The Sportsman’s Corner: Key trail agreement signed

  • State Sen. Anne Gobi, Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Susannah Whipps attended and spoke at the event at Tully Wildlife Management Area in Orange on Aug. 26. Contributed photo

Published: 9/2/2021 1:17:53 PM
Modified: 9/2/2021 1:18:52 PM

A significant event took place last week in Orange when representatives from the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), MassWildlife, legislators, North Quabbin Trails Association, and other Tully Trail conservation partners gathered on Aug. 26 at the Tully Mountain Wildlife Management Area to celebrate signing of a Trail License Agreement between MassWildlife and the North Quabbin Trails Association.

This marked the conclusion of a process that was driven by first doing what was in the best interest of the wildlife resource that MassWildlife is statutorily bound to protect but also to be sensitive to all users of the wildlife lands in the Commonwealth. Under the terms of the approved agreement, NQTA may conduct trail maintenance activities on six miles of trail segments of the 22-mile Tully Trail. These segments pass through MassWildlife’s Tully Mountain WMA and Tully Mountain Wildlife Conservation Easement in Orange and Fish Brook WMA in Royalston.

“MassWildlife is statutorily responsible for the protection and management of all fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, and for providing hunting, fishing, trapping and other nature-based recreation opportunities to the public,” said DFG Commissioner Ron Amidon. “While trail development and maintenance are not a core responsibility, we recognize that passage across agency lands is important to maintain the connectivity of existing major trail networks. We are pleased to have approved the agency’s first Trail License Agreement with the North Quabbin Trails Association, which will provide for trail maintenance, wildlife habitat protection, and enhanced outdoor recreation opportunities.”

The Tully Trail is a popular hiking trail in the North Quabbin region, passing through public and private property in Orange, Royalston, and Warwick. Much of the trail passes through public land protected or managed by MassWildlife, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and The Trustees.

In 2016, MassWildlife and the Fisheries and Wildlife Board established a formal Walking Trails Policy designed to protect habitat for wildlife, largely in response to increasing unauthorized trail development and use on MassWildlife’s WMAs. MassWildlife does not develop or maintain walking trails on Wildlife Management Areas but through a Trails License Agreement, will allow maintenance and passage across agency lands to maintain connectivity of six identified existing regional walking trails in the state.

The recently signed Trail License Agreement with NQTA is the first Agreement to be signed with MassWildlife. It spells out the allowed trail maintenance activities and procedures to be carried out by NQTA in accordance with MassWildlife’s Trails Policy, regulations, and wildlife conservation mandate. Specifically, NQTA is authorized to:

·<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>blaze and sign trails year-round without notice to MassWildlife.

■conduct seasonal trail maintenance activities pursuant to the Trail Maintenance plan after notifying MassWildlife; and

■clear existing approved trails on an as needed basis after gaining pre-approval from MassWildlife on timing, location, and utilization of trail clearing tools and methods.

Currently, due to sensitive habitats on some portions of MassWildlife holdings, NQTA is engaged in a permitting process with state and local agencies allowing for re-routing a section of trail off a town road in Orange to improve hiker safety and providing a suitable stream crossing in Royalston.

MassWildlife has always prioritized supporting and promoting wildlife-related recreation through its traditional constituency of hunters, anglers, and trappers, as well as naturalists, birders, photographers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Wildlife Management Areas are open to wildlife-related recreation and other outdoor activities such as walking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. MassWildlife will continue to provide opportunities for wildlife to thrive while offering access for the conservation and outdoor recreation community now and into the future.

Attending the event as a member of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, it was impossible to not be aware of the number of significant local organizations represented. The Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, which has such a positive impact on local open space conservation, was well represented with Director Emma Ellsworth and Land Conservation Specialist Sarah Wells. Athol Bird and Nature Club’s David Small was also among those attending and MassWildlife, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Army Corps of Engineers also had a strong presence. Fellow MassWildlife Board member and former Secretary of Environmental Affairs Bob Durand was also there and spoke eloquently of the land preservation activities in the North Quabbin Region.

The site itself is notable as it has been transformed since being bought by MassWildlife as a Wildlife Management Area. The dwelling was removed, and habitat work has created an excellent venue for upland, turkey, and deer hunting. Recent early successional cutting already has shown to be a success as target species are already being found on the area.

Habitat Program Manager Brian Hawthorne led a short walk to the habitat work and expertly explained the many benefits of the cutting work that includes promoting species of wildlife like ruffed grouse, whippoorwills, deer, turkeys, cottontail rabbits, and a variety of songbirds. He also detailed how the long-term impact of the forest cutting would actually create a carbon benefit and help mitigate the global warming issue so many are concerned about. The science that drives the MassWildlife cutting programs is complex but clearly shows that carbon storage is a benefit along with local jobs, a supply of wood products, and the wildlife so many appreciate in different ways. It is important that the entire a story, including all aspects, be considered when forest cutting is discussed. As a hunter, the increased numbers of diverse wildlife populations on land that is forested has been obvious for decades.

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involved in conservation and wildlife issues his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 and has served as advisor to the Mahar Fish’N Game Club, Counselor and Director of the Massachusetts Conservation Camp, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor for over 40 years and is a licensed New York hunting guide. He can be reached at mikeroche3@msn.com.


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