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Falmouth seeks better management of forests, open space

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Falmouth seeks better management of forests, open space

FALMOUTH — The town's land management team hopes to better manage open space and conservation lands with a plan presented last week to the Town Council.

“The town has acquired a great deal of property and with that comes a certain responsibility to manage that land,” Town Manager Nathan Poore, who is a member of the land management team.

Part of the team's goal is to actively manage the town's 2,400 acres of conservation lands, which includes town-owned properties and land trust properties.

Bob Schafto, Falmouth's open space ombudsman, said the properties need to be managed not only for recreation, but for the health of the forests and wildlife.

In order to better identify what needs to be done on the town's properties, the land management team divided properties into three groups: properties to be left alone, to grow and change as nature dictates; properties to be actively managed for forestry that would be harvested on a regular cycle according to a plan developed by a professional forester; and properties where some harvesting needs to be done to ensure public safety.

From there, the team made several proposals for where to begin work, which the council will vote on at its Dec. 10 meeting.

The first proposal involves cleaning up the town's Pine Grove property.

“(The Pine Grove property) sets a good example of what happens (in forests),” said Schafto. “You grow big trees which have a lot of shade and you don't have a lot of understory, then when they die you get underforest growing in abrupt cycles.”

He added that on this property there are a lot of big, older trees and not enough small trees. All of the big trees present a safety hazard for those using the trails on the property, he said.

“It's all about safety,” Schafto said. “They're going to fall. So, the question is do you let them fall on their own and risk that there might be somebody in there because a lot of people use that, or do you take them down down and reduce the hazard they might produce.”

The group's second proposal revolves around re-establishing habitat for the endangered New England cottontail rabbit in the north end of Community Park near Paddock Way. Schafto said that the habitat the rabbits used to call home, early stage forests, have grown up too much for the rabbits to survive.

Schafto said the team is proposing that the area be clear cut of existing scraggly pine and invasive understory plants, adding that a forester has identified the area as one infested with white pine.

“(The word clear cut) everyone has immediate negative reactions to,” he said. “(But) I would ask people to hold off on that judgment. The forester who did our forest management plans said (that area) has the single worst white pine stand he has seen in the state.”

After the area is clear cut, Schafto said, other, native plants have the opportunity to grow back, which creates a better habitat for the rabbit and other species.

The final proposal is to harvest the dead and dying trees in the Black Strap Hill Community Forest. Schafto said harvesting wood from this area is not a new process as the area has been continuously logged for many years.

The land management team is hosting a public meeting on Dec. 1 from 9-11:30 a.m. at the Falmouth Memorial Library to answer any questions from community members, screen a video on Falmouth's open space management plans and to take field trips to the Community Park and Pine Grove sites.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.