Conservation Areas and Ecological Management

Overview
The Town of Amherst attracts and retains residents who deeply value their quality of life and who have a great commitment to preserving the area‘s unique landscape and character. This character encompasses not only a diversity of cultural experiences, economic pursuits, and scenic beauty, but opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoying the physical side of life. It is important for many to preserve and enhance these resources for current and future residents. Given Amherst‘s regional appeal, it is essential to develop general open space and recreation goals to address these concerns.
Amethyst Brook
The Amherst community has identified the following thirteen unique areas that help define the character of Amherst: 

  • Mount Holyoke Range
  • Lawrence Swamp and Hop Brook
  • Bay Road Viewshed
  • Hampshire College Farmland
  • Fort River Corridor, including Muddy Plum and Hop Brooks South East Street Farmand and Viewshed
  • Amherst College Sanctuary and Grasslands
  • Amethyst Brook Corridor
  • North East Street Farmland and Viewshed
  • Cushman Forest Reserve
  • North Amherst Agricultural Block
  • Mill River and Cushman Brook Corridors
  • Puffer's Pond to Leverett Corridor

The Conservation Department manages approximately 1,828 acres of conservation land, including more than 40 open fields; maintains some 80 miles of foot trails in Amherst and regional trails in Leverett and Shutesbury; has been involved in the acquisition of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR‘s) that protect over 2,038 acres of farmland; and has helped purchase Conservation Restrictions that protect 170 acres.

 

Philosophy
Amherst is tremendously diverse in its flora, landscapes, wildlife, and land use.  Open space in the form of conservation land and farmland helps maintain that diversity in the face of mounting development pressures.  Public conservation land also serves as an important amenity for those who do not have sufficient private land of their own on which to recreate and directly experience the outdoors.

Conservation land helps maintain the town‘s rural character, provides adequate land area for traditional and modern forms of outdoor recreation, and protects important wildlife habitat for both game and non-game species. Protected farmland provides a permanent base on which present and future farm businesses depend, and helps farm supported (i.e. grain/dairy processing, equipment repairs) businesses maintain a significant presence in Amherst and adjacent towns. Protected land also ensures clean water for wells and reservoirs supplying Town drinking water.

Traditional resource-based economic activities such as agriculture and forestry, and traditional forms of recreation such as fishing and hunting, continue to play major roles in Amherst. The Conservation Commission and Conservation Department works closely with farmers and farmland owners to encourage the farm economy; carrying out ecologically-sound forest and open land wildlife habitat management on Town watershed lands in the three adjacent communities of Belchertown, Pelham, and Shutesbury; and renting out fields for farm production and community gardening.

 

The Town of Amherst is committed to protecting more land, which will help to preserve the community‘s open space and recreational opportunities even as new growth occurs.  The Conservation Commission, with help from various town staff and departments, and through a valuable public input process, has determined the following to be Amherst‘s most urgent resource protection needs:

  • To expand large blocks of existing preserved lands 
  • To make an interconnected trail system through innovative land use policies and zoning 
  • To acquire property for the protection of wetlands, the Town‘s drinking water supply, and to provide areas for the flood storage; and
  • To manage Town land and facilities to maximize their value for wildlife habitat, recreation, scenery, natural resource preservation, and the enhancement of the Town‘s appearance. 
  • To support the local farming community

 
Management Approaches
Conservation land is managed by the Conservation Department to maintain Amherst‘s natural resources, and may provide for passive recreation and outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing without being dedicated solely to playing fields or formal recreational facilities. Conservation land may include woodlands, pastures, trails or highly managed areas. 
 

Management approaches include the following:

  • Managing Town land and facilities to maximize their value for wildlife habitat, recreation, scenery, natural resource preservation, and the enhancement of the Town‘s appearance. 
  • Emphasis is given to the protection of key wetlands, rivers and tributaries, and associated ecosystems to ensure viable habitat, biodiversity, and wildlife corridors.
  • Enhancement of scenic views, orchards, grassland nesting territory, and active agricultural land.
  • Maintaining appropriate water level on waterfowl ponds by adjusting water-level boards. 
  • Preventing wetland damage. 
  • Maintaining stream and bog bridges. 
  • Maintaining hay crops in good condition. 
  • Cleaning American Kestrel boxes and Eastern Bluebird boxes annually. 
  • Monitoring and protecting plant and vernal pool species.
  • Installing water bars on trails as needed to prevent trail washouts and erosion. 
  • Monitoring breeding-season and migratory bird use of conservation properties. 
  • Monitoring and control of invasive exotic species of plants. These species include smooth buckthorn, multiflora rose, winged euonymous, autumn olive, and many others
  • Protection of farmland and prime soils, thus enhancing Amherst‘s rural character and agricultural viability.