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Oct. 25, 2006
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Return to Moosewood Ecological

Taking inventory of city land and wildlife



pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006

Littleton looks out over the back waters of the Nashua River.
Staff photos by bob hammerstrom
Littleton looks out over the back waters of the Nashua River.

NASHUA - A blue heron poised motionless on a canal bank Tuesday morning in Mine Falls Park.

It waited until a small group of men were within a dozen yards before it lifted awkwardly - looking more reptilian than avian – and swooped across the man-made channel that carries water that once powered the city’s industrial past.

“They look prehistoric when they take off,” commented Jeff Littleton, an environmental consultant walking the park as part of a natural resources inventory his company is undertaking for the city’s conservation commission.

More than the wildlife observed – which on this morning included mallard and wood ducks, squirrels and chipmunks – it was the wildlife suggested by the park’s rich habitat that seemed to excite Littleton most.

That habitat included forests, flood plains, marshes and vernal pools that could harbor a variety of fowl and amphibians, including common and uncommon species of salamanders.

At one place, he dug his hand into a mound of moist, sandy soil – perfect, he said, for nesting turtles.

Particularly interesting was the Cove area, an oxbow pond formed into a backward “C” with the open end facing the Nashua River.

“These little places can be biologically rich,” Littleton said.

Pinpointing such rich areas – including land the city now owns or might someday like to own – is the point of the natural resources inventory.

Littleton’s consulting company, Moosewood Ecological Services based out of Harrisville, was hired for $8,640 to conduct the survey, according to city officials. The survey is meant to be the basis for a conservation plan and would include private land the city might one day buy outright, or purchase conservation easements to maintain as open space.

The conservation commission has money to buy land through its budget, which is funded by land use change taxes. However, land purchases must be approved by the board of aldermen.
Environmental consultant Jeff Littleton looks at the soil while checking a hole in the trail during a walk through Mine Falls Park in Nashua on Tuesday.
Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom
Environmental consultant Jeff Littleton looks at the soil while checking a hole in the trail during a walk through Mine Falls Park in Nashua on Tuesday.

Commission Chairwoman Linda Bretz said the inventory would serve as a guide as the city sorts through properties that would be the most desirable to buy.

A natural resource inventory was last done in the early 1990s, when the city’s long-range planner at the time essentially compiled by hand what now would be done by Geographic Information Systems technology, building “layer upon layer upon layer” of information that showed topography, streams and forests, said Kathy Hersh, the city’s Community Development director.

Like that study, the Moosewood inventory will be done largely on computers, using GIS technology and aerial photographs the state has already taken as part of a flood control project, said Littleton, who also teaches environmental courses at Keene State College and Antioch University New England.

“You can glean a lot out of the spatial data and the aerials,” he said.

Littleton said his staff includes a researcher and a GIS expert. Additionally, he can draw on the expertise of a network of scientists, including geologists and plant experts, he said.

Besides the computer mapping, the survey will also be conducted through several of what Littleton called “windshield surveys,” or site visits to support what the maps show. Tuesday’s visit to Mine Falls was one such windshield survey.

“I’m actually confirming what aerial photographs have shown to me,” Littleton said.

As far as Mine Falls, what they’ve shown is how much a “goldmine” the park is to the city.

“It’s quite a treasure for a town this size to have 325 acres along the river,” said Peter Temperino, a conservation commission member who accompanied Littleton on his two-hour walk through the eastern portions of Mine Falls, including trails along both the canal and the river.

The survey confirmed to Littleton the presence of fragmities, an invasive plant species, as expected. But the walking tour uncovered something not expected – pitch pine near a stand of taller white pines.

Pitch pine, a type of pine that appears in pine barrens, is fire resilient and often grows in fire-scarred land, Littleton said.

He also noted the park includes a variety of pools and marshes in close proximity, which would allow the interbreeding of a variety of fowl and amphibians.

Genetic diversity is as important as a diversity of types of wildlife, he said.

“You need to have a big mix in the gene pool,” Littleton said.

Littleton will present an update on his survey to the conservation commission in November.

His final report will be presented to the board of aldermen during a meeting in early January.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.


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