Changing the world by leaving it the way it is

  • Tim Storrow near his Gill home.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2019 7:38:59 PM

GILL – It was described as “an absolutely critical resource,” as well as, “probably one of the most spectacular river gorges in New England,” when 660 acres in three towns around French King Bridge were preserved in 1999 as part of a million-dollar deal by American Farmland Trust.

The purchase from New England Power Co. brought together three farmers, as well as three state agencies, to preserve 150 acres of farmland, as perhaps the most visible Franklin County project overseen by Thomas ‘Tim” Storrow.

But the nearly 40-year legacy of Storrow, who is retiring from the Vermont-based Castanea Foundation, includes nearly 400,000 acres protected as working farmland, forests and wildlife habitat around New England, as well as other parts of the country. 

“I think he’s had a huge impact. He’s leaving a great legacy behind,” said Franklin Land Trust Executive Director Richard Hubbard, who succeeded Storrow as one of the early directors of the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program of the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources.

Hubbard, who also plans to retire this year from the land trust, said in 1999  the APR was arranged with Storrow’s help so that farmers Jay Savage, Donald Patterson and Peter Melnik could buy the property to rotate crops.

“The demand for prime agricultural land in the valley is intense,” Hubbard said. “We really ought to do everything possible to protect every acre of farmland in the valley.”

 Storrow, 63, of Gill, directed the state’s pioneering APR program as it was beginning in 1980, after researching efforts by states to purchase farmland development rights, when he was a graduate student at Vermont School.

APR, which has protected well over 16,000 acres on more than 245 farms in Franklin County, had completed its 100th project statewide by the time Storrow left in 1985.

“In law school, looking at statutes, I remember looking at the Massachusetts program thinking it was going to be an overly bureaucratic approval process,” he recalls of the program, which has evolved over the decades. “In reality and experience, it turned out the process actually strengthened the program and made it as successful as it is today. In other states, like Connecticut, the commissioner had the authority, and it wasn’t as transparent a process. I remember they were quickly mired in a major controversy, but we avoided all of that and there wasn’t any big faux pas.” 

Faced with a stunning rate of development in the state at the time, Massachusetts Audubon Society was ramping up its own conservation programs, and from 1985 to 1996, Storrow worked on expanding its sanctuaries and other protected property, including the High Ledges Sanctuary in Shelburne and Arcadia in Easthampton.

“I remember at the time being very intrigued by the scientific staff and learning about the criteria for important habitats,” he says. 

At American Farmland Trust, where he oversaw land easement acquisition for five years, Storrow helped set up demonstration land conservation efforts for ranchers in Montana and Colorado and farmers in Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina and New York, all while still living in Gill and working from AFT’s Northampton office. 

“One thing Tim provided was a steady hand and a steady source of knowledge,” said Bob Wagner, who directed the New England office at the time. “We knew we could always contact him to provide insights and advice. Having that encyclopedic knowledge is really valuable.”

Storrow worked as deputy director of the New England Forestry Foundation beginning in 2001, helping raise $20 million to buy conservation easements on about 330,000 acres to create the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership, and also helping create “demonstration forests” on about 20,000 acres around New England.

During those years, NEFF arranged deed restrictions for forestland in Rowe, Charlemont, Orange, Health, Hawley and Deerfield.

After a brief stint as a private consultant, Storrow in 2005 returned to work in his native Vermont to become executive director of Castanea Foundation, helping protect nearly 20,000 acres of farmland from development and, also, invest in farm-related enterprise.  

“I’d love to think that future generations will look back at the conservation and the land-trust movements of the 1980s and 1990s, in particular, as an important part of American history, with millions of acres conserved around the country,” says Storrow, whose retirement, he said, is simply a chance to pause to see what his next efforts should be. “I think these conserved lands might give us options for a future that we don’t even know today.

“If you talk to people who grew up in New Jersey or Connecticut, wherever, who remember growing up around fields and forests they used to play in where there are just subdivisions and it’s all paved over … that makes Franklin County a really special place, where we have a nice mix,” he says.

“I always felt we were changing the world by leaving it the way it is,” Storrow reflects, adding that the climate change probably provides an added imperative for conserving forests and farmland. “I think it will form the basis for encouraging natural systems that hopefully will stand all of us in good stead, including the other creatures of the world.”




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