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National forest panel plans first meeting

The next step toward creating a new kind of national forest in northern Franklin and Berkshire counties is in the works, with regional planners creating an advisory panel.

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Advisory Committee, composed of one selectmen’s representative from each of the region’s 20 towns, along with designees from forestry organizations, environmental organizations and land trusts and a representative from each of the two regional planning boards, is being created with plans for a first meeting on Sept. 9.

According to the proposal, the project would focus on privately owned forests, and willing landowners could sell their development rights under a conservation restriction to permanently remove the right of development but preserve the right to farm, log, create trails or protect habitat. The landowner would be paid the value of the land’s development potential, keeping the land on the tax rolls and available to be sold or passed on to another owner.

The Franklin Land Trust is a partner in the project, planning for which is being funded with a state grant.

Franklin Regional Planning Director Margaret Sloan said the committee being formed by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and its Berkshire counterpart, will be to review the draft framework for the project and adopt a final version to guide the project planned for Charlemont, Buckland, Conway, Shelburne, Ashfield, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe and Rowe as well as nine Berkshire County towns.

The committee will also help determine the level of interest in pursuing federal designation for a new “forest-based economic development and conservation model” with U.S. Forest Service support, and help in drafting the state legislation that would be needed to seek that designation.

Sloan said the series of outreach meetings held in both counties revealed that there was some interest in seeking the federal designation, but doesn’t know which towns will agree to proceed.

“We’ll find out in July,” she said, referring to the July 25 deadline for the towns to appoint two representatives, some of whom may be landowners interested in having their property included in a designation according to the guidelines the advisory committee will help set up as part of its framework.

Also included in the study area are the Berkshire County towns of Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, New Ashford, Savoy, Williamstown and Windsor, as well as the city of North Adams.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

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