Prescribed Burning in Mashpee, MA, To Improve New England Cottontail Habitat

By Sam Houghton, Mashpee Enterprise

Mashpee is the recipient of a $24,000 grant to fund a prescribed burn of the Holland Mills Pine Barren. The Baker-Polito Administration announced the grant on January 3.

Prescribed burning in Massachusetts

Setting a prescribed burn on a pine barrens habitat.

The grant was listed among 20 other projects and a total of $506,856 in grants provided by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game through their Habitat Management Grant Program administered by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. This year, the Baker Administration increased the funding of the program by $200,000 through the use of environmental bond funds.

“[This is] great news,” Katelyn W. Cadoret said of the grant. Cadoret is assistant conservation agent for the town of Mashpee.

The Pine Barrens, parts of which are owned by the town and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, is a section of the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge, which totals nearly 6,000 acres.
Representatives of the Northeast Forest and Fire Management LLC applied for the funds on behalf of Mashpee. The Sandwich-based group plans and assists with prescribed burns throughout the region.

Controlled burns help ecosystems in a variety of ways. Burned vegetation puts nutrients on the forest floor, invigorating new growth. Controlled burns also kill off invasive shrub species, such as bush honeysuckle and Japanese barberry, allowing native species to grow. And controlled burns, if done effectively, can provide a more beneficial habitat for wildlife such as the New England cottontail and the northern long-eared bat. They also minimize the risk of forest fires as the controlled burn consumes the fuel from dead wood on the ground.

MassWildlife’s Habitat Management Grant Program is in its third year and has now awarded over $1,215,000 in funding to 51 projects. The program’s mission is to provide financial assistance to municipal and private landowners of conserved properties to improve and manage habitat for wildlife that has been deemed in greatest conservation need, and also for game species. Projects awarded with funds are also designed to expand outdoor recreational opportunities.

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Burning restores soil fertility and favors native plants like scrub oak.

“The Habitat Management Grant Program is a great example of the strong partnership between the state, municipalities, private landowners and organizations working together to conserve land and wildlife,” Governor Charles D. Baker, Jr., was quoted as saying in a press release issued by the state. “These grants are an important tool to help build upon the thousands of acres of important conservation land for wildlife and residents across the Commonwealth.”

This year, funds provided by the grant program will benefit 20 wildlife habitat improvement projects totaling 950 acres in 19 Massachusetts communities. The projects will complement ongoing habitat management efforts currently underway on state-owned lands.

Read more about habitat work to help New England cottontails in the Mashpee area.