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On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Primer on the MA Endangered Species Act (MESA) and Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP)

Pictured below is a GIS map made by TTOR, showing a CR property in Central Massachusetts, and its context within the National Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) areas defined by the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. (DFW).  NHESP's BioMap is meant to serve as a framework for both government and non-profit agencies like land trusts, to help identify priority habitat sites for land conservation efforts.  NHESP also reviews property site work in areas subject to the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA), for compliance with that legislation.   

Let's start with a primer on areas regulated under MESA, and what that means for landowners.  DFW designates sensitive habitat areas through NHESP, and any work performed in "Priority Habitat of Rare Species" (in red on the map below) is subject to MESA, which protects the habitats of 435 total native plant and animal species.  A subset of these Priority Habitats are "Estimated Habitats," which specifically protect rare wetland wildlife species, but not plants, and fall under the MA Wetlands Protection Act (WPA), which will be the subject of a separate post.  As you can see on the map, the red Priority Habitat has off-white hatching, which indicates that it is also an Estimated Habitat of rare wetland animal species.  Therefore, both MESA and the WPA would apply to work in that area. 

In Priority Habitat areas, the state requires that landowners submit MESA applications for any projects that could lead to habitat alterations, and are not on the list of MESA-exemptions.  For non-exempt work, NHESP reviews plans, makes a determination of effect on listed species, and issues (or denies) permits certifying that the activity does not result in a prohibited "take" of a state-listed endangered, threatened, or special concern species.

So what does this mean for you as a CR landowner?  Since you are stewards of land that may very well contain rare species habitat and fall into MESA or WPA-applicable areas, it is wise to check whether your property, or parts of your property, are subject to it prior to creating site plans or carrying out work that alters the landscape!  Failure to check and submit the proper applications to NHESP under MESA can lead to fines.  Checking whether MESA is applicable is ultimately the landowner's responsibility, and we hope that the links above will get you started on finding that information if you need it.  Project proponents must apply directly to NHESP for MESA determinations. For projects subject to the WPA, the applicant must go through the town or city Conservation Commission. 

The helpful links to MESA above outline the application process that landowners must go through via NHESP in order to receive permits for work in Priority and Estimated Habitat Areas, and can help you to determine whether any part of your property is designated as such.  It even has a handy online viewer accessible from your home computer.  On a further note, beyond MESA, site alterations of greater than two acres of Priority Habitat requires a more rigorous review under what is known as the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), legislation which we will not get into right now! 

NHESP also identifies important habitat areas that are NOT regulated by MESA in its new BioMap2, published in November 2010.  These are the areas seen in blue and orange hatching on the legend above, "BioMap Core Habitat," and "BioMap Critical Natural Landscape" (none present on this sample map). The program also tracks certified and potential vernal pools, which are subject to the MA Wetland Protection Act (WPA), to be covered in a separate post.  BioMap2 is intended to serve as a framework for habitat-oriented land protection across Massachusetts. 

Core Habitat identifies key areas statewide that are important to protect, as they are prime habitat for a list of species that includes 256 plants, 111 invertebrates, 50 birds, 15 reptiles, seven amphibians, and nine mammals.  Core Habitat also includes 94 identified Priority Natural Communities, quality vernal pool habitat, Forest Core, Wetland Core, and Aquatic Core. 

Critical Natural Landscapes complement and sometimes overlap Core Habitat.  These landscapes include the largest identified landscape blocks in each of eight ecoregion designations by which NHESP defines the Commonwealth, as well as habitats adjacent to identified Wetland and Aquatic Core ecosystems.  Overall, Critical Natural Landscapes are designated as support landscapes for supporting intact ecological processes, maintaining habitat connectivity, enhancing ecological resilience, and buffering wetland Core Habitats for long-term integrity. 

This short summary of NHESP only scratches the surface, and draws from the full sixty-page summary report of the state's BioMap2, just released in November 2010, which you can download here by clicking on the "Summary Report" link by the middle of the page. 

If you would like to request a map similar to the one pictured above, showing your CR in relation to MESA-regulated Priority and Estimated Habitats, NHESP-identified Core Habitat and Critical Natural Landscape, and known vernal pools, just send an email to

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wetland creatures, both large and small

Alder Meadow Swamp
Our travels last week to southern Worcester County revealed yet another amazing example of wetland habitat protection by conservation restriction. This 97 acre CR protects a mixture of upland mixed forest, agricultural fields, and wetlands including vernal pools and 35 acres of alder-red maple swamp which is part of more than 100 acres known locally as Alder Meadow.  By far the most significant feature of the property, this wetland provides excellent habitat and likely supports rare species as well. 

Nesting pair of great blue herons
In addition to the numerous frogs we saw (and heard), we also were lucky enough to observe a pair of great blue herons sitting atop their nest in the middle of the swamp.  Although at present, the range of great blue herons is well distributed throughout North America, human intrusions near their rookeries in the form of suburban sprawl, timber cutting, wetland drainage and other disturbances are slowly nibbling away at critical nesting habitat, but thankfully this particular rookery is protected forever by CR.

Green frog peering through the sedges

Sally Naser, CR Monitoring Specialist

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Environmental laws to keep in mind

(Image from MA EOEEA)
In addition to following their conservation restriction, every landowner should keep in mind whether an activity they plan to undertake requires approval under the Wetlands Protection Act (WPA), zoning bylaws, or any other federal, state and local law. Landowers should pay particular attention to the WPA, which protects wetlands and the public interests they serve, including flood control, prevention of pollution and storm damage, and water supplies, fisheries, and wildlife habitat. These public interests are protected by requiring a careful review of proposed work that may alter wetlands. The law protects not only wetlands, but other resource areas, such as land subject to flooding (100-year floodplains), the riverfront area (added by the Rivers Protection Act), and land under water bodies, waterways, salt ponds, fish runs, and the ocean.

The following information is provided to help you understand whether an activity is subject to any law or regulation and where to go for more information: 

Wetlands and Waterways
Where to go for more information
Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA)
DEP (Department of Environmental Protection); DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation); DFW (Division of Fish and Game);

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meet our CR monitoring team

Sally Naser joined the Conservation Restriction Program in November of 2010 as the Conservation Restriction Monitoring Specialist based at the Doyle Center in Leominster. Sally previously served as Boundary Program Manager for the Appalachian Trail in partnership with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. While there, Sally worked with 24 of the 31 volunteer trails clubs responsible for maintaining the Appalachian Trail between Virginia and Maine, assisting them with boundary maintenance, monitoring, and encroachment mitigation along the 1,300 miles and 112,000 acres of land that provide a protective buffer to the Appalachian Trail corridor. Perhaps Sally’s greatest contribution to the Trail was her ability to inspire, train, and involve volunteers dedicated to doing this important work while providing the leadership to keep them coming back. In Sally’s first six months with The Trustees, she has begun a number of new initiatives aimed at establishing more accurate CR boundaries, helping CR landowners (and their abutters) to be more responsible land stewards, and recruiting volunteers to assist in monitoring CR lands across the state. Sally, your stewardship prowess knows no bounds!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paper version of "On the Land" in the mail!

If you are a CR landowner, look for the newest edition of our annual "On the Land" newsletter mailed out to you last week. If you want a copy, you can download one from by clicking HERE or email us at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Fitchburg park takes shape -- and adds more protected acres

The Gateway Park in Fitchburg is now under construction (see earlier post about this new park and conservation restriction by clicking HERE). The park is also growing with the addition of 7 acres of woods that were recently purchased -- and soon to be transferred to the City -- by The Trustees of Reservations working through its affiliate Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust. Like the Gateway Park, this additional land will be protected by a conservation restriction co-held by The Trustees of Reservations and North County Land Trust. The project was made possible by support from Fidelity Bank, a Conservation Partnership Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the Fields Pond Foundation.

Community Conservation Specialist, Dave Outman, is seen below checking on the progress of the Gateway Park construction.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Glimpses of Resident Wildlife

As CR monitors, we are often lucky enough to glimpse a variety of animals in their home habitat, or at least evidence of their presence in the form of tracks, foraging evidence, or scat.  Here are a few photographs of some common wildlife from recent annual monitoring visits!  

(A young porcupine snacks on buds and twigs high in a tree on a sunny spring day)

(Hemlock is among porcupines' favorite foods!)

(Red tailed hawk, grounded and turning an eye to the camera  in Devens, MA)
(Bank swallows create these nest holes seen in sand dunes on a Martha's Vineyard CR)