WD Cowls and Kestrel Land Trust Conserve 2,038 acres with MA Fish & Game and USDA FS
Located in Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelham, these Conserved Forests are Adjacent to
and Expand Upon the Largest Contiguous Private Conservation Project in MA History

Contact: Cinda Jones cjones@cowls.com 413-575-2900
Kristin DeBoer, kristin@kestreltrust.org, 413-695-3468

December 30, 2020

After five years of federal, state, and local due diligence, over 2,000 acres of working forests, between North Amherst and the Quabbin Reservoir, are being conserved in order to protect Amherst and Boston water supplies; clean air; wildlife habitat; and local forest products production.

Named the Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest, this conservation project in the towns of Pelham, Shutesbury, and Leverett, add over 50% more conservation land to the partners’ 2011 endeavor, the 3,486 acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest, then the largest contiguous private conservation deal in state history.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to investing in the protection of open space and sustainable forestry, which are critically important to the character and economic vitality of Massachusetts’ rural communities,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This public-private partnership will permanently conserve a large parcel of valuable forest land and wildlife habitat, provide greater access to open space and support our efforts to address climate change.”

“Conserving more than 2,000 acres of forest land under continued private ownership is great news for these communities, wildlife, and people who enjoy the outdoors,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “We appreciate the partnership with W.D. Cowls, the Kestrel Land Trust, and significant funding from the federal Forest Legacy Program that made this project possible.”

“I credit Kristin DeBoer with this conservation legacy,” says Cinda Jones, 9th generation tree farmer. “Fifteen years ago, when Kristin first became ED of the Kestrel Land Trust, she came into my office, introduced herself, and immediately told me I should conserve Cowls’ biggest contiguous parcels of timberland. I said “Nice to meet you, Kristin DeBoer. You must be out of your mind.” Over the years she convinced me that both she and conservation are in my family’s best interests and I am so grateful.”

The Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest is named for Cowls’ 7th generation leader who was a significant tree, tobacco, and onion farmer, and a regional community investor. Walter C. Jones developed the country’s first electric sawmill in what’s today The Mill District in North Amherst and he was a co-founder and President of the Amherst Water Company – then a private entity. He built Amherst’s first community-scale affordable home building/buying opportunity with Grandview Heights (Harlow Drive area) in North Amherst; and created the town’s first affordable leasing opportunities as a founding member of the Amherst Housing Authority.

“My best memories of Gramp are driving around in the woods, all over the Valley, in that big Checker cab of his. We’d stop at farms and diners and see old friends and make new ones. His business deals were made on napkins and with handshakes,” says grandson, Evan Jones.

While WD Cowls will continue to own and manage the 2,038-acre Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest, the Conservation Restriction (CR) precludes future development (including residential, solar, cell towers and wind power), requires sustainable forestry practices, and assures public access to the land for hiking, hunting, and fishing, — all consistent with family philosophy and long-standing practice.

“Responsibly managing a forest is more complex than deciding which tree should be harvested today and which tree should be grown for tomorrow.” says VP of Timberland Management, Shane Bajnoci. “We want our working forests to be productive and diverse. The same land that grows forest products also provides a variety of wildlife habitat; cleans air and water; and offers important recreational opportunities throughout the year. I owe it to my twin girls to leave tomorrow’s forests as productive and beneficial as the ones I manage today. These Conservation Restrictions are a source of real pride and purpose for all of us.”
Cowls’ combined 5,500 acres of conserved working forests in Leverett, Pelham, and Shutesbury are the heart of Cowls family’s 280-year-old sustainable forestry business. Today’s Mill District in North Amherst — featuring Cowls Building Supply; Provisions; The Lift; Jakes; North Square; and Riverside Park Shops –sits where the sawmill used to run.

The $1,650-per-acre conservation deal enables the family business to still own the timberland and maintain forestry operations while liquidating some much-needed funds to finish Mill District development obligations that were committed to before COVID’s economic downturn. Most importantly, this conservation investment reinforces the family’s commitment to a sustainable environment.

“Sure we could sell or develop this land and make more money, but Evan and I realize our responsibility to assure the planet’s environmental health. We’re dedicated to sustainable forestry; landscape level conservation projects; complimentary solar energy investments; and building community where infrastructure already exists” said Jones.

“Clean air and water; access to recreation; and the ability to harvest local forest products are critical and finite. We’re making it our legacy to permanently conserve natural, cultural, and recreational values that natural resources hold in our community,” said Cinda Jones, the 9th generation and first female to run WD Cowls, Inc. “We thank Kristin DeBoer of the Kestrel Land Trust for making it possible for us to do the right thing.”

Since 1741, Cowls has been sustainably managing timberland and building the Pioneer Valley from its Home Farm in North Amherst, MA. Over the past 280 years, Cowls’ Home Farm has produced and distributed onions, tobacco, and dairy products. From the Home Farm offices, Cowls built and ran a rock quarry; constructed the Amherst to Sunderland to Holyoke street railway system; created innumerable residential and commercial subdivisions; and ran a sawmill and a planing mill. Today Cowls’ Home Farm is called The Mill District and features Cowls Building Supply; nearly 200 units of rental housing; shops and restaurants; outdoor experiences; and Cowls offices from which the family business manages improved real estate and thousands of acres of timberland as the Commonwealth’s largest private landowner.

This Conservation Restriction surrounds three exclusions that are optioned for solar farm development in Shutesbury. “The only thing better than conservation by itself is doubling our commitment to the environment by harvesting green energy from the sun proximate to our conserved forests,” says Cinda Jones.

The appraised value of this Conservation Restriction was $3,350,000. The landowner agreed to sell for $100,000 less to facilitate the project: Public funding came from Land and Water Conservation Fund and US Forest Legacy Program which is designed to conserve private forests for the public good; the Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game; and private funds raised by Kestrel Land Trust from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation and other philanthropists.

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game will hold the Conservation Restriction over WD Cowls land, ensuring that the forest will always be managed to support wildlife habitat and guarantee public access for hunting, fishing, and hiking.

“Kestrel is so grateful to Cinda and Evan Jones for making this incredible commitment to keeping this family forest as forest forever. As a leader in the Amherst-area business community Cowls is demonstrating in real time that development pursuits can be balanced by conservation leadership.” Said Kristin DeBoer, Executive Director of the Kestrel Land Trust. “This CR, preceded by the last one to conserve the 3,486 Paul C Jones Working Forest, is an outstanding contribution to maintaining the rural forested hilltowns of the Valley.”

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