Carlisle Land Stewards: managers of the town’s conservation land
by Helen Lyons
|Land Stewardship Committee members help the Conservation Commission and Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard with management of the town’s conservation properties. Shown (left to right) are: Tom Brownrigg, Debbie Geltner, Andrew Wilmot (center, front), Warren Lyman and Willard. Not present are: Dwight DeMay and Rhonda Michaud.
(Photo by Rik Pierce)
Carlisle is blessed with 33 parcels of conservation land covering more than 1000 acres. Who takes care of this land? Who monitors its use and determines what work is needed and when it should be done? In 2005, the Conservation Commission (ConsCom), which is legally responsible for town-owned conservation land, established a subcommittee, the Land Stewardship Committee (LSC), to assist in managing this land. According to the town website, the purpose of the LSC is “to protect and maintain the natural and cultural resources being preserved on these parcels, including wildlife habitat, water and forest resources, scenic vistas, as well as historic structures and their related cultural values.”
LSC member Warren Lyman explained that, as a subcommittee, the LSC works for the ConsCom. “Ever since the Wetlands Protection Act (WPA) was enacted, about 70% of ConsCom’s time is taken by WPA hearings. They don’t have time to take care of the land. The LSC was formed to help ConsCom take care of the land.”
In 2006, 12 members were appointed to the newly formed LSC. Over the years membership has decreased and as of 2019 there are six members: Tom Brownrigg, Dwight DeMay, Debbie Geltner, Warren Lyman, Andrew Wilmot, and Rhonda Michaud, who recently joined the group. As of June 30, 2019, Lyman and Wilmot are co-chairs.
Lyman stated that each LSC member has an interest in conservation and that most have education or work experience in the field. Lyman said that Brownrigg and Wilmot are avid birders and both have a great love for nature. Brownrigg, an industrial chemist who served on the ConsCom for many years, has been interested in methods to control invasives such as buckthorn and poison ivy. Geltner, one of the original members of the LSC, has become an expert in identification and control of invasive plants and has recently earned a masters degree related to environmental management. DeMay, who has been on the LSC for many years, is a commercial landscape architect. Lyman, also an original member of the LSC, is retired from a career in environmental engineering and consulting.
ConsCom does not assign a committee member to act as a liaison to the LSC. Lyman gives credit to Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard who he describes as a key link between ConsCom and the land stewards. “Sylvia is an absolutely essential component of our work. She comes to every meeting, she identifies problems and keeps us informed.”
Management by walking the land
Lyman said the LSC manages the conservation properties by continually “walking the land.” As the land stewards walk each parcel, they review the general state of the property, checking for parking lot issues, invasive species, property encroachment, trees or branches across trails or other damage to the property. Monitoring the land includes a myriad of details from checking for yard waste at property boundaries to reviewing the condition of ancient stone walls. Recently the land stewards finished a “spring cleaning” of the 42 bluebird boxes on the town-owned conservation parcels.
When asked what the LSC is currently working on, Lyman said that the stewards are evaluating the need for additional or replacement signs on conservation parcels. He said that each LSC member is responsible for several properties and is in the process of walking the land to check for adequacy and condition of signs and kiosks. Lyman noted that the LSC does not have a line item in the town budget. When the committee needs funds, as it may in this case for additional signs, the land stewards request funds from the ConsCom or submit a grant request to the Community Preservation Committee.
Baseline Assessments and Management Plans
Lyman stated that one of the goals of the LSC is to prepare a Baseline Assessment and a Management Plan for each major property. According to the town website, a Baseline Assessment is a collection of information about each parcel. It includes information about the parcel’s history and its uses—it documents the parcel’s significant natural and cultural features, and it includes an assessment of the current condition of the property. The Management Plan, which is developed with input from other town committees and the public, outlines the plan for regular maintenance of the property and may include proposed improvements.
Baseline Assessments and Management Plans for several large parcels have been completed and are available at Gleason Library and on the town website. Lyman noted, however, that several large properties do not have a Baseline Assessment and Management Plan and he sees this as a major goal for the LSC going forward. Lyman is currently working on a baseline report for the Woodward Property.
New members welcome
When asked how he thinks the committee is doing at managing the properties, Lyman responds “The glass is half full.” He notes that as the town acquires additional land, there is more land to manage. “We struggle to find enough people with enough time to do what we want to get done.” He said, however, that three of the members do not have day jobs and are more available, and he credits other groups in town, such as the Trails Committee, for helping in maintenance and repair work. Despite the workload, Lyman enjoys his work as a land steward. “I see volunteering for LSC as part of being a citizen of the town. If you don’t watch out for the conservation land – you lose it.”
Lyman says the LSC is always looking for new members. “Our door is open to interested people at all times.” ∆