Governor Deval Patrick and Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan today joined local, state and federal officials, along with conservationists, to formally dedicate the Paul C. Jones Working Forest and celebrate the protection of 3,486 acres of land in Leverett and Shutesbury.
"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 conserved forest is named in honor of Cowls' recently deceased 8th generation family leader, Paul C. Jones, who spearheaded the company's forestry and lumber manufacturing operations for four decades and promoted public sportsman access on thousands of acres of timberland throughout his lifetime.
In December 2011, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and its Division of Fisheries and Wildlife acquired a conservation restriction on the property for $8.8 million. It is 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.
The 5.4 square mile area encompasses nearly all of Brushy Mountain and includes additional adjacent parcels. The acquisition protects a very large, unfragmented forest ecosystem -- an important climate change adaptation strategy. Over the past five years, the Patrick-Murray Administration has conserved more than 97,000 acres of land in Massachusetts.
"I'm proud that Massachusetts continues to be a leader in conservation," said U.S. Senator Scott Brown. "This project ensures that future generations can enjoy one of our most precious natural resources. I will continue to be a strong supporter of federal conservation programs to protect open spaces."
"Brushy Mountain is a national treasure and I'm proud to have helped secure Forest Legacy funding for its permanent conservation," said Congressman John Olver. "Thank you to all of the partners who worked so hard to preserve this remarkable unfragmented forest ecosystem."
The conservation restriction was supported by a $5 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program, the largest such grant ever in Massachusetts. Approximately $3 million of the total is state funding, comprising DFG's investment of more than $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.
"We are extremely grateful for the help of the Kestrel Land Trust and the Franklin Land Trust and the financial support from the U.S. Forest Service and the Open Space Institute," said Secretary Sullivan. "This restriction protects a vital working landscape that supports a sustainable, local forest industry that contributes $600 million annually to the rural economy in Massachusetts."
"Thanks to a great partnership with conservationists and state and local agencies, we are setting aside 3,500 acres for animal habitat, recreation and resources for years to come," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "In preserving this land for future generations, we are paying the ultimate tribute to the Jones/Cowls family legacy."
"This is great news" said Senator Marc Pacheco. "Every acre of land we protect today is another acre of important habitat, wetlands, or forest that we preserve for future generations. This partnership will ensure that we continue to protect our natural resources in a way that allows for many recreational opportunities for Massachusetts residents. I applaud the Patrick-Murray Administration for their continued commitment to land conservation."
"This is a great project and shows what can be accomplished when all levels of government and all manner of interested citizens work together in a spirit of partnership," said Senator Stan Rosenberg. "This is part of our heritage that's being preserved. This is a great day for Massachusetts in general and Leverett in particular."
"This protection is a shining example of the environmental policy of the Commonwealth," said Representative Anne Gobi. "All of the good stewards involved deserve praise especially the Jones-Cowl Family. This should also serve to educate others that responsible, sustainable forestry is necessary."
The Kestrel Land Trust of Amherst and the Franklin Land Trust of Shelburne Falls led negotiations with the landowner and secured federal and foundation grants totaling more than $5.8 million of the purchase price.
"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 the 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."
"Through this conservation restriction we have conserved one of the most significant privately owned tracts of contiguous woodland in Massachusetts," said Richard Hubbard, Executive Director of the Franklin Land Trust. "We have also achieved several natural resource conservation goals at once by creating connections with other conserved land, protecting drinking water quality, conserving wildlife habitat, and promoting sustainable local wood production. And, of course, we can't overemphasize the scenic importance of this magnificent local landmark."
The Open Space Institute (OSI) provided $839,600 through two grants from the 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 the 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 executive vice president. "This project also brings tremendous benefits to the local community through sustainable forest management and recreational access."
The Open Space Institute works to protect scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats, and sustain community character.
Brushy Mountain and the adjoining Rattlesnake Gutter were recently named by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism as one of the state's "Best 1,000 Places" to visit. The conservation restriction ensures that the property will not be developed 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.
"Many wildlife species, including wide-ranging mammals such as black bear, moose, and bobcat, as well as forest birds like the scarlet tanager, Blackburnian warbler, and Canada warbler, require large, intact forest to thrive," said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin. "We are grateful to W.D. Cowls for the opportunity to protect this incredible habitat for wildlife and providing public recreational access to an area with outstanding natural resources."
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 (CAPS) analysis by University of Massachusetts ranked 2,400 acres of Brushy Mountain at the highest level of ecological integrity. The area also 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 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. Combined, these areas provide a critical core and corridor for wildlife living and moving through these protected areas and larger forested regions.
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.
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 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.
"In addition to a significant conservation project, this acquisition is also a tribute to the Cowls' family dedication to creating a lasting conservation legacy," said George Darey, Chairman of the state Fisheries and Wildlife Board.
"This is an example what can be achieved when state and federal agencies, local and national conservation organizations, and sportsmen come together to work on a common conservation goal," said Wayne MacCallum, Director of MassWildlife.
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 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."
This year marks the 270th year W.D. Cowls has been sustainably managing forests in western Massachusetts.
"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, 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."