Friday, May 6, 2005
Difficult labors: ConsCom plans birth of . . .
Conservation Commission members were warm in their appraisal of a progress report from the Land Stewardship Planning Committee (LSPC). That ad hoc group had been asked in late 2004 to come up with a road map to formation and operation of a permanent Land Stewardship Committee (LSC) that would undertake maintenance and management of the town's conservation lands, under the direction of the commission.
Introducing the initial LSPC report, Chair Warren Lyman emphasized that the future stewardship committee's "overarching aim" should be a more proactive management of the town's conservation parcels than the Conservation Commission, with its demanding administrative, regulatory and enforcement responsibilities under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act, could accomplish alone. After surveying land management bodies in surrounding towns, the LSPC found that a majority reported to their conservation commissions, that it was important for the group to work closely with the trails committee, where one existed, and that the levels of effectiveness were decidedly uneven.
The committee's report led off with a statement of principles that should guide the future LSC. The first was coordination of land management and maintenance activities to accomplish a list of "core tasks," specifically, protection of fauna and flora, identification and protection of rare and endangered wildlife habitats, preservation and promotion of "appropriate" agricultural and recreational uses, preservation of rural vistas, and protection of both surface and underground water resources. Secondly, they should work to foster good communications between the committee and other municipal bodies and with all organizations both public and private having related interests.
List of actions
ConsCom members were unanimously supportive of these objectives and core tasks and of a second list of actions deemed essential to realization of the objectives:
1. Conduct baseline assessments of the town's conservation properties, documenting ownership histories, boundaries, conditions imposed at the time of acquisition, and current problems requiring attention.
2. Establish and maintain active files on each parcel in the Town Hall.
3. Develop and update both overall and specific management plans for each property.
4. Monitor each property and report regularly for compliance with its management plan.
5. Develop a Land Stewardship Action Plan (LSAP) based on monitoring results for each property.
6. Establish a permanent funding mechanism for implementation of the LSAP, to develop both annual and capital budgets, and secure town approvals for same.
7. Implement LSAP.
8. Pursue special projects (e.g. outreach/educational activities, forest management programs).
How much autonomy?
A ninth item, "Report annually to the Conservation Commission," led to a discussion replete with political eggshells. Commissioner Tricia Smith, after praising the guiding principles and core tasks, added, "However, it should be made clear that all this takes place under the direction of ConsComso there is real team building between the groups." This brought a frank admission from committee member and former Conservation Commissioner Steve Hinton that, "I am struggling with the question of the role this board sees for the Stewardship Committee." Hinton indicated his belief that the LSC should have sufficient independence to make the position attractive to knowledgeable appointees. "We see the committee coming up with active plans for the parcels, then following through and getting a budget approved," he declared.
Lyman reassumed the floor, saying, "My thought is that plans for particular parcels would be brought up to the ConsCom as they are developed. Then, at budget time, there would be an increased need for coordination." He added that he considered the real challenge to be getting truly dedicated people on the committee. "The answer is to give enough autonomy and responsibility to invigorate your volunteers," he concluded.
Commissioner Diane Troppoli reassured Lyman with the declaration that, "we certainly want to avoid micro-management," a sentiment that was immediately backed by Commissioner Tom Brownrigg, who added that he felt the committee was "on the right track." Commissioner Tom Schultz agreed, saying that having people out in the field gathering data that was "quantitative, not just anecdotal," and would be very helpful in gaining public attention and subsequent budgetary support.
Further discussion suggested that a possible solution might call for a small parent group of three or five people who could direct volunteers having an interest in a particular parcel or issue. These monitors would report to the LSC, which would use their input to present the "big picture" to ConsCom.
Specific goals and timetables
Following an assurance from Hinton that LSPC would tackle the matter of these critical relationships at their next meeting, the talk turned to tasks still facing the planning group itself. These included a detailed implementation plan for the LSC's first six "core tasks," to be completed by the end of June, development of a sample management plan for one parcel (Fox Hill) by September, and finally establishment of the mechanism for selecting and operating the LSC, including its structure, desired representation, skill requirements, and motivation. That final item elicited a comment from ConsCom Chair Roy Watson that he considered the question of how to "excite" these people, whether members of a smaller core committee, or as "worker bees" reporting on a given parcel or issue to be a major concern. His answer was to set high standards, "like the Fire Department does," setting expectations that must be met. Lyman's answer was "gentle sticks, small carrots."
In addition to Lyman, Hinton, and Watson, the other LSPC members are Paul Kress, Lynn Knight, Greg Peterson, Trails Committee representative Marc Lamere and Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard.
© 2005 The