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On the Chopping Block
By Kathleen Regan, Lab Coordinator, Tufts Unitversity Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Ellen Mass, President, Friends of Alewife Reservation
submitted for February 16, 2006 Belmont Citizen-Herald

Just as the climate has warmed slowly, so has the loss of wetlands and their forested buffer zones disappeared, piece by piece.

Approximately 40 percent of the 13 acre Belmont Uplands silver maple forest is proposed for removal, a stand that makes up the only forested area of the Alewife Reservation, binding wetland to upland, and providing an ideal environment for plants, animals and birds. Not only will trees be lost, but also many environmental services the trees provide to the fuller Reservation and to society. The "Uplands", once the Hill familyís historic Belmont farm on flat rich land where Lydia Ogilby collected arrow heads and watched pheasants, is a tiny remaining fragment of what was once the "Great Swamp" that stretched from Fresh Pond to the Mystic River. William Brewster, world renowned ornithologist, observed birds there as a boy, and in doing so, established this large marshland as the oldest birding area in the U.S.

"The forest now makes a climate and wildlife contribution far beyond the percentage of the total preserved land mass of which it is part. It is essentially a pure stand - very unusual for silver maples, which usually occurs in mixed hardwood stands along active flood plains. As a pure stand, it is unique in this part of the country. There is nothing else like it in anywhere in eastern Massachusetts. It averages 40' to 50' in height, and is fully stocked, rich and dense with trees at 80 - 100 square feet of trees per acre of coverage" (Charles Katuska - PWS Forest specialist).

Because the forest is block shaped, rather than long and narrow, it is especially valuable as habitat and refuge. Forest interior species, such as thrushes, warblers, and flying squirrels thrive in this unique core habitat. Silver maple itself has specific habitat value as a critical food source and as provider of large nesting cavities not represented by other woodland tree species. Other area sensitive animal species such as red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcon, great horned owl, beaver, and coyote benefit from the Uplands shape due to the larger ranges their survival requires. After development, there will only be remaining edge habitat which will be more vulnerable to invasive edge-species plants and to light and noise pollution.

The forest also serves as storage for heavy metals such as lead, zinc and copper. It traps soil based pollutants through both adsorption of particles onto the forest soil and absorption of pollutants through uptake into the trees. Lest anyone think a tiny forest like the silver maple stand is too small to matter, these trees can store up to one hundred fifty thousand pounds of carbon per acre of forested land. The trees and porous soils also reduce the rate and the volume of storm water runoff. "Wetlands such as those found in the Alewife Reservation are a key part of the hydrologic cycle, and have significant impacts on both water quantity and quality. Wetlands slow down and absorb storm water runoff, then gradually release the stored water over a prolonged period. The resulting reduction of peak flows helps to reduce flooding downstream, a serious problem at Alewife. The slow movement of water through wetlands allows physical, chemical and biological processes to improve water quality by retaining and removing environmental contaminants." (Dept. Conservation and Recreation, Alewife Reservation and Alewife Brook Master Plan, June 2003.)

The site's overall ability to recharge groundwater will diminish with cutting of the forest; thus, the hydrologic system of adjacent wetlands, the largest existing wetlands in Belmont and Cambridge, will be strongly impacted. Pollutants and added storm water volume will increase the systemís core burden, adjacent habitat will be lost; and air quality will be diminished. Finally, a unique and regionally significant flood plain forest will be lost forever.

Write to: Belmont Uplands Advisory Committee, Board of Selectmen, Belmont City Hall, 455 Concord Ave., Belmont MA 02478

Kathleen Regan, Lab Coordinator, Tufts University Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Ellen Mass, President, Friends of Alewife Reservation