The Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board is recognizing the work of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council with an award named after former governor and noted conservationist Francis Sargent.
MassWildlife presented BNRC with the Francis W. Sargent Conservation Award for its work protecting natural resources and its contributions to the sporting community during a ceremony Tuesday at the Steadman Pond Reserve in Monterey and Tyringham. BNRC President Tad Ames accepted the award.
“We do not conserve land so that we can put it in a glass case and observe how wonderful it is and pat ourselves on the back for having set it aside,” Ames said. “We work together to conserve land so that people can feel it. They can feel the touch of bark under their hand, so they can be startled by a grouse explodes from the brush, so they can taste the sweet corn or the venison stew or see the wind in the canopy. If we can’t get people out on the land enjoying it and becoming richer for the experience, then we have not accomplished our whole job.”
Founded in 1967, BNRC manages 8,600 acres and protects an additional 10,000 throughout Berkshire County. This marked the first time an organization received the award since it was established in 2000. It had been given solely to individuals. Francis Sargent served as Massachusetts governor from 1969 to 1975. He directed the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in 1963. George Darey has chaired the MassWildlife Board for the past 34 years.
“This is a very, very unique partnership with that Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and Berkshire Natural Resources Council have,” Darey said. “It happens nowhere else anywhere in the state. The result of this has been putting together almost 8,000 acres and 47 major projects that we’ve worked on together.”
Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Commissioner George Peterson says without BNRC and groups like it, DFG and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife would not be able to conserve the 200,000 acres under their care.
“I was talking to our land manager and said ‘Well, what have they [BNRC] specifically done?’” Peterson recalled. “He said ‘Anything and everything.’ When we pick up the phone, if we need a grant to do due diligence on a piece of property, if we need somebody to purchase property to protect it for the short-term while we get our finances in line and helping us clean up sites that we purchase. Anything and everything – this organization has done.”
Working with Berkshire landowners, BNRC protects farms, forests and streams, offering hiking trails and managing habitat restoration projects. Ames says the award means that the nonprofit has made the Berkshires a better place to live for humans, animals and plants. He says BNRC wants to see the state’s wildlife, forest and land trust areas become part of an uninterrupted, continuous network of conservation land.
“That offers safe and healthy passage for animals and even plants as they seek to adapt to a changing climate,” Ames said. “A continuous network that offers pathways from my house to yours, from town into nature and back again so that men, women and children can all walk with a hiking stick in their hand or a fishing pole, so they can walk with a hunting bow or a pair of binoculars.”