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Renewable energy professor renews wetlands

Conservation Showcase


Peter Talmage | Northfield, Massachusetts

By Jonathan Tokarz, NRCS intern

Peter Talmage next to the site of his Wetlands Reserve Program project.
Peter Talmage next to the marsh created as part of his wetland restoration project.
Rita Thibodeau, NRCS District Conservationist, and Peter Talmage look at the marsh created as part of his Wetlands Reserve Program project.
NRCS District Conservationist Rita Thibodeau and Peter Talmage spot minnows swimming in the wetland restored on Peter's property in Northfield, Mass.
A frog sits on a rock beside a marsh created through the Wetlands Reserve Program.
A frog in the restored wetland.
 Butterfly on a flower
Native plants around the wetland encourage pollinators like butterflies.

When Peter Talmage’s career as a professor of renewable energy and energy efficiency brought him from Maine to a college in Greenfield, Massachusetts with his wife and son, he knew that he wanted to enhance the beauty of the land that they bought in nearby Northfield and improve it as wildlife habitat. So, when his wife Chris heard about a USDA program that would guarantee its protection and provide help in restoring wetlands on the property, they were sold.

Through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program, Peter protected three and a half acres of their total 12 acres under a permanent conservation easement and got technical and financial help reshaping wetlands that had long ago been converted to farmland.

That project brought me to their land, walking amid the waving grass and wildflowers surrounded by chirping, buzzing, and croaking coming from a pair of thriving marshes. We were joined by District Conservationist Rita Thibodeau of the NRCS field office in Greenfield, Mass. who helped Peter and Chris develop a conservation plan for their land and apply for the WRP program.

“The blue heron was the first one in,” Peter told us. The heron was looking for minnows that now populate the pond.

The restored wetlands have already attracted a variety of waterfowl, turtles, moose, crayfish and countless beneficial bugs and insects, and the sharp increase in wildlife is no accident. They were designed to have a variety of water depths in order to accommodate a diversity of wildlife. The marsh edges slope gradually in order to provide habitat for wading birds and frogs.   The deeper portions of the marsh will hold water when others nearby have long-since dried out.

“We don’t mow until the end of July early August because of ground nesting birds. There are birds everywhere, all species,” said Peter, referring to the surrounding grasslands.

While the project was primarily for wildlife habitat improvement, over the winter Peter and Chris invited the neighborhood kids over for ice skating. It’s a conservation initiative that one concerned citizen brought to fruition for the benefit of plants, insects, animals and humans alike.

When I asked why he was willing to set aside his land for conservation, Peter explained, “We believe in conservation. We try to minimize our impact on the environment and enhance it for other species. It was our desire to renew and restore the environment.”