Boston’s water supply has been among the cleanest in the nation, largely due to the thousands of acres of protected land that safeguard the watersheds of the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs. Now, local landowners have an opportunity to protect an additional 4,139 acres in Worcester County thanks to seven million dollars in grants from the United States Forest Service Forest Legacy Program. The awards will fund a collaboration called the Quabbin Reservoir to Wachusett Mountain Forest Legacy Project, or “Q2W.”
Photo by John Burk, available from johnburk.zenfolio.com
“The Quabbin Reservoir to Wachusett Mountain Forest Legacy Project is an ambitious and bold endeavor that DCR is proud to be a part of,” says DCR Commissioner Edward M. Lambert, Jr. Twenty-three landowners with land in Barre, Hubbardston, Petersham, Phillipston, Princeton, and Westminster will work together with their towns, the City of Fitchburg, and with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Division of Water Supply Protection, East Quabbin Land Trust, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, the Nashua River Watershed Association, North County Land Trust, and the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership to protect their land.
“North County Land Trust worked closely with our local Town Open Space Committees to identify landowners who were eager to participate in the project,” explains North County Land Trust’s Executive Director Janet Morrison. “With help from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Division of Water Supply Protection, we found nine Hubbardston landowners, as well as two in Westminster and one in Princeton. This exemplifies the kind of cooperative effort that makes Q2W a successful landscape conservation project.”
“I’m very pleased that the United States Forest Service has recognized the incredible work being done,” adds Congressman James McGovern. “Q2W can be a model of collaboration for other areas across the country. Preserving precious undeveloped land while at the same time ensuring our water quality will benefit generations to come.” More than two million people use the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs for drinking water. The properties will also be open to the public for low impact recreation after they are protected, benefitting more than seven million people who live within a 90-minute drive.
That population density has put these exceptional woodlands under considerable development pressure. According to the US Forest Service’s “Forests, Water and People” report on drinking water supplies in the Northeast and Midwest, parts of these watersheds rank 10th out of 540 as most important for drinking water and most threatened from development. “Forest conservation on this scale is the single most important and cost-effective method to protect drinking water,” says Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood, “and it protects water quality for millions around the state while supporting sustainable forestry in our local economy.”
Each year, the United States Forest Service conducts a nationwide search for worthwhile forest conservation projects. Forest Legacy funds can be used to purchase either land or conservation restrictions—which allow landowners to continue to own and use the land which is permanently protected from development. Sixty-nine Forest Legacy projects were submitted to the Forest Service by the states this year. “The Q2W project is the largest grant for any Forest Legacy project in the nation this year. It had stiff competition for funding from dozens of worthy projects from across the US,” states Al Futterman, Nashua River Watershed Association Land Programs Director. “The fact that Q2W was ranked as the second most important forest conservation project nationwide is a clear indicator of its significance and recognition of its ability to protect drinking water resources for millions.”
“The Forest Legacy grant will pay 75% of the project costs,” adds North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership Director Jay Rasku. “Local support, including gifts of land from landowners or in-kind hours and money from the land trusts, will be needed to provide the balance.” The Partnership—which took the lead role in writing the grant proposal—counts all of the project partners among its members. Staffed by Mount Grace and aided by MassLIFT-AmeriCorps volunteers, the Partnership encourages collaboration among conservation groups and offers educational programs for landowners.
All the conservation restrictions will allow public access for hiking, birding, and nature study. Most will be open for hunting as well, and all will allow forestry, as long as it is conducted sustainably. Because conservation restrictions are monitored annually, the public can count on these working forests to enhance wildlife corridors that connect existing protected lands between the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs. “Adding over 3,000 acres of permanently protected woodlands is an enormous benefit to our region’s animal populations and to anyone who drinks the Quabbin’s water,” says East Quabbin Land Trust Director Cynthia Henshaw. “Since the animals and the aquifer don’t take our property boundaries into account, it’s gratifying to be able to work with so many landowners who are willing to collaborate across property and town lines to conserve a landscape-scale habitat together.”