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Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Climate-Smart Habitat Restoration 

WINCHENDONThe Baker-Polito Administration continues to showcase innovated climate efforts throughout the Commonwealth in celebration of Climate Week, and today, state officials visited the Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for a tour of the conservation land. The tour, which was led by wildlife biologists and foresters from the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), highlighted forestry practices, prescribed burn, and habitat restoration efforts undertaken in recent years to improve the environment for a variety of wildlife and plant species, and outdoor recreation for people who enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing.

“As the Baker-Polito Administration celebrates Climate Week, it is important to emphasize the critical role that habitat management and restoration plays in creating a more climate-resilient landscape,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “Restoring ecological processes through prescribed fire and increasing the diversity of forest ages, species, and habitat structure improves the ability of ecosystems to function and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

“The habitat restoration efforts at the Birch Hill complex of more than 13,600 acres of conservation land are made possible due to a strong partnership between MassWildlife, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Towns of Royalston, Templeton, and Winchendon,” said DFG Commissioner Ron Amidon. “Habitat management through thinning, cutting, and burning is imperative to reestablish uncommon oak woodlands and heathlands at Birch Hill, which supports wildlife, including more than 30 rare and declining species, such as Whip-poor-wills, Ruffed Grouse, and rare insects, birds, reptiles, and plants.”

Habitat restoration and management planning at the Birch Hill WMA began in 2005, and the first step of carefully planned barrens restoration was thinning dense stands of white pine trees in 2018 and 2019. This was followed by prescribed burns in April 2021 and May of 2022 off New Boston Road and created sunlit landscapes with widely spaced oak and pitch pine woodlands, rolling glades of low-bush blueberry, and native grasslands. A young forest habitat treatment in 2019 is creating dense thickets of vigorously sprouting saplings and shrubs that provide ideal young forest habitat conditions for grouse, woodcock, and other native songbirds. These actions complement removal of declining red pine plantations on abutting properties, improving the resiliency of the forest in the face of climate change, and reducing the likelihood of catastrophic releases of carbon due to uncontrolled wildfires.

Birch Hill WMA is adjacent to other large areas of conserved land. The property contains mixed hardwood and conifer forests, open fields, old apple orchards, shrublands, and several wetland complexes. Extensive sand and gravel deposits left by glaciers give rise to a globally rare type of habitat known as barrens. The Priest Brook Barrens contain dense lowbush blueberry, pitch pine, scrub oak, and native grasses that support an abundance of rare and common wildlife. MassWildlife is also working to restore and maintain barrens along with a mosaic of forested habitat types. Several maintenance roads and unmarked trails wind through the WMA, offering a high level of access to the natural resources and can be used for a wide variety of recreational opportunities.