This news was also reported on page B1 of the February 24th edition of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Grant to Conserve 3,300 Acres of Forest Receives High Mark from President
Land conservation in Worcester County received an enormous boost this February when the United States Forest Service’s Forest Legacy program announced that the Quabbin to Wachusett Forest Legacy Project (Q2W) was ranked as the number two forest conservation project in the United States, and may receive a grant of up to $5,045,000 to protect 3,275 acres in the towns of Barre, Hubbardston, Petersham, Phillipston, Princeton, and Westminster.
The $5,045,000 allocation would be the largest potential grant of any of the 20 projects on the final list. Partners in the project now await the final federal budget for FY 13, which will determine whether projects are funded or not. Project partners include 23 landowners; town boards from Barre, Fitchburg, Hubbardston, Petersham, Phillipston, Princeton, and Westminster; and organizations including 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.
“This is an encouraging first step,” said the Partnership’s Jay Rasku, who coordinated the grant application. “We’re fortunate to have strong supporters of conservation and the forest-based economy in Senators Kerry and Brown and Representatives Olver and McGovern, and we know they will keep working to ensure that Forest Legacy projects are funded in the upcoming Congressional budget.”
After many months of preparation, Q2W was ranked the # 1 Forest Legacy project for the state of Massachusetts. The proposal was then sent to Washington DC, along with 68 other potential projects from around the United States. The list was narrowed to 20 projects which are now in line to receive up to $60 million in funding, depending on the final FY 13 federal budget. The money will fund acquisition of land and conservation restrictions to insure that participating properties are protected in perpetuity for recreation, nature study, water supply protection, and sustainable forestry. “I would like to congratulate all the project partners on the inclusion of their Q2W project in the President’s budget, an important first step in securing the funding necessary to protect this critical habitat. This is a highly competitive process and Mount Grace deserves a lot of praise for pulling together the second highest ranking application in the nation,” said Congressman John Olver.
Each year, the United States Forest Service conducts a nationwide search for worthwhile forest conservation projects. Forest Legacy money can be used to purchase either land or conservation restrictions (CRs) on privately owned land. Under the terms of a CR, the landowner continues to own and use the land which is permanently protected from development. "For DCR the best way we can protect the metro Boston water supply system is to acquire undeveloped land in fee or with conservation restrictions," explained Commissioner Edward M. Lambert Jr. "This project will also protect valuable wildlife habitat and allow public recreation and sustainable forestry. We are cautiously optimistic about the final prospects of this team effort."
“This Q2W project exemplifies the inextricable link between land protection and water protection,” added Al Futterman, Land Programs Director at the Nashua River Watershed Association. Q2W will protect the Worcester County forests that play the primary role in the nationally-recognized Quabbin-Wachusett Reservoir system that ensures clean drinking water for 2.5 million people in Massachusetts. This system makes Boston one of just four major US cities approved by the EPA for unfiltered water supply systems where forests do the work of cleaning the water. Q2W properties are in watersheds ranking 1st, 10th, and 19th out of 540 in the United States as those most important for drinking water and most threatened from development.
Sited within a 90 minute drive of urban areas with over 7 million people, these exceptional woodlands are under pressure from residential development. ”While we understand that some residential development is necessary, we want to insure that the most strategically important properties are protected and that this unique landscape is not fragmented by sprawling developments,” said North County Land Trust Executive Director Janet Morrison.
Q2W builds on previous Forest Legacy successes in the region, including the Hutchinson conservation easement – the first Forest Legacy project in Massachusetts (490 acres), Morgan Memorial Goodwill (330 acres), Two Mile Land Bridge (467 acres), Prospect Hill (167 acres), Quabbin Corridor Connections (1,681 acres), and Southern Monadnock Plateau Phases I and II (3,160 acres).
All the properties involved will provide public access for non−motorized recreational uses including hiking, bird watching, and nature study; most will be open for hunting. All but one of the properties border protected land. Conserving them will help expand and create wildlife corridors, recreational trailways, and working forest zones. “We are excited to collaborate on a project that extends beyond our region,” said East Quabbin Land Trust President Martha Klassanos. “It’s so important to have this amount of cooperation between state and local governments, non-profit conservation organizations, and private citizens because we really don’t have a large window of time to conserve these special places.”
“Massachusetts has gone from receiving one of the smallest Forest Legacy grants to potentially being awarded the largest in the nation for next year,” added Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood. “We’ve achieved this by aggregating many relatively small parcels together into a landscape-scale project. Now, all of the Commonwealth’s citizens and visitors will benefit from this important project thanks to the landowners who understand the importance of their woods for providing clean water, economic benefits, and a peaceful place to encounter nature.”