Friday, July 29, 2005
Proposed Land Stewardship Subcommittee to manage town-owned open space
The plan for formation of a permanent Land Stewardship Subcommittee (LSS) to assist the Conservation Commission in management and maintenance of over 1,000 acres of town-owned open space has taken a significant step forward. At the commission's July 14 meeting Warren Lyman, chairman of the ad hoc Land Stewardship Planning Committee (LSPC) that had been asked last winter to develop a blueprint for a permanent oversight group, summarized his committee's recommendations as to membership, structure, modus operandi and the all-important relationship between the (LSS) and the parent commission.
The outline of the plan as it has emerged over the past eight months calls for far more proactive management of the town's conservation properties than ConsCom, with its drumbeat of appraisal, regulation and enforcement responsibilities under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act, can accomplish alone. As proposed in the draft plan, the five- to seven-member LSS would be appointed by ConsCom and comprise representatives from the Commission and from the Trails Committee, one or two experts in ecology or land management, plus a number of interested citizens. In addition, it recommends recruitment of local "stewards" to help in assessment and monitoring of one or more of the 27 properties involved.
In an initial report last April, the LSPC listed essential tasks to be completed by the subcommittee and its volunteers once the program is under way, as follows:
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.
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.
When LSPC's initial report was given, commissioners had approved the objectives and enumerated tasks as stated. However, there had been less clarity, and hence some apparent lack of agreement, about the relationship between ConsCom and its proposed subcommittee. The LSPC's July 14 proposal appears to have filled the gap.
Starting with the selection process, the LSPC recommends that ConsCom actively seek, review and choose members of the LSS. Once in business the subcommittee will tackle the five essential tasks described above, with the help of local "stewards," who will be recruited by them to assist in assessment and data collection activities required to produce an annual Land Stewardshhip Action Plan (LSAP). Stewards will be sought from those having special interest in a given conservation property, such as farmers holding an agricultural license on a parcel, those using the area for family or recreational activities, or neighbors with an obvious stake in its welfare. The subcommittee would later receive commission approval for the LSAP prior to its execution, "while taking direction from the Commission on any high priority issues involved."
The proposal assumes that the Conservation Administrator will assist the subcommittee "at the discretion of the Commission." This last statement led Commissioner Diane Troppoli to ask how much of Administrator Sylvia Willard's time the LSS would be expected to use. Lyman replied that she would serve as the "point person" for each LSAP, but the subcommittee would do most of the logistical work. Funding requests would need to be approved by ConsCom and would include costs for copying and possible outside consulting. Commissioner Tricia Smith commented that such LSS expenses should be anticipated and identified as such when the ConsCom budget is developed.
In closing Lyman told the Commission that the LSPC is in the process of reviewing a draft final report along with a sample draft management plan for the Fox Hill Conservation Land. The total package is scheduled for delivery in the fall as promised. Both Trippoli and Smith said they were pleased with the presentations to date, and Trippoli and Commissioner Roy Watson stressed that they want to see the LSS work with the schools to get children involved actively in the program. Finally, Watson cautioned against having too rigid a structure. He wants to assure that anyone with an interest in the objectives of the project will feel welcome to participate, whether or not they possess professional qualifications. He said that those using the properties should be encouraged to alert the subcommittee to problems encountered, report on wildlife sightings or otherwise keep an eye on things.
In short, all involved remained upbeat about progress to date, but recognize that a lot of hard work lies ahead, if the stewardship concept is to take root.
© 2005 The