Friday, October 12, 2001
Traffic on Westford Street was jammed all week as drivers stopped and smiled at the 340 sheep munching the weeds and grasses on Towle Field. The munchers, who had chomped their way into the hearts of patrons of Towle Field and the Spencer Brook Reservation last month, re-turned for a second visit on Columbus Day. The flock is owned by Dick Henry of Bellwether Solutions, a vegetation management company that rents the sheep to control noxious plants and weeds, such as the poison ivy and buckthorn growing on Carlisle's conservation lands.
Their arrival was a week or so ahead of the schedule anticipated by Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) president Art Milliken, who told the commission on September 27 that the "second munch" was imminent. His aim was to solicit reactions to the first pass from both the board and its diligent, if more prosaic, machine mower Jack Conway.
Conway observed that the grass was certainly lush where the sheep had grazed, but reported that the poison ivy and buckthorn, which were the major targets of the hungry horde, had already begun to re-sprout. Milliken reminded his listeners that the experimental project requires four passes, two this year and two the next, before a meaningful evaluation is possible. Conway added that although the buckthorn stalks remained, he was encouraged to see that considerable bark had been gnawed off the during the initial cleanup.
In addition to recommending that one of the grazing areas, which was not stripped very thoroughly in the first pass, be a major focus of the second, the commission suggested adding a bobolink nesting sector on Towle Field to the flocks' agenda. Finally, they requested that the agile, four-legged mowers concentrate on brush around the stone walls where machines can't operate.
About 140 sheep sheep left Carlisle on Wednesday for their next mowing assignment on Martha's Vineyard. The remaining 190 field technicians will continue working Towle Field through the coming weekend.
To a query about public reaction, conservation administrator Sylvia Willard commented, "This is the epitome of the warm, fuzzy project." Not only had there been rave reviews from Carlisle residents, but the office received telephone calls from passers-by and officials in neighboring towns, including Lincoln, Lexington, Groton and Littleton, who were intrigued by the whole concept.
The popular experiment to determine the effectiveness of the flock of 200 or so animals in controlling undesirable invasive plants is being carried out here, in Concord, and in Minuteman National Park this year and next. The cost of Carlisle's participation has been picked up by CCF.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito