Sunday, January 10, 2016

Windsor Prison Farm Lands Finally Conserved!

During the final day's of last year Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed an executive order transferring 739 acres of the 899 acre Windsor Prison Farm property from the Department of Buildings and General Services (BGS) to the Fish and Wildlife Department (FWD).   The remaining 160 acres are to be retained by BGS on which the Southeast State Correctional Facility is located and additional lands for a possible 4.9 MW panel solar array development.  This decision assures the lands will remain in the public domain to be responsibly managed for wildlife and the enjoyment of outdoor enthusiasts.

Mount Ascutney from Windsor Prison Farm.

In an April 2014 post I wrote of the Windsor Prison Farm and its noteworthiness as a special Connecticut River Valley birding destination.  Once a state operated working farm affiliated with the Department of Corrections, farming operations largely ended by 1992.  Since then open lands have been gradually reverting back to various stages of early successional habitats (ESH), such as upland and lowland shrub and young forest communities.  Several fields have been maintained in grasses and mowed annually through lease arrangements with local farmers for hay production.  The consequence has been a boon for ESH bird species,  Fifteen (or 26%) of the 57 state designated bird Species of Greatest Conservation Need have been documented on prison farm lands.  These include Ruffed Grouse, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, American Woodcock, Black-billed Cuckoo, American Kestrel, Veery, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, and Bobolink.  Being ESHs are ephemeral in nature and will in time transition to forests active management is necessary for their maintenance and continued use by ESH birds, wildlife and flora.

For some years the future of the property had been up in the air with proposals including prison expansion, intensive agricultural use, and residential and industrial development.  The former Governor Douglas administration sought to dispose of "surplus" state lands for local development pursuits.  While this had its proponents, it also greatly concerned many local citizens who recognized the importance and value of the prison lands as wildlife habitat, bird watching and other recreational uses (e.g. hunting, hiking, snowmobiling, horseback riding), or to those who simply receive pleasure from taking in views of Vermont and New Hampshire undeveloped rural landscapes.

With the land transfer now in hand, the FWD and other Agency of Natural Resources departments will need to prepare a long-range management plan with involvement of stakeholders for the 739 acres.  According to FWD Commissioner Louis Porter, "We are looking forward to managing [the land] for the wildlife and for the people who care about wildlife." Porter and other agency staff will meet with the Windsor Selectboard early next month to begin a discussion of the planning process.

Southeast State Correctional Facility.

This will become the FWD's 85th Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and the 11th located in Windsor county.  Unlike the other southeastern Vermont WMAs, that are primarily forested tracts, the former prison lands present unique management opportunities for habitat diversity and bird conservation.

No comments:

Post a Comment