Land, Land, Everywhere! (by Larry Tucker)
Published on Monday, January 18, 2010 in Guest Columns, Legislative Affairs, News & Updates
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While working on the trail system for my club this past fall, I slowly came to recognize that there is a definite shift towards an increasing amount of time being spent with both state and local public agencies while the time spent working with private landowners has remained relatively stable. In fact, on the average, eight out of ten of our trail projects this past year involved working with public agencies or towns, whereas, years ago it would have been more like four out of ten. To find out why this is happening we not only need to look at how much land each agency owns but the fact that most, if not all public agencies, are becoming more aggressive with their land acquisitions programs. In 2009, state agencies acquired and protected over 22,300 acres of land. This is, for example, an amount of land equal to the size of the town of Worthington and is equivalent to an acquisition rate of approximately 61 acres per day! All of this comes from an aggressive 62% increase in land protection funding advocated by Governor Patrick and included in the Energy and Environmental Bond bill he signed into law in August 2008.

I’ve found that the best way to get a good perspective of land in Massachusetts is to begin with the fact that there are 5 million acres in Massachusetts and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) owns over 450,000 acres or almost 10% of the total in the state. During FY2009, the DCR, which is responsible for beaches, parks, forests and watersheds, spent over $8 million to purchase an additional 7,123 acres of land for their inventory. The DCR’s Division of Water Supply Protection added 450 acres to the Quabbin Watershed, 166 acres to the Wachusett Watershed, and, 393 acres to the Quabbin Forest Legacy Project.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) conserved 3,553 acres during 2009 under the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program. This has resulted in the number of farms in Massachusetts increasing by more than 27 percent from 2002 to 2007 due to these APR programs.

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG), which includes the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW), procured an additional 10,280 acres to its existing inventory of over 170,000 acres in FY2009. Some of this funding was provided by hunters, fisherman and other sportsmen through the $5 “land stamp fee” they pay upon purchase of their licenses. This is the same program that the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts (SAM) is attempting to create for snowmobilers with Bill HB741, which would establish a fund for snowmobilers to purchase lands outright.

The Federal Government has also just recently enacted a provision which will essentially change the old “Metacomet and Monadnock” Trail (M&M Trail) to a National Scenic Trail Designation. This may also involve some additional time for us as it does coincide with some SAM trails.

On a local level, we, as snowmobilers, may have to become more involved with local land trusts, conservation commissions and watershed departments, as all of these entities are increasing their land inventories and quite often in conjunction with state agencies. For example, the town of Amherst is a town comprising 17,762 acres. Conservation land within the town is 1,757 acres or about 10% of the town total. But the town of Amherst additionally owns 15 parcels of watershed land in the towns of Pelham, Shutesbury and Belchertown totaling 2,262 acres and this amount is also increasing each year. All of this underscores the need and demands for an ever-increasing amount of communication, involvement and partnership building with the many state and local land management agencies into the future. SAM clubs can all help this process by increased information sharing, establishing training and seminars on working with conservation commissions, and creating uniform memorandums of agreements (MOA’s) with the agencies.

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