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GOOD CONSERVATION PRACTICES FOR LEASED FIELDS
Adopted by the Lincoln (Mass.) Conservation Commission
at its November 5, 1997 meeting
This document contains practices which the Conservation Commission expects all farmers to follow if they are interested in leasing Lincoln conservation land. The Commission will use the criteria in this document as a basis for evaluating all farmland proposals. The practices outline in this document are based on existing Conservation Commission policies and recommendations from Dan Lenthall of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This document was formally adopted by the Commission at its November 5, 1997 meeting.
1. Communication between Conservation Commission and farmer. A detailed five-year strategy for intended crops and land improvements is to be submitted to the Conservation Commission with the lease application. Prior to the first year's use of the field, baseline conditions for the health of the field shall be clearly established. The farmer shall conduct tests for soil pH, soil fertility, and organic matter. In addition any other factors effecting the health of the field should be detailed in writing to the Commission.
2. Increasing soil health
3. Pest management. Pesticide management following current Integrated Pest Management standards shall be practiced for all crops with specific standards such as corn, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, peppers, etc. [For WAC discussion of this item, click here.]
4. Runoff and erosion. Farmers shall use all reasonable means to prevent erosion on leased lands such as berming, vegetated bufferstrips, and cover crops.
- Water runoff shall be managed so that it does not flow directly into wetlands, trails, field roads, or other unprotected areas. Erosion shall be minimized by maintaining grass borders along trails.
- Crop rows should be planted across the slope. Unavoidable field runoff shall be directed to vegetated buffer strips.
- Compost/manure piles shall be located in areas that are drier and not prone to the effects of runoff .
5. Buffer strips along wetlands. An appropriately vegetated filter bufferstrip shall be established or maintained between crop fields and waterways or wetlands. Buffers filter out eroded soil, fertilizers, and pesticides that run off fields, lessening their impact on wetlands.
6. Well or water source. The installation of a well or use of any other permanent water source or pond must be reviewed and approved by the Conservation Commission. Any proposed well location must have no potential impact on vernal pools or other wetland resources on/or adjacent to the site.
7. Adjacent trails. Public access to trails shall be maintained and the pesticide notification procedure of the Farmland Pesticide Policy shall be followed. Farmers shall keep peripheral trails free of furrows, agricultural products and wastes, and stone piles. Erosion shall be minimized by maintaining grass borders along trails. The Conservation Commission is responsible for maintaining these grass borders.
8. Wildlife enhancements. The Commission encourages farmers to undertake wildlife enhancement opportunities to the extent practicable. Irregular field edges provide more wood edge and diversity of wildlife habitat and food.
9. Protection of ground nesting birds. The Conservation Commission encourages farmers to adopt practices, such as the planting of late-maturing warm season grasses, that may benefit ground nesting birds. Species designated as endangered over-ride all other concerns and may prevent farming in that specific location. A species of concern, or one which is not considered endangered, but has experienced a reduction in population, shall be given careful consideration to encourage its proliferation. [For WAC discussion of this item, click here.]
10. Evaluation of farming/conservation practices. The Conservation Commission will carefully evaluate the farming practices in each field during the 5-year lease cycle. It is important to the Commission that the farmer conduct sound farming practices, improve the overall health of the field, enhance the wildlife/natural resource values of the field, and keep the Commission informed of matters of concern. This evaluation will be carefully considered in awarding future leases.
11. Animal pests. Farmers shall submit plans for approval by the Conservation Commission of methods for dealing with animal pests that are causing crop damage (or serious damage to the land). These plans shall attempt to identify all potential wildlife conflicts with the proposed crops to be grown, thresholds of damage, and proposed actions to be taken when the thresholds are exceeded. Proposed actions shall be those that are the least invasive to wildlife.
12. Appearance of fields. Farmers shall keep leased lands free from litter, including without limitation containers and packaging for agricultural products, and free of farm equipment when not in use.
13. Stones in fields. Farmers shall remove stones from leased lands in accordance with sound agricultural practices and shall place them in stone dumps designated by the Commission.
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WAC discussion of lease attachment
"Good Conservation Practices for leased fields":
The Wildlife Committee has prepared a document entitled "Good Conservation Practices for Leased Fields," which it suggests be attached to each lease. [Note: G.C.P. document has been adopted by LCC in Nov., 1997, and incorporated into leasing process.] Largely drawn from existing LCC policies and experiences and NRCS technical material, this document includes the following: (A) For all fields: plans, reports, and soil tests; protection of vernal pools, wetlands, and public trails by bufferstrips; brush piles and nest boxes. (B) For tilled fields: Integrated Pest Management, soil conservation, erosion control, organic enrichment, contour plowing, residue management, and cover crops. (C) For hayfields: designation of bobolink fields, marking of delayed-cut areas, and review of reseeding plans. The Wildlife Committee submits a few paragraphs of explanation follow:
1. Pesticides reduction and organic replenishment. From a wildlife point of view, perhaps the most important recommendation is that the LCC require Integrated Pest Management (IPM), thus fully implementing that part of its "Farmland Wildlife Policy." IPM bestows wildlife benefits in many ways. It emphasizes natural soil enrichment and health, erosion prevention, and residue management, as well as reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers. Polluting runoff is reduced, and off-season food sources are increased. Organic farming, too, can have these benefits. [Return to text.]
Also, public trails should be protected and meticulously posted if pesticides are to be used. If use of a particular pesticide would suggest trail-closure, should that pesticide be used?
2. Delayed-cut hayfield areas for Bobolinks. Without conservation help, ninety-five percent of Bobolink young in Lincoln and elsewhere do not survive modern haycropping. Thus, managed hayfields, which Bobolinks prefer for breeding, are now a population sink or "black hole" for this species. In contrast, the LCCs current protection of Bobolink young by deferring haycropping on two small late-cut areas (totaling only eight acres) within two larger fields is a successful and simple (though modest) strategy. (Mass. Audubons Drumlin Farm also maintains a three-acre delayed-cut area.) The LCC should continue this practice and continue to designate at least Farm Meadow and Upper Browning Field as Bobolink fields (i.e., to be maintained in hay under bird-sensitive management practices, with a delayed-cut area on a portion of the field).
The Bobolink is a priority opportunity for conservation management and education in Lincoln because, though they have declined notably in the region and are on the National Wildlife Federations "watch list," they are regaining a visible remnant population in town. Also, management for the Bobolink can benefit other species, as it did recently for Meadowlarks and for the endangered Henslows Sparrow, which bred on a delayed-cut area in 1994. LCCs successful experiment with grassland bird conservation has recently received national attention.
The OK-to-cut date. The choice of an appropriate "OK-to-cut" date is not cut and dried, however. Current arrangements permit cutting of the delayed-cut areas after July 15. Fortunately, the cut often has not occurred promptly on July 15, for in "late" years a cut date of July 15 would not have protected an adequate percentage of the years young. Simply not cutting until after July 21 has made a big difference by protecting the bulk of the years young. The results of hundreds of observations over the last five years, now being prepared for further publication, show that the Bobolink here will often continue to produce young throughout July (though in smaller numbers than earlier in the breeeding season) and may continue to occupy the breeding field into September. Thus, if one lets the bird set its own schedule for departing its breeding field (a conservative approach), the LCCs delayed-cut date should not be until after mid-August. [Return to text.]
Dan Lenthall of USDA's NRCS, however, suggests that other factors should be considered: the marketability of the hay and the (as yet unquantified) acceleration of weed-growth in the field if the cut is delayed past weed-maturation in late (?) July. [Click here for correspondence.] Delayed mowing also has economic disadvantages: the farmer loses one cut (the June cut) on the small delayed-cut area, and late hay is said to be lower in quality, often referred to disparagingly as "mulch hay." There is now information, however, supporting the use of later-maturing, warm-weather grasses (similar to native grasses of the traditional hayfield) to produce quality hay, for which there is apparently a market. As NRCSs Dan Lenthall says,
"There are producers that specialize in conservation or mulch hay because the inputs are less, they have developed their market, and the composition of the hay is less a concern. It should not be considered a low value crop."
Peter Westover adds,
"[F]ields cannot be managed in a vacuum. Farmers managing town fields by rental agreements must produce a profit from the cropland and usually need considerable encouragement, often in the form of low rental fees, to assist in meeting habitat management objectives. . . . As a rule for habitat management in open hayfields, cutting or mowing should usually be kept to the minimum that will still prevent woody plants from taking over." (p. 164 and see 169)
We suggest that the compromise date of "after July 21" be used as a cut date for delayed-cut areas on active hayfields (later on conservation fields). Research should continue on use of warm weather grasses, on weed and brush intrusion, and on the use of hayfields by late-breeding Bobolink and other late breeding species (such as the 1994 Henslows Sparrow). [Return to text.]
It would be interesting to see a demonstration of how a Lincoln hayfield could be truly managed for conservation and traditional as well as agricultural purposes. Conservation hay should not be thought of as waste hay.
Reseeding procedures. Some hayfields will continue to be productive without tilled reseeding for many years, and some fields will "naturalize" productively as their proportion of native warm-weather grasses increases (naturally or with overseeding). On other fields, some farmers propose to reseed on a faster schedule to manage intensively for a denser hay. Hayfields at least three years old are, however, definitely preferred for nesting by Bobolinks, who nest in the thatch; younger fields and those with dense legume/alfalfa stands can be devoid of nests.
Though some hayfields may periodically require reseeding, tilling of an entire delayed-cut area should be avoidedbecause there are only two small delayed-cut areas in town, loss of either for a number of years would be a significant loss, with recolonization not certain. Thus, for a field designated as a Bobolink field, the objective should probably be to maintain the field either in warm weather grasses (thus deferring the need to till and reseed) or to maintain the field in a long rotation cycle of cool-weather hay. When re-seeding is necessary, the objective should probably be either (2) to phase over three years the tilling of the delayed-cut area or (2) to avoid tilling altogether by the "no-till" overplanting of seed (though attention should be paid if herbicide use is proposed). If there were more delayed-cut areas in town, the three-year loss of one would not be so problematic. [Return to text.]
3. Marking sanctuary boundaries. Plowing, hay-cropping, and cartways sometimes creep into sanctuaries and buffers, often extensively. There is a need for well-marked or well-understood boundaries. A practical general rule should be that, if there is a sanctuary, public path, or filterstrip buffer in a leased parcel, the lessee should not plow or cut until he is sure where it is.
4. Odd-area protection.
5. Pheasants. Pheasants are regularly seen in breeding season in Lincolns hayfields, and breeding there is suspected. Elsewhere, females on the nest have been known often to be late-flushers and have been injured. Is this the experience in Lincoln? Are flushing-bars used on the mowers in town? Are they a burden? Should they be required?
6. Meadowlarks. One pair of Meadowlarks nested irregularly in Flint Fields North and South, in two of the last five years. (These were the only Meadowlarks in town, though they nest regularly at Hanscom Field.) The good news is that Meadowlarks nest earlier than Bobolinks do, and thus their young are ready to fly earlier. The Meadowlarks nesting irregularity in Lincoln, however, presents a practical difficulty. If they were to appear in a hayfield and if their nest could be located, protecting two or three acres near the nest until the last week in June might permit the juveniles to escape to a nearby grassland. Perhaps the lessee of the Flint Field North would find it acceptable to hold off briefly and cut elsewhere. It would not be an ideal solution (for predators attention would be focused on a small area), but Meadowlark breeding was successful when the Flints volunteered to do this in 1992 [?] to protect a nest on their Flint Field South.
(If unmolested, Meadowlarks may attempt a second brood at a new nest site, as they once attempted to do in the leased Flint Field North before they were cut out. Occuring later, such a second brood is even more difficult to protect in Lincolns fields.)
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