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History and wildlife abound on Berkshire County forest land

Conservation Showcase


Hazel Holman | forest land owner | Lanesborough, Mass.


Hazel Holman
Hazel Holman on the forest land she owns in Lanesborough, Massachusetts.
Hazel Holman (left) and NRCS District Conservationist Kate Parsons in the area that was clear-cut for early successional wildlife habitat.
Hazel Holman (left) discusses her forestry project with NRCS District Conservationist Kate Parsons.
NRCS District Conservationist Kate Parsons and Hazel Holman discuss her project to control invasive plants and restore wildlife habitat.
Kate and Hazel visit the site formerly infested with invasive Euonymus bushes.
 Invasive euonymus bushes were killed to restore native plants that provide wildlife habitat.
These dead Euonymus bushes represent just a small portion of the infestation that had taken over the forest understory on Hazel Holman's land.
  • See the video at the bottom of this page to hear Hazel tell her conservation story.

Not every forest land owner can say that George Washington slept nearby. Hazel Holman can. The history of the 464 acres of scenic mountain top forest land she owns in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, is inseparable from its natural character. Since colonial times, people have left their mark on this land in Berkshire County. Hazel’s legacy will be conservation and stewardship.

“This used to be the main road up to Vermont before Route 7 was there,” Hazel explains. “They think that George Washington stayed in one of the cellar holes up the road.” She says that the land was originally lots that King George gave to the colonists when they came to the New World. “The land here was all cleared back in the colonial days. In the early 1800s, it was all sheep farms and stone walls, as most of Massachusetts was. Now it’s grown up into the hardwood forests.”

Today, Hazel is working to restore wildlife habitat in that forest, which borders the Mount Greylock Reservation, the highest point in the Commonwealth. Through good forest management practices and some help from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), she’s making a home for bobcats, bears, moose, deer and a wide array of birds that frequent her land.

She and her family have been actively engaged in forestry since they acquired the property in the early 1950s. More recently, a professional forester who helped Hazel develop a forest management plan told her about two federal programs that could provide financial and technical assistance in dealing with an infestation of invasive plants. So, she contacted Kate Parsons, District Conservationist for the NRCS field office in Pittsfield for help.

“I’ve been working with Hazel Holman since 2006,” explains Kate Parsons, District Conservationist for the NRCS office in Pittsfield, Mass. “Hazel contacted me and said that she and her forester had some wildlife projects they were interested in doing to benefit grouse, woodcock, and other early successional species.

“We did a WHIP project,” says Hazel, referring to the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, a voluntary program for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat on agricultural land, nonindustrial private forest land, and Indian land.  “We clear-cut 11 acres and made it for wildlife and for birds. We left piles of brush and cut the big trees out. It’s growing up very nicely,” she explains of the project to restore early successional forest.

“This is six year growth; we’ve got aspen, birch and cherry coming up,” Kate explains while standing in the clear-cut area. “I can hear an Acadian flycatcher in the background. We’ve also seen Common yellowthroat, Catbird, Chestnut-sided warbler, and towhee. These are all bird species in decline in Massachusetts.”

A significant part of her conservation work has involved eradicating invasive plants, planted by a previous landowner more than a century ago, that took over the forest understory, crowding out native plant species on which wildlife depend for food and shelter. “This property had been a mansion back in the 1890s and they planted invasive plants like Euonymus – burning bush – and Japanese lilac,” says Hazel.

With assistance from NRCS and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Hazel and her forester treated the invasive species. EQIP provides assistance to agricultural producers and forest land owners who want to improve and protect the condition of soil, water, air, plants and animals.

“The native species seem to still be here. The hardwood trees are still growing and keeping a canopy here. We expect they’ll seed the area,” says Hazel. “It was a huge area; it was really thick. I’m very happy with the results.”

Kate agrees. “We had the New England-New York Forestry initiative, which put a priority on managing forests, healthy forests and invasive species control. It’s been fun working with Hazel. It’s nice to work with people who care about their property and improving it,” says Kate.

“The Berkshires are just a wonderful place. It’s a place that we thoroughly enjoy,” says Hazel, with a scenic mountain vista behind her. “We’re always up for new ideas to help with conservation of the land.”