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Save Our New England Silver Maple Forest
Ellen Mass, Friends of Alewife Reservation
It will be helpful to refer to the Boston Basin ecoregion map.
"Americans are insensitive to wonders around them. They may not perceive the mighty forests that surround them till they fall beneath the hatchet." Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote. Emerson in his book, "Nature", and Thoreau in "Walden" called for a balance between nature and man. In 1911, the Weeks Act of the federal government purchased the White Mountain National Forest, and the Green Mountain National Forest. Both designations have protected and preserved our New England landscape, permanently preserving its unique biodiversity and beauty.
The greatest threat to biological diversity is fragmentation of land and waterways which destroy habitats and force extirpation of natural populations. According to the land priorities of the Mass. Natural heritage and Endangered Species (NHES) Dept. of DFWELE the rare silver maple forest of Belmont and Cambridge's northwest Reservation known by scientists as the greater Alewife ecosystem, is a vital wildlife corridor, and must therefore be a priority of land preservation for the state's Executive office of Environmental Affairs. The forest might be fully protected under the Wetlands Protection Act, and EOEA's Program of Stewardship and Restoration. Biodiversity scientists such as Peter Alden are noting its special status through GIS maps of satellite and air photo identifying our Boston Harbor Basin watershed as the most fragmented natural landscape that contains the least amount of core habitat and least amount of natural supporting landscape (NSL) in all of Massachusetts. The thick tree canopy and rich forest floor serves to buffer and link core habitat patches made up of high quality vegetation in order to maintain ecological patterns that have allowed species to evolve and survive for thousands of years. A major waterway of Little River in Cambridge contains significant forests and forest patches on alluvial 100-500 year floodplain, where broad healthy inundation occurs under or close to silver maples, cottonwood, American Elm and Quaking Aspen, trees that can handle total soil saturation. Relocation and channeling of Little River has reduced frequency of flooding, thus non-wetland vegetation also thrives such as grasslands, sumac orchards, etc. attracting a broad array of birds and rodents, which have attracted a variety of mammals, such as beaver and deer; and mammal predators such as coyote, weasel, and mink. David Brown, wildlife specialist who has inventoried the area for the Friends of Alewife Reservation, states the forest has become a "refugium" for the mammals.
Freshwater wetlands recharge, absorb and hold water, filter impurities and pollution and provide food or great numbers of life forms. With proper raised paths or boardwalks, these meadows and areas can be preserved and provide conservation recreation and environmental learning for those who want to visit a preserved urban wild, rich in natural resources and biodiversity.
The entire greater Alewife ecosystem is another 25 acres when counting the private buffer lands, bringing the greater Alewife ecosystem to around 140 acres. Habitat for common species that thrive in Massachusetts may also contain rare species yet to be discovered. At present the pileated woodpecker has been in evidence in these forests, as has the wood thrush and American woodcock. The floodplain of over 100 acres, primarily in Cambridge, attracts insects, both rare and common, which in turn, attract warblers, thrushes and other songbirds. When Natural ecological process are allowed to take place such as flooding, ice storms, insect defoliation, brush fires (not feasible in populated areas), landscapes are altered to create a variety of ecosystems such as exists at greater Alewife, with the assurance of habitat for numerous insect, amphibian, mammal and bird species that need to forest for life cycle patterns.
Without the silver maple forest (15 acres), of surrounding natural landscape, the unprotected core habitat will disintegrate with the present forces of research and development, water pollution, and invasive exotics, etc. not to mention impacts on Alewife wetlands and water bodies. Elimination of dens, nests, ground tunnels, open woods, rich soil humus in the silver maple forest is a very real threat to wildlife and to the entire greater Alewife ecosystem as far northeast to the Mystic River. At present there is 15 to 20 degree cooling factor in this dense forest. Heating the area with impervious surfacing, and uprooting its canopy with much light, noise, urban run off which exists, will provide the death knoll to this unique and complex urban ecosystem.
North and west corridors which exist from Arlington's Spy Pond and and Belmont's western corridor through Wellington Brook and into Blair Pond; and throughout the 115 acre Reservation allow individual of species to travel from one habitat to another, increasing survival potential. Landscape provides larger and healthier populations if connected between several feeding or breeding grounds which are protected. Plants disperse seeds. Genetic materials are exchanged, and life forms perpetuate themselves.
Belmont's Alewife Study Committee Report, March 2001, advised the town to reject commercial or residential zoning as inappropriate, And requested that the Belmont Uplands be preserved and that acquisition of the property be the preferred method of acquiring the property.
In the long run, the property would be an invaluable environmental and recreational asset to the town and to future generations.
The Committee made up of prominent citizens and civic leaders in Belmont, strongly urged conservation of the property because of the adverse hydrological, environmental and traffic impacts of any potential development. The Committee also asked that the town work regionally with Belmont, Arlington and Cambridge to develop a regional plan, a goal stated by the Mystic River Watershed Association as well.
Although not surrounded by residents to fend for its survival, environmental minded folks realize the silver maple forest's great value to preserve future life of humans and non-humans. As our climate warms, future generations will remember this decision.