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Protecting More Than 2,000 Acres in Connecticut River Valley

Boston — The Baker-Polito Administration today announced that the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and its Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) have acquired a $3.25 million conservation restriction on 2,038 acres of timberland in Shutesbury, Pelham, and Leverett. The property was owned by W.D. Cowls, Inc. of North Amherst, and will continue to be maintained as a sustainable working forest, conserve critical wildlife habitat, protect water resources, and ensure continued public access to the property for hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife observation, and other outdoor recreation.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to investing in the protection of open space and sustainable forestry, which are critically important to the character and economic vitality of Massachusetts’ rural communities,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This public-private partnership will permanently conserve a large parcel of valuable forest land and wildlife habitat, provide greater access to open space and support our efforts to address climate change.”

“Conserving more than 2,000 acres of forest land under continued private ownership is great news for these communities, wildlife, and people who enjoy the outdoors,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “We appreciate the partnership with W.D. Cowls, the Kestrel Land Trust, and significant funding from the federal Forest Legacy Program that made this project possible.”

The property will be named the Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest. Parts of the property are adjacent to the Quabbin Reservation and Town of Amherst watershed land, and it is located near other large state wildlife lands including Mount Toby, Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area and the 3,486-acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest, which was protected by a similar conservation restriction acquired by DFG in 2011. Together with these and other important forest lands, the large area of conservation habitats maximize the protection of native biodiversity and allow natural communities to adapt to climate change due to topographical diversity, geological diversity, and relative habitat connectivity.

“This property is part of approximately 32,000 acres identified as the tenth largest landscape block in Massachusetts, the type of forest that will be most likely to sequester and store carbon and help mitigate climate change,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “Connecting large blocks of wildlife habitat also provides plants and animals improved ability to adapt to changing weather conditions, making this acquisition a tremendous asset for the Commonwealth, surrounding communities, and future generations.”

The Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest comprises a rich variety of native hardwood trees including red oak, white oak, and black birch, and softwood conifers such as white pine and eastern hemlock. More than 95 percent of the property is identified as Core Habitat or Critical Natural Landscape by MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, habitats essential for ensuring the long-term survival of rare and common wildlife. Two reptiles listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act will gain from conservation of this property, as will forest birds like the scarlet tanager, blackburnian warbler, and Canada warbler. The acquisition also benefits mammals with large home ranges such as black bear, moose, and bobcat as well as other common wildlife like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, porcupine, snowshoe hare, and ruffed grouse. The area also includes headwater tributaries that are valuable to coldwater aquatic wildlife.

“Protecting more than 2,000 acres in just one acquisition is an extremely rare opportunity and incredible achievement in a small state like Massachusetts,” said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon. “We thank W.D. Cowls for their willingness to partner with us again, and also thank the Kestrel Land Trust, which secured more than $2 million from the U.S. Forest Legacy grant and raised another $250,000 for this acquisition.”

“This property checks off almost all the attributes we look for when making land protection decisions,” said Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Director Mark Tisa. “It’s an area of high ecological integrity, contains critical habitat for rare wildlife and game species, and includes headwater streams to designated coldwater fish resources, the Mill River and Cushman Brook. Combined with the property’s size and connectivity to other large, conserved lands make this acquisition a slam-dunk.”

“Clean air and water, access to recreation, and the ability to harvest local forest products are critical and finite,” said Cinda Jones, President of W.D. Cowls, Inc. “My brother Evan and I are making it our legacy to permanently conserve natural, cultural, and recreational values that natural resources hold in our community.”

“Kestrel Land Trust is grateful for the opportunity to partner with W.D. Cowls — the largest landowner in the State, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Forest Legacy Program to protect this woodland. This is the kind of public-private partnership, fueled by major public funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, that is critical to achieving forest conservation on a landscape-scale in the Commonwealth,” said Kristin DeBoer, Executive Director of Kestrel Land Trust. “This CR on the Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest, along with the last partnership with Cowls and DFG to conserve the 3,486-acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest, are outstanding contributions to maintaining the rural forested hillsides west of the Quabbin Reservoir.”

The $3.25 million acquisition of the conservation restriction by DFG and MassWildlife was funded with $2,037,750 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Forest Legacy Program; $760,000 from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Landscape Partnership Grant Program; $250,000 from the Kestrel Land Trust; and $202,250 from DFG/MassWildlife. In Fiscal Year 2020, DFG conserved a total of 2,200 acres through 36 land acquisition projects.

“The West Quabbin Woodlands Forest Legacy Project is a significant achievement for the Massachusetts Forest Legacy Program, complimenting the nearby Brushy Mountain Forest Legacy Project,” said Massachusetts Forest Legacy Program Coordinator Lindsay Nystrom. “The protection of these working woodlands achieves multiple program goals by maintaining large forest blocks that provide habitat and biodiversity, as well as economic benefits to the region through sustainably managed forestry practices.​”

“I want to express my gratitude and appreciation to all parties, and especially to Cinda and Evan Jones, to the Kestrel Land Trust and to the MA Department of Fish and Game, for their tireless work and collaboration to make this vision of conservation a reality,” said State Representative Mindy Domb (D-Amherst). “This project, the Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest, reflects our shared commitment to the ideals of – and investment in – conservation, to the protection of these forests forever, to the health of our water supply, and to the benefits of public access and enjoyment of their beauty.”