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Uplands Critical to Local Wildlife
By Ellen Mass, Boston Globe, Globe NorthWest, page 14, March 20, 2005

O'Neill Properties' proposal to build 300 units of low-cost housing in the Belmont Uplands should not go forward for environmental reasons ("Apartment proposal gets boost," Globe NorthWest, Feb. 24).

The Alewife Reservation has returned to a wild state. Recently, a professional inventory conducted under the auspices of the Friends of Alewife Reservation showed 19 mammal species and 90 species of birds, 40 of which nest in the reservation. Mink, gray and red fox, deer, and otter are present, as are the great horned owl, pileated woodpecker, and 20 various warblers. Both peregrine falcon and American eagle use the area for prey. O'Neill Properties owned all 140 acres of the private property that is integral to the Alewife Reservation. The land was purchased in 1990 and the firm reaped financial benefits from selling 26 of these acres to the Bulfinch Co., while holding onto the 15 acres of woodland the Belmont Uplands for future speculation. Since then, three business and housing proposals have been on the table.

The uplands is the core of the reservation, according to state environmental assessments. American woodcock, wood duck, and other species require both wetlands and uplands for survival and reproduction. Some require large tree cavities for nesting while utilizing the pond and river. The uplands also contain an important silver maple forest, the only undeveloped forest of its kind in metropolitan Boston. Many trees are more than 100 years old. The large "wolf tree" in the center of the forest is almost 20 feet in circumference and 119 feet tall. It is the second or third largest in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Environmental Management.

The Friends of the Alewife Reservation and other civic groups, including an advisory committee appointed by Belmont officials, have advocated conservation of the uplands. Belmont residents have proposed an alternative site for the O'Neill affordable-housing proposal, but the company has adamantly opposed town and community solutions. Efforts are underway to increase open space in the reservation and restore more of its biodiversity, as well as to deal with flooding in the area. At a time of global warming and threatened wildlife, we should not cut down a small floodplain forest in the most densely populated area of Belmont, Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington.

Friends of the Alewife Reservation