Carlisle’s Conservation Commission protects town’s natural resources

by Ginny Lamere and Betsy Fell

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ConsCom Chair Peter Burn (wearing tie) sits surrounded by (left to right) members Tom Brownrigg, Vice-Chair Kelly Guarino, Luke Ascolillo, Thomas Brown, Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard and Jenifer Bush. Not shown is Debra Kimbrell-Anderson.   (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Do you ever walk or ski on the town’s conservation lands? Is your property near a stream or swamp? If the answer to either question is yes, then the decisions of the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) may directly affect you. The ConsCom is a seven-member town board appointed by the Selectmen to protect Carlisle’s natural resources. The group is responsible for acquiring and managing conservation land in town. They also administer the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and the Carlisle Wetland Protection Bylaw. In addition, the commission promotes conservation education, hosting monthly Conservation Coffees where residents can share ideas and hear guest speakers (see article, page 1). Vice-chair Kelly Guarino spoke with the Mosquito recently to explain the multiple roles of the commission.

Conservation land management

The ConsCom works with the assistance of the Trails Committee and Land Stewardship Committee to manage conservation properties. The Land Stewards monitor parcels and make recommendations, while the commission sets policy and issues permits. In 2010, the commission issued 24 Conservation Land Use Permits for activities such as Pony Club lessons, Cub Scout rocket launching, dog training, sled dog training, bird watching, an edible plants workshop, mushroom walks and activities connected with scientific research. ConsCom licenses fields to farmers such as the Cranberry Bog, Foss Farm and Fox Hill. It also revised rules for the Community Garden at Foss Farm.

The commission gets involved with a variety of activities. It has taken action to eliminate invasive species that threaten conservation land. Last year, it monitored a stream on the Benfield Property and provided documentation on whether that stream was intermittent or perennial. It also participated in a state-wide study which monitored certain roads for turtle mortality.

Open Space protection

The ConsCom works with two subcommittees to protect undeveloped land. The Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee helps the commission monitor conservation easements on private properties. Every five years or so the ConsCom also appoints a subcommittee to update the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan. The document summarizes the protection priority of undeveloped parcels according to their value for conservation and recreation. In addition, the private Carlisle Conservation Foundation has worked with the commission to help the town acquire land or conservation restrictions.

Wetland protection

ConsCom reviews house plans, septic system designs and plans for common driveways that may encroach upon wetlands. Generally, homeowners submit an application and come before the Conservation Commission if their proposed projects will alter land within 100 feet of the Buffer Zone of a Bordering Vegetated Wetland or within 200 feet of a perennial stream. Following the process in these instances can be complex. Guarino said, “It is one of our biggest challenges.” The commission helps to make that process easier. “We try to be as reasonable as possible.”

When land is developed, the Conservation Commission also works with other boards, such as the Planning Board, the Board of Health, the Building Department and the Trails Committee, particularly when new subdivisions are being designed. The Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee or Carlisle Conservation Foundation may also be involved, depending on the project.

State and national communication

The ConsCom is in communication with agencies and organizations such as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Trustees of Reservations, the New England Forestry Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard takes care of much of the communication and paperwork with all the above committees. Willard also sends out notices to the public, files reports with the state and coordinates efforts between the committees and the state. Guarino said, “Sylvia is thorough and does a great job.” ConsCom makes decisions, but Willard is instrumental in getting the data and all the paperwork in order.

Annual award

ConsCom also chooses the recipient of the “Conservationist of the Year,” an honor which is awarded at Old Home Day. “It is often clear who should get the award,” said Guarino, but sometimes it comes down to three or four people who are all very good candidates.

Serving on the commission

Besides Guarino, members include Chair Peter Burn, Luke Ascolillo, Tom Brownrigg, Jenifer Bush and Debra Kimbrell-Anderson. Commissioners have a wide variety of expertise, but all share an interest in preserving the environment and water resources. Members have backgrounds in law, biology, birding and public health.

Prospective members do not need specific knowledge, but they need to be willing to learn about the Wetlands Protection Act and how the commission applies it. Guarino explained that the ConsCom is a member of the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, which runs training programs to educate members on wetlands protection and other aspects of conservation commissions.

Members of the ConsCom serve three-year terms. Guarino recommends interested residents consider joining the ConsCom when vacancies arise. “We enjoy each other’s company . . . We laugh. Our meetings are enjoyable.” She volunteers to get more involved in town and contribute to how the town operates. “It’s nice to be a part of it.”

ConsCom generally meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall. ∆