Cowls plans to protect 2,000 acres of timberland

  • FILE - In this August 2015 file photo, a rain storm passes over Mt. Katahdin in this view from land that is now the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine. A report released Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, by the Harvard Forest, a research institute of Harvard University, says New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day — a loss that comes at a time when public funding for preservation of open land, both state and federal, has also been on the decline in all six states. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • In this Oct. 5, 2016 photo, a dead hemlock tree is seen at Harvard University's research forest in Petersham, Mass. Forests from New England to the West Coast are jeopardized by invasive pests that defoliate and kill trees. Scientists said the pests are driving some tree species toward extinction and causing billions of dollars a year in damage. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2018 11:14:00 PM

AMHERST — More than 2,000 acres of woodland in Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham owned by W.D. Cowls Inc. could be permanently protected by early 2019.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones said Thursday that the company is in the final stages of negotiations with the state’s Department of Fish and Game to sell a conservation restriction, for around $3 million, on forested properties that would extend from near the Cushman section of Amherst east to the edge of the Quabbin. The land is in the watersheds for the Quabbin and Atkins reservoirs.

Both Kestrel Land Trust and the Fish and Game department are working to secure U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program money and a state Landscape Partnership grant to make the project a reality, Jones said.

“When this second project is completed, Cowls will have permanently conserved over 5,500 acres, including a 43-acre Agricultural Preservation Restriction on its home farm in North Amherst,” Jones said.

The protected forest would be called the Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest, named after Cinda Jones’ grandfather.

Kristin DeBoer, Kestrel’s executive director, said she is thrilled with the opportunity to work on this project.

“When this landscape-scale Conservation Restriction is completed, it will ensure sustainable forestry to safeguard water quality, as well as guarantee public access for hunting, fishing and hiking,” DeBoer said. “It is very encouraging to see this local large landowner and family business continuing their commitment to protect some of their most significant working forest holdings in the Valley.”

The potential deal for the working forest comes seven years after Jones helped create the Paul C. Jones Working Forest through an $8.8 million conservation restriction purchase. Those 3,486 acres, named after her late father, who was company president and founded Cowls Building Supply in 1980, are on and around Brushy Mountain in Leverett and Shutesbury.

The previous protection effort, negotiated by Kestrel and Franklin land trusts, included $5 million from the Forest Legacy program, $3 million from the state and $800,000 from the Open Space Institute in New York City.

As with the first project in 2011, Cowls sells the development rights to the land but continues to own and actively manage it as an ongoing working forest. Jones said this conserves the wildlife habitat — saying the first working forest has become a wildlife superhighway — and grants public access for recreational purposes.

The restriction is being put together in such a way that will allow Cowls to continue to pursue solar projects, similar to the 30-acre project that was built off Pratt Corner Road in Shutesbury, which is in the midst of this new land preservation project.

“With a goal of hosting perhaps 300 total acres of solar farms, all but a minuscule amount of Cowls land will remain working forests,” Jones said. “This conservation and solar ratio is one Cowls is proud of.”

In addition to the project in Shutesbury, Jones is planning additional solar projects in Amherst and Belchertown.

“Our children’s futures depend on solving the critical problems of our day. We’re going to be part of the solution,” Jones said.

Jones added that licensed foresters and environmental consultants have helped Cowls carefully assess all of the forest attributes and determine what needs to be protected and what may serve a higher and better cause.


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