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
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.