The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 21, 2005


New regs for Great Meadows Hunters win, dogs lose

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted three 15-year Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) for the Great Meadows, Assabet River, and Oxbow National Wildlife Refuges. These plans, which were first made available to the public in draft form starting in July 2003, cover all aspects of refuge management. The Service reports receipt of nearly 2,000 responses to their requests for public comments which were "carefully considered" in refining the final documents.

Since a portion of the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge lies along the Concord River, between Carlisle's Foss Farm and Greenough conservation lands and contains critical trail linkages, the policies destined to have the greatest impact here are those that open refuges to hunting and that prohibit dog walking. Other programs call for "improved habitat management," charging an entrance fee at certain refuge locations and opening portions of the Assabet River Refuge to the public. In a Service press release, Libby Herland, Project Leader for the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, explained, " The CCPs are important to ensure healthy wildlife populations, as well as providing recreation opportunities that are consistent with our legal [Congressional] mandates. We recognize that some of these decisions were difficult to make and will be controversial." At the same time, both Herland and Refuge Planner Bill Perry stress that implementation of the programs "will be phased in," and additional information provided in advance of any actual changes.

In the case of the dog-walking ban, Perry told the Mosquito that dogs constitute a serious threat to both birds and turtles by disturbing their habitat, digging up ground-based eggs, and generally "spooking" other vulnerable species. Canine behavior often brings complaints between dog-walkers and non-dog walkers and between dog walkers themselves. These annoyances aside, he emphasized that the refuges are chartered to facilitate "wildlife-dependent activities" such as environmental education and interpretation, wildlife study and photography, and wherever possible, fishing and hunting.

Admitting that opening refuges to hunting has aroused strong opposition, Perry counters that large numbers of individuals, sportsmen's groups, and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife support the decision. He anticipates this "recreational activity" will be limited to specific waterfowl along the Concord River and to bow and arrow hunting of deer on land. Permitted waterfowl targets will be determined on an annual basis and will be "well publicized" in yearly Wildlife Extracts. Hunting will not begin in any refuge until October 2005 and will be "closely monitored."

The Service's news release was especially enthusiastic about the authorization to provide access to the Assabet River NWR, which comprises wetland territory in Maynard, Stow and Sudbury, but includes no adjacent uplands. Perry says that opening the land known as the Old Sudbury Annex of Fort Devens will make future entry possible. The release also offers kudos to the volunteer Friends of Assabet NWR, who have worked hard with the refuge staff to improve trails, remove obstacles and generally make the reserve safe for the public. The organization's president, Barbara Volkle, has described the CCP as "an important milestoneand one that we have eagerly awaitedWe look forward to continuing to work with the refuge staff to provide programs for the public, to give local support and stewardship, and to promote a biologically diverse and healthy landscape."

Asked about the intention to charge an entrance fee at certain refuge locations, Perry would reveal only that "fees per group of any size" from a lone individual to a family or organization are contemplated, but that the staff needs to run a demonstration program for at least a year before determining locations or rates. In other words, the CCPs set 15-year goals, and give the staffs the authority to implement them, but the process will take considerable time.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito