Land buy eyed for 'pristine' spaces in South County


State and local environmental officials want to preserve nearly 1,500 acres of private land in South County considered among the most pristine landscapes in Massachusetts.

Armed with an $850,000 state grant, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game plans to buy a 906-acre parcel in the Long Mountain area along the Otis and Tyringham border. The forested land currently owned by Lyme Northern Timber Fund of Hanover, N.H., will become a state wildlife management area, according to Fish and Game officials.

Under the terms of the grant award, the state agency has until June 30, 2014, to close a deal on the property.

"The large landscape includes wetlands and uplands with varied wildlife," said Narain Schroeder, director of land conservation for the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

In addition, BNRC is seeking to secure a donation from an anonymous private landowner for a conservation easement of almost 600 acres that abuts the Lyme Northern parcel.

Once completed, Schroeder said, the entire 1,500-acre Long Mountain Conservation Project will double the amount of protected land in the area, which includes McLennan Reservation in Tyringham.

"This land is about as pristine as anything you'll find in the state," he said.

The project also will preserve a rare natural commodity in the Bay State, according state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

"This is old growth forest and there's very [little] left," he said.

The grant award for the land purchase is courtesy of the Landscape Partnership Program under the state office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. To date, EEA has or will have preserved some 10,000 acres through the program established three years ago, according to Stephanie Cooper, EEA's assistant secretary for land and forest conservation.

"The program was created specifically to move forward conservation of large tracts of land," she said.

To qualify for program grants, preservation projects must be a minimum of 500 acres, allow public access and applicants must form land conservation partnerships.

Cooper noted the 906-acre parcel up for sale in Otis and Tyringham is currently the largest piece of land on the market in the Berkshires.

Once the property is converted into a wildlife management area, it will be open to the public, according to state and local officials.

"It will be open for passive recreation like hunting and fishing -- no motorized recreation," Schroeder said.

By the numbers

n State wildlife officials plan to purchase and preserve 906 acres of private land along the Otis and Tyringham town line under the Massachusetts Landscape Partnership Program.

n Another private landowner is willing to donate a conservation easement on almost 600 acres that abuts the 906-acre parcel, all part of the Long Mountain Conservation Project.

n Since established in 2011, the Landscape Partnership Program has or will have preserved 10,000 acres of open land across the Commonwealth, including two other parcels in Berkshire County:

n 515-acre Sheffield-Egremont Agricultural, Ecological & Scenic Corridor.

n 613-acre Pettibone Reserve in Lanesborough and Cheshire.

Source: Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs


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