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News Release

Mohawk Trail Woodlands sustainable forestry and energy project announced

Diane Baedeker Petit, Public Affairs Officer
413-253-4371, cell 413-835-1276

The Banas forestry project site after thinning.

USDA to provide funding through new Regional Conservation Partnership Program

GREENFIELD, Mass., Jan. 15, 2015 – Officials from a dozen federal, state and local agencies and organizations have announced an innovative three-year project that will integrate sustainable forestry and energy practices to support the rural economy in the 20 towns in the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership region of western Mass., the commonwealth’s most forested, rural and low income area.

The Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will lead the project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide nearly $638,000 in funding through its new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which will leverage another $922,000 in contributions from state and private partners.

Authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP is USDA’s new, innovative program that promotes coordination between the department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners.

State Conservationist Christine Clarke gives an overview of RCPP.
State Conservationist Christine Clarke gives an overview of the RCPP program.
State Conservationist Christine Clarke gives an overview of RCPP.
NRCS Massachusetts State Conservationist Christine Clarke.
Mass. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton
Mass. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton announces the RCPP funding for the Mohawk Trail Woodlands project.
Nearly 40 people  attended the announcement of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands RCPP projec
Nearly 40 people attended the announcement event.
Mass Audubon President Henry Tepper
Mass Audubon President Henry Tepper.
Franklin Land Trust Executive Director Richard Hubbard
Franklin Land Trust Executive Director Richard Hubbard.
Nearly 40 people  attended the announcement of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands RCPP projec
Attendees listen to remarks.

Other agencies and organizations that will help in engaging landowners to conserve working woodlands and integrate sustainable forestry and energy practices include the Mass. Forest Alliance, Mass. Woodlands Institute, Mass Audubon, Mass. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Mass. Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife, Mass. Dept. of Energy, Franklin Land Trust, Mount Holyoke College, Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

The project will provide a number of environmental and community benefits, including:

  • Create and enhance forest habitat for at-risk species, the primary natural resource concern.
  • Restore degraded plant condition by landscape-scale invasive plant treatments.
  • Improve inefficient energy use by utilizing low quality forest products to heat local public and residential buildings.
  • Increase the carbon sequestration of the region and reduce carbon emissions by retaining land in long-term forest use, reducing consumption of imported non-renewable fossil fuels, and encouraging private forest landowners to apply regional woody material retention guidelines during harvesting operations.

“This federal funding is significant as it provides economic benefits to Western Massachusetts’ most rural areas where sustainable forestry provides needed local jobs,” said Mass. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton.  “Equally important, this new partnership will help dozens of forest landowners create new habitats for declining bird species. The project is also being coordinated with funding from the Mass. Department of Energy Resources to utilize local sustainable forestry to provide wood heat for town schools and buildings and local residences. The result will be a healthy forest and sustainable communities, and a model for other regions looking to build strong communities through exemplary forest management.”

“These partnerships are forging a new path for getting conservation on the ground and are providing opportunities for communities to have a voice and ownership in protecting and improving our natural resources,” said Christine Clarke, Massachusetts State Conservationist for NRCS. “The Regional Conservation Partnership Program ushers in a new era of conservation, and we’re excited about the down-the-road benefits from this new Farm Bill program.”

Project activities will include:

  • DCR and Mass Audubon’s “Foresters for the Birds” program will be used to enlist 140 forest landowners across the state’s most heavily forested landscape to implement practices that will increase habitat for at-risk forest bird species listed in the state Wildlife Action Plan.
  • A model will be created that demonstrates how improving forest habitat and providing local forest products for buildings and heat will enhance carbon sequestration. The analysis will use forest plots from state forests and hundreds of forest stewardship plans.
  • Innovative outreach strategies and partner technical assistance will be used to reduce barriers to program enrollment and increase practice implementation by batching 150 applications for NRCS practices across a landscape.
  • Use of the federal Conservation Stewardship Program will be significantly expanded to build a cadre of “Woodland Ambassadors” who will model excellent stewardship on their forests and provide technical assistance to other owners who wish to enroll in this NRCS program.
  • A program will be piloted to reduce regulatory burdens for landowners implementing NRCS practices and an extensive feasibility study of a regional pellet plant that uses locally produced pellets to heat public schools, municipal buildings and residences will be conducted.

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership region includes 20 towns, plus eight adjacent towns added because they are habitat priority areas for at-risk species, 394,000 acres of forest (84 percent forested),  34,000 acres in over 300 upland and valley farms that are mostly forested, nearly 60 percent or 272,000 acres of the region are mapped as priority areas in the State Wildlife Action Plan. About 24 percent of the region is conserved with 12,000 acres of agricultural easements and 90,000 acres of protected forests.

This project is one of 115 high-impact conservation projects across all 50 states that will receive more than $370 million in RCPP funding in 2015. More than 600 pre-proposals were submitted for RCPP in 2014.

A multi-state project to protect the Long Island Sound will also benefit Massachusetts. Chosen as a national project, a proposal submitted by the Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts will address excess nutrients that have been identified as the primary cause of hypoxic conditions in Long Island Sound. The conditions impact upland water resources within the watershed including areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The RCPP program will provide $10 million toward the Long Island Sound project, which will develop a comprehensive, whole-farm management certainty program for farmers in the watershed. The project will use both working lands and easement programs to improve soil health and nutrient management, establish community resiliency areas with a focus on enhancing riparian areas, and institute a land protection program to protect agricultural and forestry areas.

Download the project fact sheet [PDF]