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Wildlife aspect of the Belmont Uplands issue
from Virginia Fuller, NE Wildlife Board
February 20, 2004
I know that the Planning Board feels that the wildlife aspect of the Uplands issue has already been covered. However, while comments are still being accepted from the public, I would like to point out that the document from Epsilon Associates contains some misinformation with regard to wildlife.
I am referring to two statements: one concerning the habitat and/or dietary needs of some of the area's inhabitants, and the other the legal status of wildlife whose presence has been documented in the area.
The Epsilon letter states that the majority of species found in the area (particularly the mammal species) are well suited for an urbanized environment and that many of them are "generalists" and therefore very adaptive.
However, we know from the research done by a highly regarded professional wildlife tracker that among the species that have been documented are the mink and the beaver. And they have very specific habitat needs.
The mink needs woodland brooks and brackish marshes along small watercourses. It must make its den in a sheltered area near that water - perhaps a den once used by muskrat (just one more example of the inter-related nature of this splendid little ecosystem). It needs cover there so that it is less vulnerable to hawks, owls, fox, coyote (all of whom are also found in this area). It needs an area of 1/2 -2 miles and it is solitary and very territorial.
The beaver is the key to wildlife abundance, a master engineer as everyone acknowledges, but it is no generalist. It prefers wooded regions, forested areas and the cottonwoods, willows and aspen that abound in the Uplands. The late Roger Caras wrote of the beaver's crucial role in the wildlife community that "in an endless parade, other wildlife move in to take advantage of the profits of the beaver's industry". And so the wetlands that beaver create provide breeding and feeding habitats for waterfowl, frogs, salamanders, fish and other mammals.
The other statement made in the Epsilon letter that should be challenged is that "there are no threatened populations of wildlife on the Uplands site." The documented presence, feeding and roosting, of the American Bald Eagle in the area refutes that statement. The entries made almost daily by local birders on the following website
include frequent references and pictures of the bird, which does not know whether it flies in Arlington or Belmont and which, while it is no longer officially considered endangered, is still listed as a threatened species.
Why care about the mink, the beaver and the eagle? Do they bring in money to the town or satisfy requirements for low-cost housing? No, they are just three of the abundant and wonderfully varied species that inhabit the Uplands, just three of the many reasons for keeping the land undeveloped as open space.
If we make the decision that wildlife and the silver maple forest are expendable, there will be no way back. Even in a world where computers make the unimaginable happen in a nano-second, no method has yet been found to recreate a forest that has been clear-cut. And that would be a terrible loss for us and for our children and for the generations that will follow them.