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Forest meetings planned in 4 towns

A second round of community meetings to discuss proposed federal forest designation has been planned by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Shelburne, Heath, Ashfield and Rowe.

The towns are among 11 in Franklin County that could become host to newly designated forest as part of a “new model” of federal forest involvement, incorporating retained private woodland ownership with recreational tourism, forest management, and research on new, forest-related manufacturing technologies. COG planners and the Franklin Land Trust, working with a $149,000 grant from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, are discussing with officials and residents in the towns how the voluntary conservation-restriction program could turn one of western Massachusetts’ strongest assets into an economic advantage.

Wednesday in Shelburne

Following sessions already held in Charlemont, Buckland and Conway, the next round of community meetings in Franklin County are scheduled for Wednesday in Shelburne at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center in Shelburne Falls, in Heath on March 5 in the Heath Community Hall, in Ashfield on March 12 in Ashfield Town Hall and on March 18 at Rowe Town Hall. Snow dates for the meetings — all from 6 to 8 p.m. — are scheduled for the following day, with the exception of the Rowe meeting, for which a March 20 snow date is set.

Meetings in Colrain, Hawley, Leyden and Monroe will be scheduled for late March and April.

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

The forest designation could bring federal funding to purchase conservation easements from willing landowners, which would help ensure a permanent forest base to serve as the backbone for the region’s forest economy, according to planners. The U.S. Forest Service could also establish a visitor center, demonstration forest and a technical resource center.

If enough towns support the idea, the state Legislature, as well as Congress, would need to pass legislation creating the new forest designation.

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