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The Gift of Forever Wildlands in Shutesbury, Leverett & Sunderland

Deep forest

In the face of global problems like the climate and biodiversity crises, large-scale land conservation efforts are crucial. Yet even at a small scale, protecting nature for its own sake is vital. Wildlands, where no logging or resource extraction takes place, offer refuge for wildlife and allow forests to mature, maximizing carbon storage: an essential climate solution.

Less than 4% of New England’s forests are protected as wildlands: the regional goal among conservation groups is 10%. That’s why even small parcels conserved through landower donations are so important. At the end of 2023, three sets of landowners donated land or a Conservation Restriction to Kestrel to protect their forestlands as wildlands in the West Quabbin Region.

Whitney Land Donation: 5 acres in Shutesbury
In the 1960s, UMass Amherst professor Lester Whitney and his wife bought a landlocked 5-acre forested lot not far from their cottage at Lake Wyola in Shutesbury. The land had been logged in the 1930s but for decades had been left to mature, and it could only be reached by foot.

“Over the years we enjoyed hiking and camping there,” son Scott Whitney said. “The peace and tranquility of the old stand of pines made it feel far away from everything.”
In 1999, Scott’s parents passed the land to him and his wife Kathryn. But over the years, it became more challenging to access the land as lots along Wendell Rd were developed. And, when offered the chance to harvest timber with their neighbors, Scott and Kathy declined. “We felt adamantly that leaving the land alone was its best use.”

When they learned that Kestrel had become owner of the Ames Pond land abutting their parcel, they decided it was time to secure their forest’s future. In 2023, they gifted their land to Kestrel in memory of Scott’s father. Scott is pleased that their gift expands Kestrel’s Bright Water Bog Nature Retreat and that he “can rest assured that our land will remain in its wild and natural condition forever.”

Kahn Land Donation: 22 acres in Leverett
On the other side of Lake Wyola, another set of landowners were also considering the future of their land. Here, nearly 23 acres of pine and hemlock forest provide valuable wildlife habitat in Leverett.

Ken Kahn and his wife bought this land together with friends 40 years ago. As a decades-long board member of Rattlesnake Gutter Trust, Ken understands the value of protecting mature forests—particularly parcels like his that haven’t been harvested for at least 80 years. “We never wanted to cut it, and as backland, it’s best to preserve it for the public to enjoy.”

This forest is valuable for buffering core habitats, and enhancing connectivity and resilience. It also supports a trail system connecting Leverett to Fiske Pond in Wendell.

For these reasons, Ken felt it was time to act. “I’m getting older and it just felt like time to do something. I didn’t want to leave the land in limbo,” he said. Because his land abuts 10 acres of land Kestrel already owns, it made sense to him to donate it, creating a larger conservation area. The two parcels are connected by the trail system. “I think Kestrel is the right organization to conserve land that’s contiguous to several towns, with the expertise to put these projects together.”

Pick CR Donation: 9 acres in Sunderland
New Kestrel Board member Nancy Pick lives in Sunderland, but while spending a semester in Germany in 2022, she heard that a parcel of forest on Mount Toby, hiking distance from her home, was up for sale. “I jumped on it, all the way from Berlin,” she said.

As a Town Conservation Commissioner, Nancy knew these 9 acres of forest were important. The land includes a dramatic rock ledge and provides critical habitat for wildlife and plants—including some rare and endangered species. A hiking trail also runs through the parcel.

“People assume that all of Mount Toby is protected, but in fact it’s a complicated patchwork of public and private land,” Nancy said. “This was my chance to turn another little piece of the mountain ‘green’ on the conservation maps.” In 2023, she purchased the land and donated a Conservation Restriction to Kestrel.

“We’re dedicated to letting it be forever wild. Being able to permanently protect this beautiful patch of land has made me feel a notch better about the future!”

 

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