Marlborough gets grant to restore pitch pine barrens in Desert

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Marlborough gets grant to restore pitch pine barrens in Desert
Photos show the extent of the damage caused by a brush fire in the Desert over the summer. (Photo/Stuart Foster)

MARLBOROUGH – “The Desert” is about to get some help from the state.

The city was recently awarded a Wildlife Habitat Management grant of $49,182 from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The City Council approved the grant during its Dec. 5 meeting.

The funds will be used by the Conservation Commission to continue the restoration of the pitch pine barrens found in the Marlborough Desert Natural Area and the Sudbury Valley Trustee Memorial Forest.

“Pine barrens are among the most endangered natural communities in our area and in the world,” said Conservation Officer Priscilla Ryder. “Wildlife dependent on pine barrens has evolved to survive in this fire-adapted community and has become endangered as a result of habitat loss. The barrens’ habitat is endangered in large part due to fire suppression as well as development pressure.”

“Restoring fire to this fire-adapted ecosystem will enhance [pitch pine/scrub oak] habitat diversity and quality and increase climate resilience,” Ryder added.

According to Ryder, the funding will be used to thin a 21-acre parcel of woodland and also maintain fire breaks and remove log piles in anticipation of a controlled burn in the next few years.

This 615-acre area that straddles Marlborough and Sudbury has been known as “The Desert” because of its well-drained sandy soil in parts of the land, as well as some old sand pits.

In August, a brush fire that lasted several days burned about 25 acres after a pilot saw a column of smoke on his way to Hanscom Field. 

At the time, Marlborough fire officials said the fire was difficult to access. 

After the brush fire, Ryder told the Community Advocate that in the 29 years she’s been with the city, there has never been an uncontrolled fire in the Desert, which is a fire-dependent ecosystem. It would not have any long-term ecological consequences for the Desert, she said. 

To find a trail map of “The Desert,” along with other sites overseen by the Conservation Commission, visit https://www.marlborough-ma.gov/conservation-commission/pages/trail-maps-conservation-land.