The Commonwealth has invested millions of dollars in highly successful land protection programs. Now, we must protect that investment in public land through long-term management of the resources we worked so hard to conserve. Like bridges, roads, and other infrastructure, public land must be maintained—otherwise we risk losing the ecological, scenic, and recreational values of the land we purchased at considerable public expense.

From the Calcareous Wetlands of the Berkshires to the Pine Barrens and Sandplain Grasslands of the Southeast, Cape and Islands, many of the Commonwealth’s most ecologically significant natural areas require active management to maintain or restore open habitats that support a diversity of endangered, threatened, and/or declining species. In partnership with the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Fish & Game, and the Department of Conservation & Recreation, MassWildlife is launching the Land Legacy & Key Sites Initiative pdf format of Land Legacey & Key Sites factsheet
file size 1MB—targeted habitat restoration and basic land stewardship to protect our existing investment in public land.

Building on BioMap2, MassWildlife’s strategic guide to biodiversity conservation, Key Sites pdf format of Key Sites handout
identifies a unique sub-set of BioMap2 lands that represent the Commonwealth’s most significant natural areas, often supporting a diversity of endangered species.

Photo of Southwick wildlife management area landscape

Key Sites 2014/2015: Partnering for Habitat Restoration

Field staff from the MassWildlife Biodiversity Initiative (BDI) are in the process of completing the single, largest habitat management effort the agency has ever undertaken, thanks to funding provided by Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Maeve Vallely Bartlett, Commissioner Mary Griffin of the Department of Fish & Game, and licensed sportsmen and women of Massachusetts. During State Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 more than 1,000 acres across ten different Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) is being managed to both restore native plant communities and boost local populations of rare and declining species. A variety of state-listed wildlife will benefit at each of these ten Key Sites, as will songbirds, upland game birds like ruffed grouse and American woodcock, and rare and endangered plants.

Key Sites Habitat Restoration Projects 2014/2015
SiteTreatment Area (Ac)TownHabitat Objective
Bolton Flats WMA 102Lancaster & BoltonGrassland Restoration & Scrub Oak Shrubland Restoration
Frances Crane WMA North280FalmouthGrassland Restoration & Expansion and Pitch Pine/ Scrub Oak Barrens Management
Southwick WMA 150SouthwickGrassland Restoration & Expansion
Camp Cachalot WCE20FalmouthPitch Pine/Scrub Oak
Montague Plains WMA585MontaguePitch Pine/Scrub Oak
Frances Crane WMA South200FalmouthScrub Oak Shrubland Restoration
Rainbow Beach Island2NorthamptonFloodplain Forest Restoration
Maple Hill WMA20West StockbridgeRich Mesic Forest Restoration
Cook's Pond20PlymouthCoastal Plain Pond Restoration
Berkshire Calcareous Wetlands (3 Sites)25Stockbridge, West Stockbridge, & LeeCalcareous Fen Restoration
Total1,404  

Contract work involves various private companies that specialize in tree harvesting, brush mowing & mulching, harrowing, and invasive plant control, and represents a vibrant private/public partnership that pays huge dividends for wildlife, sportsmen and women, and the general public.

Grassland Expansion at the Frances Crane, Bolton Flats & Southwick WMAs

Three projects are restoring and expanding areas of fire-adapted sandplain grassland which is ranked as among the highest priority type of natural community in Massachusetts (S1: Critically Imperiled). These grassland projects benefit state and federally listed plant and animal species, and provides breeding habitat for woodcock and bobwhite quail. The Frances Crane and Southwick sites have been identified as among the highest priorities for long-term grassland bird conservation pdf format of MA Grassland Bird Conservation Plan - FINAL
in Massachusetts.  A combination of prescribed burning and planting of native warm-season grasses is occurring at both sites to favor native grasses such as Little Bluestem that is preferred by various rare species. In addition, open grassland habitat is being expanded at both Frances Crane and Southwick by clearing tree hedgerows to lengthen sight-lines and increase numbers of nesting pairs of rare grassland birds like the grasshopper sparrow and upland sandpiper.

In the early summer of 2014 there was a significant jump in the grasshopper sparrow population at Frances Crane WMA (to 13 territories) following the clearing of 30-acres of woodland during the winter of 2013-14 as part of a plan to expand upon the existing grassland.   Interestingly, though no grasshopper sparrows nested in the newly cleared area in 2014 (it hadn’t been seeded to warm season grasses yet), due to the perceived increase of open area at the site, previously peripheral habitat in the existing grassland became more attractive to grasshopper sparrows and the existing grassland was able to support a larger population.  This clearing also attracted a breeding pair of the extremely rare upland sandpiper to the existing grassland, a grassland sandpiper listed as Endangered in Massachusetts that requires extremely large open areas of Sandplain Grassland habitat. 

Grassland Expansion at the Frances Crane WMA
Grassland Expansion at the Frances Crane WMA
Prescribed burning at Southwick WMA
Prescribed burning at Southwick WMA

Pitch Pine/Scrub Oak Restoration at the Montague Plains WMA

This project is maintaining and restoring areas of fire-adapted sandplain pitch pine/scrub oak habitat, at the largest and most significant inland barrens site in Massachusetts (S2: Imperiled). Management efforts include: 1) partial tree clearing to favor individual pitch pine, white oak and red oak, and to stimulate understory growth of scrub oak and lowbush blueberry beneath an open forest canopy; 2) mowing of fuel breaks to facilitate prescribed fire; and 3) conducting prescribed burns to reduce dangerous fuel loads and stimulate new shrub growth. In addition to providing habitat for a variety of rare butterflies and moths, this project also benefits declining shrubland birds like whip poor wills and Eastern towhee, increases local populations of game birds like American woodcock and ruffed grouse, provides awesome lowbush blueberry picking, and improves public safety for the people and property in the community of Lake Pleasant adjacent to this fire-adapted ecosystem. Population levels of rare moths have increased at Montague Plains as a result of this restoration effort.

Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area
Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area
Montague Plains Prescribed Fire
Montague Plains Prescribed Fire

Pitch Pine/Scrub Oak Restoration at the Frances Crane WMA North & South

In addition to the extensive grassland restoration and expansion that is occurring at Frances Crane North, Pitch pine/Scrub oak restoration is also occurring in two separate areas. At Frances Crane North, portions of the WMA totaling about 120 acres adjacent to the grassland area on the north side of Rte. 151 are being partially cut to favor individual pitch pine, white oak and red oak, and to stimulate understory growth of scrub oak and lowbush blueberry. At Frances Crane South (the portion of the WMA on the south side of Rte. 151) about 200 acres have been partially cut in this same manner. Much like the work at Montague Plains WMA, this pitch pine/scrub oak work at Frances Crane WMA provides benefits for rare species and game species, and will be maintained using a combination of prescribed fire and mowing.

Pitch Pine/Scrub Oak Restoration, Frances Crane WMA
Pitch Pine/Scrub Oak Restoration, Frances Crane WMA