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Falmouth councilors take close look at conservation land

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Falmouth councilors take close look at conservation land

FALMOUTH — For the Town Council, it was a field day.

Late last month, during a day-long workshop, all seven members of the council piled into white vans to get an up-close view of the town's open spaces and conservation areas.

Although no action was taken, Town Manager Nathan Poore said the tour was a means to familiarize councilors with the town's 2006 Greening of Falmouth plan – a document akin to the Comprehensive Plan, but dealing exclusively with acquisition of open space and conservation for future generations.

The tour also provided background for the council when, later this year, it will vote on whether to adopt management plans on nine major town-owned properties, including forestry within two conservation areas, to foster better biodiversity.

The council also gave Poore consensus approval to seek price estimates for a new bridge to replace the aging structure at River Point Conservation Area. A bridge that could accommodate maintenance vehicles could cost as much as $400,000, Poore said. A pedestrian bridge might cost less, but Poore wasn't sure of the potential price range.

The council workshop began at noon, Oct. 28, in Town Hall and included a slide show presentation by Robert Shafto, Falmouth's open space ombudsman. Afterward, the council, several town employees and members of the Land Management and Acquisitions Committee donned orange vests and departed Town Hall in two white vans for walking tours at several town-owned properties, including River Point Conservation Area and Suckfish Brook Conservation Area.

At each point, Shafto provided highlights of property management plans for each space, some of which include forestry:

• At Blackstrap Hill Community Forest, "forest management is a primary goal." Shafto said the plan is to harvest some of the trees to create better wildlife habitat, particularly for New England cottontail rabbits. Harvesting could begin as early as this winter, if the council approves.

• At Woods Road Community Forest the goal is to leave the older trees untouched, but create deer habitat by harvesting smaller trees in some areas to allow for a thriving understory.

• River Point Conservation Area requires vegetation management, preventing the existing fields from growing into forests.

• North Falmouth Community Forest and Hadlock Forest have also been identified for eventual tree harvesting, where weaker trees will be cut to create space and healthier large trees.

• Suckfish Brook will be largely left alone, but the town should look for opportunities to buy adjacent properties to grow its size.

• Falmouth Nature Preserve has been designated "forever wild," but invasive plant species have taken root in the property and need to be managed.

Shafto said about 40 percent of the town's conservation lands would would remain forever wild, but selective harvesting can help the town create a wide range of habitats.

"We'll be saving representative samples of key habitat types in our community," he said.

Poore said the park management plans will go before the council before the end of December.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.