SPORTSMAN’S CORNER: MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant awarded

Published: 11/7/2019 9:39:26 PM
Modified: 11/7/2019 9:39:15 PM

This past Saturday, this writer and his two French Brittanys were leaving a favorite cover after a very successful hunt when the landowner showed up. The landowner, Fred Heyes, was on my mind as I had just learned that he and his daughter, Heather Heyes, have just been awarded a $49,681 MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant to create young forest habitat in an area near where we were hunting. The extended cover, which has been a favorite of mine for many years, was productive as we moved a half dozen woodcock that were obviously migrants, having settled into the spot because it met their habitat needs. There was a time, a few years ago, when the cover might had held a dozen or more “timberdoodles” and would often be productive for a long period of time during the migration. Unfortunately, like so much of the Mount Grace Region, it is being overtaken by invasive glossy buckthorn and the future is not looking good.

However, thanks to Fred’s vision and Heather’s writing ability, there will excellent habitat created nearby where the invasive plants will be controlled, valuable forest opening created, and successional growth (the key to wildlife flourishing!) will be enhanced by the forestry clearing and management work.

This grant follows a previous grant to the Heyes’ which will also soon be paying dividends. As we spoke, it dawned on me that Fred, who I do not believe was ever a hunter, really understands the needs of ruffed grouse, a valued gamebird that is in decline because the much of the habitat in the northeast is allowed to grow to mature forest and that is not good habitat for grouse or almost any other common wildlife species. Forestry, done by professionals according to wildlife management plans created by professional biologists who understand biodiversity and the complex relationships in the ecosystem, is the best thing that can be done on land and it is way too rare. Equally rare are private landowners like Fred and Heather who take advantage of programs like the MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Program to benefit wildlife on their land.

To provide some background you need to know that the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is responsible for the conservation — including restoration, protection, and management — of fish, wildlife, and their habitats in Massachusetts. Although MassWildlife and other conservation organizations have made unprecedented investments in land acquisition in Massachusetts, land protection alone is not enough to guarantee the persistence of the Commonwealth’s diverse wildlife. Investment in habitat restoration and management is urgently needed on public and private lands across the state. To address this need, MassWildlife and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs have substantially increased their investment in habitat management on state wildlife lands and are committed to working with partners to promote these efforts on other conserved lands across the state. The MHMGP program encourages landowners to engage in active habitat management on their properties to benefit wildlife.

Goals of the program include:

■Improve habitat(s) for game species (those species that can be legally hunted, fished, and trapped in MA).

■Manage habitat(s) for Species of Greatest Conservation Need as identified in the Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) – special emphasis on State-Endangered and State-Threatened Species.

■Promote public recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, and other Owners of private or municipal conserved lands in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Conserved land is defined as property protected by a Conservation Restriction or Easement, an Agricultural Protection Restriction, land enrolled in Chapter 61,61A/B, land subject to a current Landowner Incentive Program covenant, land owned in fee by a non-profit organization whose primary mission is the conservation of land, municipal land under the care and control of the town conservation commission and town forests; or an entity under equivalent protection as determined by MassWildlife staff.

■The grant program supports a number of habitat types including grassland, scrublands, forest, scrub oak barrens, blueberry barrens, abandoned orchards, abandoned fields, and a number of upland and wetland plant communities. Supported activities include mowing, clearing un-merchantable trees, prescribed burns, mowing/mulching, invasive plant control, harrowing, seeding, and tree clearing and stumping.

When we spoke, Fred lamented that he was the only private landowner taking advantage of the program. This is written in the hope that readers with tracts of land will inquire to MassWildlife about the MHMGP and other programs which will fund habitat work on your land.

The activity Saturday clearly indicates that migrating woodcock are moving through. My day started with a half-hour drive to a cover that has been really productive the past few years only to find an SUV with Connecticut plates and two dog boxes there ahead of me. On well! You snooze you lose.

We managed to bag our limit in a few closer covers in about an hour and will be heading out to New York for a “last hurrah” this week. A call ahead informed me that, once again, I was missing prime time as they were moving twenty-five or more woodcock a day last week. Hopefully, the weather will continue to be mild and we will find some woodcock left when we get there. Dr. Andrew Sawyer, who is my niece Kristine’s husband, is flying up from Alabama to hunt with me. He has come to really love New England upland hunting and hopefully we will have a good time during his stay.

There is clearly a lot of whitetail activity locally and a hunter we spoke to Saturday said, “the deer are running around like crazy” in New Hampshire where he had to cut his bowhunting short to “get some stuff done.” My guess is that the next couple weeks will be prime time as New Hampshire muzzle loading and Mass bowhunting are in full swing. Good luck to all!

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