, including an extremely rare wetland in Winchendon.
Two tracts were protected. The first is a 23-acre inholding in Royalston entirely within the Millers River Wildlife Management Area. The second, 81 acres in Winchendon, contains an exemplary northern Atlantic white cedar swamp, one of only two in Massachusetts.
Shaw, who has owned the land since the 1970s, always insisted in keeping the cedars standing, turning down several offers for the property. “People would come around with plans to buy it,” says Shaw, “the town told them they could put in a road, cut the trees, and put up all kinds of houses, but I said those trees have been around for a long time. They deserve to stay”
Atlantic white cedar were extensively cut after European settlement and are still under pressure today. All four varieties of Atlantic white cedar swamps in the state are imperiled and are state priorities for protection. Northern Atlantic white cedar swamps, which thrive at higher elevations and contain black spruce, tamarack, and other distinctive plant species, are the rarest.
“These swamps in general are rare in Massachusetts.” says Mount Grace Conservation Director David Graham Wolf, “What’s even more unusual is that I found no evidence of past timber harvesting in this stand, and it exhibits a number of old growth characteristics. I’ll be taking core samples to be sure, but right now I estimate the stand to be 200-250 years old, which makes this spot an incredible find.” If confirmed, this would be the only old growth stand of these trees in Massachusetts.
In October, after being contacted by Mount Grace, the Department of Fish and Game offered to purchase the land, but budget constraints prevented them. With Victoria Shaw hoping to complete the sale by Christmas, Mount Grace agreed to pre-acquire both parcels and re-sell them to the state in fiscal year 2011. The sale, funded by a loan from The Conservation Fund, an Arlington Virginia based foundation, conserves a fragile and extraordinary place that survived into the 21st century largely due to the landowner’s goodwill and personal stewardship ethic. “In Massachussets rare natural communities are not protected by law,” adds Wolf, “so we were very lucky to be working with a landowner who understood the value of this unique spot.”