COG plans final forest meetings

The last of the 11 community meetings to discuss possible creation of a new type of national forest is planned to begin this week in Leyden, Hawley, Colrain and Monroe.

The sessions, being held by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in collaboration with Franklin Land Trust, will continue discussion of the potential for a new forest designation for 20 Franklin and Berkshire county towns.

The planning process aims at determining how much community and private landowner interest there is in the possible designation, which would be built on retaining private woodland ownership to allow recreational tourism, forest management, and research on new, forest-related manufacturing technologies. Participation by landowners, who would retain ownership of their property, would be voluntary.

The 6 p.m. meetings are planned for Tuesday in Leyden Town Hall, for April 1 in Hawley Town Offices, for April 9 in Colrain Central School and April 17 in Monroe Town Hall. A snow date for the Leyden meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Similar meetings have been held in Charlemont, Buckland, Conway, Shelburne, Ashfield, Heath and Rowe as well as the nine Berkshire County towns as part of a state-funded planning effort.

Municipal officials, residents, business owners, landowners and foresters are being encouraged to attend the meeting scheduled for their town.

According to Regional Planning Director Margaret Sloan, the designation could bring federal funding to purchase conservation easements from willing landowners, helping to ensure a base to serve as the “backbone” for the region’s forest economy. The U.S. Forest Service may also establish a visitor center, a demonstration forest and a technical resource center. Sloan said that if enough towns support the idea, the state Legislature and Congress would both need to pass legislation creating the new designation.

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