Blog post by Jenny Hansell, Berkshire Natural Resources Council President
How do you know if you have a vernal pool, or just a puddle? My backyard, just under an acre in the hilltowns, has been flooded almost nonstop since we moved in last November, though the previous owner assures me that it will dry up by the end of May. Observing the soggy mess, I wondered how I might tell the difference between an ordinary puddle and a real vernal pool? I often encounter areas of standing water on my various walks and hikes, so I set out to learn how to tell the difference so I’d know what to look for, both in my yard and out on the trail.
MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) oversees the certification of vernal pools in Massachusetts, and their website is a wealth of information – it has maps, species lists, and explanations of the ecology of these important habitats. I quickly learned that the key feature of vernal pools is that they are wet for long enough that amphibian species can reproduce and hatch out, but not long enough for fish to establish a population and eat the amphibians. Their ephemerality is exactly what makes them so valuable, especially to species that are threatened or of special concern, like the blue-spotted salamander .
The NHESP website outlines the process for identifying and certifying vernal pools – anyone can do it, though it is strongly recommended that you have permission from the landowner.
To be considered a real vernal pool, the area must meet a few criteria: it must have no obvious entrance and exit point for the water (so it’s just sitting there); and it must have the species that rely on vernal pools, such as certain frogs, salamanders and fairy shrimp – either the creature itself or its eggs can be evidence.
Once your pool is certified, certain protections kick in, under the Wetlands Protection Act. If you are thinking of certifying one on your property, make sure you are willing to abide by any resulting restrictions.
So far, my backyard wetland doesn’t show any signs of life, other than the cowbirds nesting in the brushpile. But it’s early yet, and the nights haven’t warmed up past 40 degrees. I’ll be watching and waiting, just in case a wood frog or blue spotted salamander decides to take up residence in my neighborhood.
Blog post by Jenny Hansell, Berkshire Natural Resources Council President
A couple of weeks ago, as I was helping my kid pack up her Simon’s Rock dorm room, I heard the unmistakable peeent of a woodcock. Each time I came out to the car with another armload of laundry, books, or art supplies, I’d hear it somewhere nearby. It was dusk, the hour that these chubby little shorebirds start calling to their mates. You can only hear them for a few weeks in March and early April as they arrive back in the Northeast from their wintering grounds in the Carolinas and Texas.
I used to take Ella and her sister out on chilly spring evenings when they were little, to hear the woodcocks call and try to spot them as the male would rise into the air in a dizzy little dance, trying to impress the female hiding somewhere nearby. This time, she was too focused on her sadness at leaving campus, and the likelihood that she’d never return to finish out her final year, to care about a little bird.
But I found it comforting that nature was carrying on in spite of the chaos in the human world, and stood for a few minutes by the car, trying to give Ella a few last minutes to say goodbye to her room, while I tried to spot the little creature. Sure enough, it was standing not ten feet from me, illuminated by a lamppost, zzzeeeping, quite unafraid.
Woodcock populations declined dramatically in the 1800s due to hunting, but rebounded in the last century. Grey and brown all over, they are about the size of a robin but very round and chubby, with very long straight bills. They are found in forest edges, wet meadows and old fields throughout our region – as long as that habitat is protected, we will continue to enjoy the springtime display of the woodcocks.
A small parcel on Steadman Pond in Monterey Completes an Important Conservation Project
Nearly twelve years ago, then-governor Deval Patrick stood on the shore of Steadman Pond in Monterey to mark and celebrate the conservation of 800 acres of forest and meadow. On that day in 2008, most of the pond’s shoreline was conserved, but a key parcel was left unprotected, leaving the property vulnerable to the impacts of development.
In February 2020, BNRC purchased the remaining seven acres—a small piece by comparison, but one that means the entire shoreline of the pond, all the way around, will stay pristine forever.
“We couldn’t come up with the money to buy the whole thing back then,” said BNRC Director of Land Conservation Narain Schroeder, “so we left the owners, Barclay and Kerstin Hudson, with a building lot.” The Hudsons, whose family had owned the property for generations, never built a home there, but if they or a future owner had done so, the character of this beautiful wilderness spot would be changed forever. Lawn chemicals could seep into the pond, or a roving housecat could decimate the populations of birds and other wildlife.
“I’ve been worried about that piece ever since we left it,” Schroeder says, “and when I saw that we might be able to qualify for Natural Resources Defense (NRD) funds. I called Barclay and made him an offer.” The NRD fund was set up to help protect properties in the Housatonic River watershed affected by PCBs, and this property is within that footprint. Hudson accepted the offer, the funding was secured, and twelve years after the original celebration, conservation of Steadman Pond is complete. As with the surrounding +/- 800 acres, these seven acres will also be subject to a conservation restriction held by our partners, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.
For his part, Barclay Hudson is glad to see the pond protected forever. In a recent email he noted that, “once again, BNRC has come through with a win-win project, and I am especially appreciative to you for your role in shepherding this project from beginning to end. I imagine our mother, too, is somewhere up there looking down and being very pleased with the way her purchase of Berkshire land back in the 1930s has now taken on a permanent conservation status—a peaceful oasis, as you described it, for all of us.”
Over the years Steadman Pond has been enjoyed by many visitors; it’s a popular place to go for a swim, to fish, to hunt, to float, but there’s never been an improved trail. With the acquisition of this parcel we can begin to dream of a trail that winds around the water’s edge. The backside of the pond hides a scenic jumble of rock under a dense hemlock forest. Imagine the temperature drop as you enter cool shade and then wind through mossy boulders back to where you started—or perhaps, continue west and connect to Bidwell House for a High Road adventure. Steadman Pond is a hidden gem, and with this seven-acre addition, it has been preserved, forever.
Berkshire Natural Resources Council
Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) is a non-profit land trust working to protect and preserve the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the Berkshires for public benefit and enjoyment. Starting in 1967, BNRC has protected over 20,000 acres of conservation land in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. BNRC maintains over 60 miles of public hiking trails throughout its properties. BNRC recently launched The High Road, a vision for connecting trails and conservation lands to communities throughout our region.
BNRC seeks applicants for the position of Conservation Associate. This full-time, primarily office-based (80/20) position offers competitive salary and benefits. The Conservation Associate works within the Conservation Department and supports all conservation-related activities, with a primary focus on projects to advance The High Road, including acquisition of properties and easements, organizing and outreach, and planning.
The Conservation Associate will support the work of the Director of Land Conservation and Public Programs Director, preparing draft conservation restrictions, easements, maps and communication materials. The individual will help BNRC expand existing reserves and strengthen its conservation program as it pursues The High Road, an ambitious vision for connecting the Berkshires.
The ideal candidate will be a self-starting, motivated individual eager to launch a career in land conservation. The ideal candidate will have an understanding of real estate transactions, and the ability to pair interpersonal skills with conservation transactions, estate planning considerations and conservation biology. Background in legal studies, real estate, environmental studies and/or land use planning. Pay range is $40-45,000, depending on experience.
The Associate provides program support for the Land Conservation department:
- Support and manage acquisition projects with landowners, prospective land donors, and partners
- Navigate State and Federal conservation programs in the pursuit of resource-based acquisition projects
- Prepare maps for possible conservation projects
- Create draft conservation restrictions and trail easements
- Prepare final maps and project materials for grant applications
- Support and conduct engagement efforts with municipal, public, and other conservation entities in order to advance The High Road
- Be an ambassador for BNRC with landowners, visitors, and stakeholders
Minimum qualifications include:
- Demonstrated ability to manage multiple, varied projects and efforts at one time
- Basic knowledge of real estate transactions
- Empathetic and observant listener
- Excellent verbal and written communication abilities
- Detail oriented
- Moderate-level GIS proficiency
- Microsoft Office proficiency
- Conversant with natural resources issues
- Sufficient physical fitness to walk land, on and off trail
- Experience communicating with public officials
- Familiarity with the Berkshire landscape preferred
Education and work experience requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree required; study in field of environmental sciences a plus
- Preferred applicant has 3-5 years of relevant professional post-college experience
Interviews to be scheduled after March 2, 2020; the position is opened until filled. Contact Mackenzie Greer with questions. Send cover letter, résumé, and writing sample (1-3 pages, any subject) to:
Berkshire Natural Resources Council
20 Bank Row
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Land Conservation Tools
- Legacy Planning Tool: The intent of this tool is to help those starting the estate planning process better understand their options and find a professional that can help.
- Protecting Your Legacy: A Massachusetts landowner’s guide to conservation-based estate planning.
- Using a Will to Pass On Your Land
- Land Conservation Options: An Intro for Landowners in the Highlands of Western MA
- Frequently Asked Questions About Conservation Restrictions
- Conservation Restriction Fact Sheet
- Using the Conservation Tax Incentive
Open Space Planning
- Fiscal Impacts of Land Use in Massachusetts: Up-to date Cost of Community Services Analyses for 4 Massachusetts Communities
- MassGIS Oliver
- Assessor’s Database
- Massachusetts Land Records
- Article 97 Land Disposition Policy
- Berkshire Wildlife Linkage
Land Management Tools
- Your Land, Your Choices: A Landowner’s Guide to Critical Decisions in Land Management and Protection
- Running the Numbers on Forest Conservation Tools
- Forest Carbon, An essential natural solution for climate change.
- Picking Our Battles A Guide to Planning Successful Invasive Plant Management Projects
- Best Management Practices for Grassland Birds
- Caring for your Woods
- A Starting Point Private Lands Forestry covers the basics of a management plan including the roll of a forester, Chapter 61 tax program and estate planning.
- Working with Nature Private Lands Forestry gives a peek into how a woodlot fits into the natural surroundings as well as potential changes from climate change and invasive species.
- A Valuable Resource Private Lands Forestry provides a basis for putting a plan into action.
The Working Forest Initiative
- Working Forest Initiative: providing services such as free woodland evaluations
- Forest Stewardship Program & Green Certification: Recognizing the public benefits of good stewardship on private forest land, the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship Program (MFSP) supports and encourages private forest landowners’ efforts to manage, enjoy, and care for their land using a long-term approach
- Foresters for the Birds: Provides landowners with information about bird habitat on their land, and recommendations about how to enhance it in conjunction with other forest management goals.
- Community Forest Stewardship Grant: offers grants to assist municipalities in implementing their Forest Stewardship Plan.
Other Programs for Land Owners
- MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Program: Improve habitat(s) for game species, manage habitat(s) for Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and/or promote public recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, and other wildlife associated recreation on conserved lands. See “Eligible Entities” in link.
- Forest Tax Law Program– assistance with the favorable tax treatment to forest landowners through MGL Chapter 61. Download booklet: Chapter 61 Programs Understanding the Massachusetts: Ch. 61 Current Use Tax Programs
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program: provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural and forestry producers to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, and improved or created wildlife habitat.
- Pooled Timber Income Fund (PTIF): For a Pooled Timber Income Fund, landowners donate their land to the New England Forestry Foundation, and the timber on that land to a pooled income fund set up and run by NEFF. Landowners receive shares in the fund proportional to the value of their timber donation.
Land protection specialist in Berkshire County
A land trust is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that actively works to conserve land as a part of its mission.
Local Land Trusts
- Alford Land Trust
- Becket Land Trust
- Egremont Land Trust
- Great Barrington Land Conservancy
- Lee Land Trust
- Lenox Land Trust
- Monterey Preservation Land Trust
- New Marlborough Land Trust
- Richmond Land Trust
- Sheffield Land Trust
- Stockbridge Land Trust
- Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation
Regional Land Trusts
- Berkshire Natural Resources Council (operates throughout Berkshire County)
- Mass Audubon (operates throughout Massachusetts)
- The Trustees (operates throughout Massachusetts)
- New England Forestry Foundation (operates throughout New England)
- The Nature Conservancy (operates worldwide)
Public Conservation Agency
- MA Department of Conservation and Recreation
- MA Department of Fish and Game – Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
A service forester is an employee of the state forestry agency who can speak with you and visit your land to provide free advice on management options and program opportunities.
- Peter Grima (serving Washington, Lenox, Richmond and North)
Phone: (413) 442-8928 x 127
- Tom Ryan (serving Stockbridge, Stockbridge, Lee, Becket South)
Phone: (413) 442-8928 x123
Find Surveyors, Appraisers, Accountants, and Attorneys
by town here: http://massland.org/resources/list-of-service-providers
- MassLand Conference- March 28, 2020 Worcester, MA
- MA Open Space Conference – April 25, 2020 Greenfield, MA
- Keystone- Application Deadline February 28, 2020
- Host a Woods Forum
Grants and Funding
In February BNRC will be hosting a series of Conservation Networks throughout Berkshire County. This effort is in partnership with UMass Cooperative Extension to implement the MA DCR’s Working Forests Initiative Estate Planning Outreach program, which aims to provide opportunities for those involved in conservation planning to meet each other, share information and experiences, provide training and resources, and meet land protection specialists working in communities. We hope participants from conservation commissions, green committees, conservation organizations, open space and recreation plan committees, etc. will be able to join the conversation.
Below you’ll find information on three upcoming meetings. As someone in your community interested in conservation, we hope you’ll join us! We’re anticipating a fourth event, in a central location to help address some of the common needs, with more experts brought in to share resources and information.
To RSVP please use the Eventbrite link below each event.
Wednesday, February 5th, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Berkshire Athenaeum, The Athenaeum Room (1 Wendell Ave, Pittsfield, MA 01201)
Thursday, February 6th, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
North Adams Public Library (74 Church St, North Adams, MA 01247)
Wednesday, February 12th, 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Saint James Place, East Room (352 Main Street / Great Barrington, MA 01230)
For questions contact Mariah at email@example.com or 413-499-0596.