Statement on Proposed Opening of Northampton Conservation Areas to Hunting

To Our Members and Friends

An outline of Northampton’s Open Space, Recreation and Multi-Use Trails Plan for 2018-2025, which is still in the drafting phase, proposes that hunting be permitted or expanded in three of the City’s conservation areas. The BBC Board of Directors has passed a resolution opposing the opening of conservation areas to hunting for the reasons discussed in the following statement.

Broad Brook Coalition: Statement on Proposed Opening of Northampton Conservation Areas to Hunting

01/26/2018

Under the leadership of Wayne Feiden, Northampton has done a splendid job of protecting undeveloped forests, meadows, lakes and marshes to provide opportunities for passive recreation by its citizens and to preserve essential habitat for its native plants and animals. Conservation areas have become increasingly precious as the City becomes more developed and open land for recreation and wildlife shrinks. While hunting is already permitted on some city lands, the use of conservation areas for hunting was not envisioned when these lands were acquired. For the reasons discussed below, the Board of Directors of the Broad Brook Coalition has voted unanimously to oppose the proposed expansion of hunting in certain Northampton conservation areas slated for inclusion in the City’s Open Space, Recreation and Multi-Use Trail Plan for 2018-2025.

While a draft of the Open Space Plan is not yet available, an outline of the plan has been made public by the Office of Planning and Sustainability (OPS) which proposes that hunting be permitted or expanded in a 50-acre portion of the Mineral Hills Conservation Area south of Chesterfield Road, a roughly 90-acre section of the Beaver Brook Greenway east of Haydenville Road, and a 40-acre parcel near Haydenville Road that was formerly owned by the Girl Scouts of America.

1. Public Safety. The many residents of Northampton and adjoining towns who have long used the city’s conservation areas for hiking and other passive recreational activities deserve to be free from concerns that hunting may be taking place on the same land that they have chosen for the enjoyment of nature in a safe and quiet setting. Although most hunters observe well-established rules of safety, some do not and that is precisely where conflicts arise. Witness the plight of the Clapp family who operate a llama farm and bed and breakfast adjacent to the section of the Mineral Hills Conservation Area which could be opened for hunting according to the proposed Open Space Plan: “no hunting” signs torn down, tree stands installed on their property, and bed and breakfast guests startled by nearby shotgun blasts. The mere sight of hunters with guns is enough to intimidate many people and, when hunting was still allowed at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, numerous visitors–often with children and pets–expressed concern about seeing hunters on the trails. Even the sound of gunshots in proximity to homes and roads in residential areas, let alone in the woods, can be objectionable and upsetting to some. As John Clapp wrote in a recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, ” Mixing hiking and hunting on conservation land is unacceptable.”

2. Ecological Issues. The Mineral Hills, Beaver Brook Greenway and “Girl Scouts” tracts are part of a wildlife corridor that rings Northampton, providing safe circulation for animals that forage and reproduce in these minimally disturbed areas. Although the wildlife in these properties has not been systematically surveyed, the presence of bobcats, porcupines, coyotes, white-tailed deer, raccoons, black bears, etc. has been documented photographically in the nearby Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area (V. Sowers, personal communication, which shares a similar ecology and is part of the same wildlife corridor. It is precisely the remoteness or “less visited” characteristic of these areas that make them particularly well suited for use by mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and many other animals. Yet these areas are ecologically fragile: numerous published studies have demonstrated that merely hiking on a path through the woods can have a negative impact on wildlife. Hunting undoubtedly produces a far greater disturbance. Unlike most other users, hunters don’t remain on trails, but are likely to seek out the least visited areas where their activities are far more liable to disrupt wildlife foraging, breeding and migration, not to mention the stress resulting from gunfire. The contention that hunting causes no ecological harm is therefore untenable. Hunting has no place in conservation areas.

3. Access. There is no public access to the “Girl Scouts” property; it is entirely surrounded by private or Smith Vocational School land. Access to the Mineral Hills parcel is via a narrow trail from Chesterfield Road that passes close to the Clapp family farm and bed & breakfast. With respect to the Beaver Brook Greenway backlands, the only truly public access is from Rte 9 (Haydenville Road). This is not, however, an appropriate point of entry for hunters as the old Starkus farm between Rte 9 and Beaver Brook is currently being rehabilitated for public recreation, including installation of a kiosk, a wildlife viewing blind, picnic tables, informational signs and the development of trails, by a partnership between the Leeds Civic Association and the Broad Brook Coalition under a contract from the Northampton Community Preservation Committee.

4. Availability of Nearby Areas where Hunting is Allowed. There are thousands of acres of public land available for hunting in western Massachusetts. These include many state parks and forests, as well as all wildlife management areas. Several are within a 15- to 30-minute drive of Northampton (e.g., Mt Holyoke Range State Park, Wendell State Forest, Windsor State Forest, Kenneth Dubuque Memorial State Forest, Mt. Tom Wildlife Management Area, Moran Wildlife Management Area, etc.). Even within Northampton, hunting is permitted at Rainbow Beach as well on many parcels of private land. There is thus no compelling reason why the modest inventory of conservation land in Northampton should be opened to hunting. The City’s conservation areas should be preserved for passive human recreation and the maintenance of a healthy wildlife population.

5. Regulation of Hunting in Northampton. We are not aware that any municipal or state entity will be charged with enforcing hunting regulations in the proposed hunting areas. Boundaries are frequently ill-defined and hunters would have to carry GPS devices to be certain of their location. Intentional or unintentional incursions into private land can be expected. A map of the proposed hunting areas provided by OPS is vague and not entirely accurate, failing to indicate how hunters are expected to determine the boundaries of the hunting areas which, in several cases, do not coincide with the boundaries of the conservation areas. Any proposal for the addition of land for hunting in Northampton should include a comprehensive plan for the enforcement of hunting regulations for reasons of both human safety and environmental health; it should identify the responsible agencies, include a plan for routine monitoring of areas where hunting is permitted, and provide an estimate of the increased funding that will be required for this purpose. To date, the enforcement of hunting regulations has not, to our knowledge, been a part of the hunting proposal.

6. Decision Making. We are disappointed that interested parties such as abutters, Friends of Mineral Hills, Leeds Civic Association and Broad Brook Coalition were not consulted prior to formulation of the hunting proposal. Friends of Mineral Hills is responsible for stewardship of the Mineral Hills Conservation Area, Leeds Civic Association and Broad Brook Coalition are rehabilitating a portion of the Beaver Brook Greenway for recreation and wildlife viewing, and Broad Brook Coalition has made substantial monetary contributions toward the purchase of the Beaver Brook Greenway and the “Girl Scouts” parcel. Abutters have personal and financial concerns relating to hunting on neighboring properties. Input from abutters and the above organizations about the use of these lands prior to public release of the hunting proposal would have been most appropriate and might have forestalled the controversy it has engendered.

If you wish to share your opinion about expanded hunting in Northampton with the Conservation and Recreation Commissions, which will be asked to endorse the Open Space, Recreation and Multi-use Trails Plan, and the Planning Board, which gives final approval to the Plan and formally adopts it, feel free to contact the following:

Conservation Commission – send an email to the City staff person who is the liaison to the Commission, Sarah LaValley, and ask her to share with all members of the Conservation Commission. Sarah LaValley: slavalley@northamptonma.gov. You can also email directly to the ConsCom Chair, Kevin Lake at: kevin.l.lake@gmail.com.

Recreation Commission – send an email to the City staff person who is
the liaison to the Recreation Commission, Anne-Marie Moggio, and ask her to share it with all members of the Recreation Commission. Anne-Marie Moggio: amoggio@northamptonma.gov.

Planning Board – send an email to the City staff person who is the liaison to the Planning Board, Carolyn Misch, and ask her to share it with all of the members of the Planning Board. Carolyn Misch: cmisch@northamptonma.gov.

BBC Volunteers Work At FLCA

Members of the Trails Committee enjoy the fruits of their labor after building a bench on the dam overlooking Fitzgerald Lake. The volunteers constructed three additional benches: another at the dam, one at the junction of the Marian Street Trail and Boggy Meadow Road, and one on Boggy Meadow Road near the entrance of the Loop Trail that leads to the Lathrop Community. Lathrop residents asked if BBC would build some benches to provide spots for rest and a view. The bench builders were Dave Herships, Jim Reis, Steven Harding, Alex Neubert and Michael Kesten. (Michael Kesten)

Originally published in the Fall 2017 BBC Newsletter.

Fitzgerald Lake: Attractive and Convenient for Anglers

Pete Schoenberger shows off a bass he caught in Fitzgerald Lake.

Pete Schoenberger shows off a bass he caught in Fitzgerald Lake.

If you search the mass.gov Fisheries and Wildlife website for the best places to fish in western Mass, you won’t find Fitzgerald Lake on the list.

But local anglers don’t need the government to tell them that this small body of water is an attractive and convenient spot to take a break from their daily routine and try their luck. Whether fishing alongshore or from a kayak or canoe, it’s just a short walk in from the North Farms Road parking lot to the lake, making it possible to get a bit of fishing in before or after work, on a lunch break, or whenever the urge arises. And with the newly extended dock, boaters can now launch into open water instead of fighting the muck off the end of the older, shorter boardwalk.

Like other small dammed lakes and ponds in the area, Fitzgerald Lake is fairly shallow and weedy, with a mud or silt bottom and stands of cattails or reeds at the margins. While the water is relatively open at the beginning of spring, the shallower portions eventually fill with a dense mat of pondweed, water lilies, and watershield, providing shade and cover for the largemouth bass and bluegill that are the target species for most people who fish the lake. As the vegetation starts to take over the lake surface, it takes a certain skill to cast a lure or bait into the open water along the edge of the floating leaves or pads, where a strike is most likely; a little too far, and all you’re likely to haul in is a handful of tangled stems. (So-called weedless hooks are useful in these conditions, though they typically only reduce rather than eliminate the snags.)

Though neither largemouth bass nor bluegills are native to New England, it would be hard to find a lake or pond in Massachusetts without them. Both species can be caught throughout the year, even under the ice, and both will take almost any kind of lure or live bait (if they’re in the mood). But it’s the bass that anglers are mostly after: they’re bigger, they strike harder, and they can put up a good fight, especially if you’re fishing with light tackle. Typical size for a largemouth bass is in the 10–15-inch range, weighing from a pound or two up to 5 pounds; larger fish, up to 20 inches and beyond, are possible, though fish that size aren’t often caught in lakes like Fitzgerald.

Bluegills, a kind of sunfish, are smaller than the bass, but they’re generally easier to catch and are especially fun for fishing with children. They are very similar to the pumpkinseed, which is native to New England but not as numerous as the introduced bluegill.

The two species are often found together in small schools, especially at the edge of weed beds or around sunken logs. Other panfish that are likely to be present in Fitzgerald Lakebased on its similarity to Lake Warner, which was sampled by Mass Fish and Wildlife in 1981– are the black crappie, white crappie, and yellow perch, all of which are considered to be excellent eating.

You can fish for freshwater species all year long in Massachusetts with few restrictions.

A license is required for anyone over the age of 15, though it’s free for ages 15–17 and over 70. There is a creel limit of 5 bass per day and a minimum size limit of 12 inches, though of course you can catch and release as many fish of any size as you want. More information about freshwater fishing can be found at mass.gov/freshwater-fishing-in-massachusetts. Good luck to all!

Dave Pritchard

Originally published in the Fall 2017 BBC Newsletter.

Sharing the Woods with Ticks

Preparedness, Pragmatism Are Key

Photo comparison of tick sizes

The larger wood tick doesn’t carry Lyme disease, while the tiny deer tick
can transmit Lyme and several other diseases to humans and dogs.

This has been banner year for ticks in the woods. The reasons are complicated and not always quantifiable. Along with high humidity and wet conditions, a less intuitive factor was a bumper crop of acorns in 2015, which produced a booming population of the deer tick host, the white-footed mouse. Ironically, the mice do not become infected themselves with tick-borne diseases.

The mice do provide the habitat where deer tick larvae develop into nymph forms and, later in the season, into adults. The nymph forms, which are the size of a pencil point, tend to bite and infect deer and humans with Lyme disease in the peak months of May, June and July. By fall, the adults – now apple-seed-sized organisms – continue to feed on the blood of humans and deer until the first hard frost. Throughout this May to October period, the deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

The ticks can be found in sparse forests and in gardens, where they live under leaves and other debris. Ticks cannot jump or fly, instead crawling onto the feet or ankles of their victims. Barriers to their spread from surrounding brush include wood chips and gravel, which are difficult for them to crawl across.

Lyme disease, known since the 1970s, is familiar to many in New England as a disease that causes mild fever, headache and, sometimes, a red rash up to a week after the bite of a deer tick infected by the Lyme parasite. Without treatment, infection can eventually lead to arthritis and neurological problems. The tick has to be attached to the human for 36 to 48 hours; infection when the tick is in place for less than 24 hours is unlikely. Diagnosis is made by finding antibodies in the blood of the infected person, although the antibodies may not appear until two to four weeks after infection.

Other diseases carried by deer ticks include Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis , and Powassan virus infection. Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis became known in the early 2000s, and Powassan virus about 2013. While it may be alarming to think that new diseases carried by deer ticks are being identified, these diseases are fundamentally different from Lyme. They are easier to diagnose because they cause severe symptoms, so that the presence of disease is indisputable. They also do not cause long-term chronic illness, and they are very uncommon. Unlike Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis can be diagnosed immediately by a peripheral blood smear that shows the organism inside the cell. Nationwide, in 2016, there were about 30,000 reported cases of Lyme disease, 1,800 cases of Babesiosis, 800 cases of Anaplasmosis, and seven cases of Powassan virus.

The effects of these other tick-borne diseases on the kidneys, blood clotting, liver and neurological function provide a secondary means of diagnosis by using other ancillary blood tests. Anaplasmosis , similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Babesiosis, a malaria-like illness, are very treatable with good outcomes. Powassan virus causes an encephalitis that shares the poor neurological prognosis of the Eastern Equine virus transmitted by mosquitoes.

Awareness and prevention are the keys to enjoying our time outdoors mindfully, but not fearfully. Applying the repellent DEET is helpful, with special attention to the shoes and ankles, with socks pulled up over your trousers. The tick you find on your shoulders or scalp has usually crawled up there from your feet. An alternative repellent, permethrin, which is toxic to the tick, can be applied to clothing, and permethrin-impregnated trousers and sleep sacks are available. Vinegar and natural oils like geranium, lavender, eucalyptus, and garlic may be helpful. It’s important to do a full body skin check when you come in from the meadows (where deer love the tall grass,) the woods OR the garden. Take a shower and put your dry clothes in the dryer for ten minutes.

A helpful video on the deer tick bite appearance, the rash, and instructions on removing ticks is available at the New York Department of Health website health.ny.gov/diseases/ communicable/lyme.

Since 2010, the Medical Zoology lab at UMASS Amherst has offered a test to the public of ticks for Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis for $50. (Call 413-545-1057 or go to tickreport.com.) Last year the lab tested 10,000 ticks. The larger wood tick doesn’t carry Lyme disease, while the tiny deer tick can transmit Lyme and several other diseases to humans and dogs.

Sixty percent of the deer ticks tested did not carry Lyme disease. It’s important to note that a positive test does not definitively demonstrate that the disease has been transmitted to the person who was bitten.

In New England, it is important to remember that the 100% larger wood or so-called dog ticks do not carry Lyme disease. Also, Lyme disease continues to be a problem in areas where deer have been eradicated, as mice are the primary vectors. Pet owners have not been shown to have more tick-borne illnesses than others.

You can stay informed by following the literature and up-to-date epidemiological data from the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/Lyme. In addition, citizen scientists can contribute to ongoing research that works to expand the limited knowledge on changing tick populations by visiting the University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center and reporting their tick encounters.

With some pragmatic precautions, we can continue to enjoy the many benefits that we and our families derive from our time off the beaten path and in the woods.

Brigid Glackin

Originally published in the Fall 2017 BBC Newsletter.

Guide to Spring Wildflowers at FLCA

In case you haven’t noticed, a new guide to Spring wildflowers at the FLCA was posted to the BBC website last spring.

Spring Wildflower Guide

Spring Wildflower Guide

Compiled by BBC President Bob Zimmermann, the guide includes photos, descriptions and folklore relating to 16 native wildflowers encountered along paths through the woods, pastures and marshes of the conservation area. We hope the guide will enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the rich and colorful display of flowers that appear between April and June each year. Look for similar guides to summer and fall wildflowers early in 2018.

“A Layman’s Guide to Spring Flowers at Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area” can be downloaded here