The Town Forest, 13.8 acres of forested land adjacent to the Town Common, will be the subject of a citizen’s petition warrant article.
Town Cemetery Sexton Kent Allen received 54 signatures, more than the 25 required to put the petition on the ballot.
The petition reads: “To see if the Town will vote to authorize the transfer of all supervision, management duties and responsibilities of the ‘Town Forest,’ Tax map 6-97-1, from the Conservation Commission to the Town Manager with the advice and recommendations from the Historic District/Heritage Commission, Conservation Commission and Town Council, thus allowing for the cleanup and public use of this parcel.”
Allen said the Town Common is currently under the Town Manager’s review, and the petition would place the Town Forest under his jurisdiction as well. Under the petition, the Town Manager would decide whether cleanup should occur.
“What this does is bring the two adjacent parcels together and the Heritage Commission, Historical Commission and Conservation Commission will be advisory,” he said. “The Town Manager will have the authority over it as it should be.”
Allen said he wants to complete the project he started and brought to the Heritage Commission in July.
“The Heritage Commission gave me the OK to clean it up but the Conservation Commission was against it,” he said. “The Town Council asked Heritage Commission Chairman Art Rugg and Conservation Commission Chairman Deb Lievens to work together on it and that didn’t happen, so now it’s going to the voters to decide.”
During a walk of the forest in October with Town Forester Charlie Moreno and several members of the Conservation Commission, Town Manager Kevin Smith and others, Moreno said he viewed the Town Common, picnic area and forest as going from one room to another, with each having different layouts and amenities, similar to what one would find in different rooms in a house.
“It’s healthy, it’s growing,” Moreno said of the forest, which he explained is about 95 percent red oak, white pine and sugar maple.
“Fifty years from now we can come back here and it will be different, just as it is different now than it was 50 years ago,” he said. “By and large, the forest replenishes itself. We don’t plant.”
Moreno said periodic thinning is important to forest management, as it allows for open areas where sunlight can come in and allow younger growth to develop. Moreno also said that gaps in the forest canopy allow for “self regeneration.”
Moreno’s visit was intended to explain how forests are managed, given Allen’s plans to remove saplings and fallen branches.
“Some cleanup is good aesthetically, but if saplings are removed, you are removing future growth,” Moreno said.
In a November discussion of the Town Forest at the Town Council, the use of volunteers was brought up.
Smith told the Council that Moreno had said the town is doing what it is supposed to do in terms of cleaning away trees that are approaching the end of their lives to make way for smaller, younger trees to flourish.
Smith added that Primex, the insurance carrier for the town, and the town attorney, Mike Ramsdell, said that from a liability standpoint, volunteers should not be used to do any clearing work, even if they signed a waiver.
At that time, Conservation Commission member Eugene Harrington added that the Conservation Commission is responsible for all town-owned land per a 1984 Town Meeting vote. He noted that the Heritage Commission oversees what the Conservation Commission does.
Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz said it was important to determine the property’s purpose. “Is it a park or a forest,” Speltz asked.
He then explained that if it is a forest, then trees 3 inches in diameter or greater cannot be removed because that would destroy future growth, and some of the debris, such as blown down trees, are used by animals for protection and habitat.
At that time, Allen repeated his desire to see the forest “cleaned up.” He said he wanted brush and logs cleaned away so people can walk the trails, while the Conservation Commission wants to treat it as a forest.
Allen said this week that it would take about two years of part-time volunteer work by Boy Scouts to remove the smaller brush and branches and that people who work with power tools for a living have volunteered to help with the project.
“I think there would be concern about Boy Scouts using power tools and rightly so, but look at Beautify Londonderry, with the plantings and cleanup they do around town, and they dig holes and plant and pick up debris and litter,” he said. “We’d be doing the same thing, only in the Town Forest.”
He said it took him less than a week to garner the necessary signatures.
“What I hope to see is once it is cleaned up, the four Boy Scout troops and their leaders will do an annual spring and fall walk-through and keep the forest clean,” Allen said.
He said that the southeast corner of the forest was never harvested and is the densest part of the forest.
“Back in 1985, the late Wallace P. Mack donated a portion and the town bought a portion of land that is now the Town Forest. We need to clean it up and be good stewards of the forest for future generation,” Allen said.
Contacted last week, Smith said that if the Town Forest is put under the auspices of the Town Manager, money used to manage the forest would have to be discussed.
“Right now the Conservation Commission uses funds from the Conservation Fund to manage the forest, such as the Burning Bush invasive plant removal and the removal of Bittersweet, but if the management of the forest changes, then those funds would have to found somewhere else,” Smith said.