Albert Adams seems to have fulfilled at least one of his dreams when he purchased some land five years ago, and he's been improving on it since. A sportsman and wildlife enthusiast, Albert was thrilled to get a good deal on 29 acres of woodland in Windsor, a parcel that abuts other woodlands and sits across the street from a wildlife management area.
"The Westfield runs through the back of the property," he says, "It's loaded with wildlife and just beautiful." Though 12 miles from his home in Pittsfield, Albert considers the property his big backyard and he visits often.
Having originally purchased the land in order to have his own place to hunt, fish, and enjoy wildlife, Albert didn't initially have any management plans in mind. Only when he received notice from forester Ed Denham that work was going to be done on neighboring land did it occur to Albert that management could bring some worthwhile improvements to his longtime unmanaged woods. He asked Ed what could be done with his woods and eventually landed himself in the Forest Stewardship Program a program that helps landowners become engaged in the management of their woods. The program is based on the principle that when landowners are motivated and actively involved in planning and managing their land the woods are more likely to remain intact and producing public benefits. Find a forester in your town.
With the help of the stewardship program, Albert was able to have a management plan developed for his woods based on his goals as the landowner. The plan helped to focus Albert's wishes, which are to improve wildlife habitat and forest quality on his property, and to learn how these goals could be best accomplished.
Following the development of his stewardship plan in 2006, Albert began looking for ways to implement the management plan, a job too big to handle by himself. What he discovered is the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), a program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Through WHIP, a landowner can be reimbursed for up to 75% of the costs of managing their land if they agree to NRCS management terms and if the land falls within one of NRCS' priority areas. As the name says, the program is designed to improve or develop wildlife habitat on privately owned land with landowners receiving the financial and technical support necessary to do so.
Windsor is a mostly wooded hilltown that is dotted with protected land, including public wildlife management areas, privately held reservations, and family properties. The area is known to support several threatened, special interest, or endangered species, including the Eastern Veined White butterfly and two species of bittern, at least one of which resides on Albert's property. Albert's property is located within a designated Core Habitat, which identifies it as being an NRCS priority area.
Albert's goals as a landowner are well suited for WHIP. He has little interest in the timber value of his property and is primarily interested in attracting and supporting wildlife. He recently put up a trail camera in order to capture images of who is sharing his property and his face brightens when he talks about the bears, deer, fox, and coyotes he's seen. "You name it," he says, "and I've seen it here. It's just gorgeous." Albert was impressed when four people, from service foresters to NRCS staff, met with him on his property visit to determine its eligibility for the program. "When the WHIP people were here we found some moose tracks that we followed through the property for a while," says Albert, "They're such impressive animals. It was really nice to see." The site visit determined that Albert's land would make a good addition to WHIP, which targets its program areas in order to provide wildlife with large tracts of good habitat and to most effectively preserve biodiversity.
Management via WHIP on Albert's property will begin this spring and Albert is looking forward to the results. The plan includes developing an area of early successional forest, a habitat type that is in decline in Massachusetts, managing upland forest to increase food for mammals, enhancing wetland habitat for wood ducks by installing nest boxes, and to improve trail access so that Albert and his family can enjoy the property more easily.
Albert says as nice as it would be to live on the property, he never intends to build on it. The land serves as a refuge for him to visit alone or with his family, where he can enjoy wildlife and the pleasure that comes from the peace of the woods. He is pleased that through WHIP he will be able to manage his woods and, in the end, improve them both for his pleasure and that of the creatures living in them. "It's where I come to get away. It's my paradise." A dream fulfilled indeed.