Wildlife-friendly leasing of farm land owned by a municipal conservation commission:
an example in Lincoln, Mass.

In Massachusetts, public and private conservation organizations own hundreds of thousands of acres, some of which are grassland. Municipal conservation commissions, for example, control more than eighty-five thousand acres. Twenty-eight commissions (including Lincoln's) each control at least a thousand acres of land. Wildlife protection, however, is but one of many issues clamoring for their attention.

The Lincoln Conservation Commission (LCC) is known as a good land manager. It has chosen to manage or lease some of their holdings as agricultural land, including at least 220 acres of hayfields. This beneficial policy attracts open land wildlife (including Bobolinks) and supports the goals of open space, preservation of traditional landscape, recreation, education, and maintenance of both community-based and family farming.

Recent writers have pointed out that wildlife-hostile agribusiness practices are transforming farmland throughout the country (Rodenhouse et al. 1992; Butcher 1993; Line 1994). They also suggest that soon the only breeding reservoirs for many grassland species may be either less-intensive farms on the metropolitan fringe or public lands, such as airports and conservation lands. Although agribusiness is not as prevalent in Massachusetts, our conservation problems may be comparable. For example, grasslands continue to be abandoned or developed, and our dairy farms, with their hayfields and their pastoral beauty, are leaving the landscape. Thus, local conservation lands may become even more important, by default, as regional breeding islands for certain grassland species. And a problem may arise when intensive farming, even at the local scale, threatens to interfere with a conservation owner's mission.

Over the last decade, the LCC has adopted agricultural policies and lease conditions designed to promote soil conservation and health, minimize pesticide use, and protect wetlands and wildlife. At the invitation of the LCC and the local land trust, the town's Wildlife Advisory Committee in 1997 provided additional information and recommendations, which were adopted by the LCC. Some of these management documents are attached for the information of others concerned about these issues. These documents are not offered as models, but only as examples of what one town has done. If they can be of help to others, those who worked on these issues would be pleased. Our thanks to Geoff McGeon, LCC Conservation Administrator, for all his help. I would be interested in learning of other towns' experiences. The bibliography lists many technical resources and includes extracts from some.

Stephen Ells, Lincoln MA <sfe<AT>post.harvard.edu>

The contact at Lincoln Conservation Commission, as of April 2000, is Tom Gumbartt, Conservation Administrator, Town Offices, Lincoln MA 01773. Phone 781-259-2612. E-mail <gumbartt@lincolntown.org>.

Lincoln's policy and leasing documents are the following:

For related articles on this site, see those about successful conservation of breeding Bobolinks, and about the fortuitous appearance of rare Henslow's Sparrows, which bred on the bobolink delayed-cut sanctuary in 1994. For Massachusetts Audubon Society's excellent site on grassland bird conservation, click here.

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