Facts about the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve

A publication by the Bioreserve Partners
Partners include: MA Executive Office of Environmental Affairs,Jane Swift-Governor, Bob Durand-Secretary, The City of Fall River, Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr.,The Trustees of Reservations, Andrew Kendall-Executive Director

What is the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve?

The Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve is a large area of protected land just east of downtown Fall River.The purpose of the over 13,600 acre Bioreserve is to protect, restore and enhance the biological diversity and ecological integrity of a large scale ecosystem representative of the region; to permanently protect public water supplies and cultural resources; to offer interpretive and educational programs; and to provide opportunities for appropriate public use and enjoyment of this natural environment.
The Bioreserve includes 5,150 acres of the Freetown/Fall River State Forest; 360 acres of the Acushnet Wildlife Management Area; 4,300 acres of watershed and conservation lands owned by the City of Fall River; and 3,800 acres of the former Acushnet Saw Mills property, being acquired by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and The Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit land conservation organization.

What is a bioreserve?

A bioreserve is a large land area that is permanently protected from development and managed to ensure the long term health of the natural resources. The concept, which originated in a program of the United Nations, aims to balance conservation of biological diversity, protection of cultural resources, economic development, and human activity.

Why establish a bioreserve here?

Southeastern Massachusetts is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Statewide we lose 44 acres of open space to development every day, and in this region sprawl is consuming land at three times the rate of population growth. In establishing the Bioreserve, we seized a rare opportunity to protect a large, contiguous forest with diverse habitats and natural communities.
The new Bioreserve encompasses and protects natural communities representative of the region. It also contains several important communities and species considered at risk by the state's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. These include Atlantic white cedar swamps, which host several rare species and have been decreasing over the years due to filling, draining, and extensive conversions to cranberry bogs; and the pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, which host species that are adapted to dry conditions and recurring fires. The Bioreserve is also home to such endangered, threatened, or at risk species as the Plymouth gentian, a flowering plant found only along broad, sloping lakeshores; marbled and four-toed salamanders, spotted and Eastern box turtles, and the barrens buck moth.

What is the economic development component of this Bioreserve?

In exchange for the City of Fall River's participation in the Bioreserve partnership, The Fall River Redevelopment Authority will receive 300 acres of the state forest from the Commonwealth to create a business park. This executive park will generate up to 2,200 new jobs for Fall River and the surrounding communities. There will be no economic development activities within the protected lands of the Bioreserve.

Who owns the Bioreserve?

The Bioreserve lands are owned and managed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the City of Fall River, and The Trustees of Reservations. The state will continue to own the state forest and wildlife area and is purchasing most of the Acushnet Saw Mills property. The City will continue to own the watershed lands, which will be managed by the Water Board and Water Department. The Trustees of Reservations is purchasing 508 acres of the Acushnet Saw Mills property. In addition, the state will own a conservation restriction on the City's watershed lands and The Trustees' property, which is an added layer of legal protection that ensure's the land will never be developed.

How will the Bioreserve be managed?

The partners, working with a group of local stakeholders, are developing a joint management plan for the Bioreserve that will cover a wide range of issues, including forest and wildlife management, water supply protection, and public access. Each partner has agreed to manage its lands in a manner compatible with the plan and designed to achieve the goals of the Bioreserve. The partners have also pledged to jointly manage and maintain the Bioreserve so as to maximize the use of funding and staff resources.

How can the public participate in developing the plan?

The partners and the advisory group hold monthly meetings on the second Thursday of every month that are open to the public. In addition, the planning team will hold several public forums and a public comment period to gather ideas for and to discuss the management plan before it is finalized. The draft and final plans will be available at local libraries and other public locations.

Will the public be able to use the Bioreserve?

Accommodating visitors in a way compatible with the long term protection of the ecological, water supply, and cultural resources of the Bioreserve is one of our primary goals. The joint management plan will state what activities are permitted in specific areas of the Bioreserve.
While the plan is being developed, public access to the state forest and wildlife management area is unchanged, and the watershed lands owned by the City remain closed to the public. The portion of the Acushnet Saw Mills property already purchased by the state is open for passive and nonmotorized recreation, such as hiking. The remainder of the Acushnet Saw Mills land is privately owned and is not open to the public.

Will there be a visitors' center or programs at the Bioreserve?

As part of the partnership agreement, The Trustees of Reservations will build and operate a visitors center for the Bioreserve that will offer a range of interpretive and educational programs related to the history, land use, water resources, and ecological features of the Bioreserve. The Trustees will work with community leaders, local organizations, and the public to develop programs that serve the needs of the residents of greater Fall River and New Bedford.

Where can I get maps showing current trails and information about permitted uses?

Maps with current property boundaries and trails, as well as information about permitted uses, are available at the headquarters of the Freetown/Fall River State Forest, Slab Bridge Road, Assonet, MA - 508-644-5522; and at the DEM website: http://www.state.ma.us/DEM/Parks


Key features of the Bioreserve:

Significant natural features:

  • 17 ponds and the Copicut Reservoir
  • 6 named streams, including the headwaters of the east branch of the Westport River
  • 12 confirmed vernal pools; 188 identified potential vernal pool locations
  • Diverse natural upland, wetland, and aquatic communities, including rare habitat such as Atlantic white cedar swamps and pitch pine-scrub oak barrens
  • 16 known species listed as rare, threatened, endangered, or of special concern
  • 92 documented species of birds
  • 291 documented species of vascular plants

Significant historical and cultural features:

  • In the 1930s the Freetown/Fall River State Forest contained two Civilian Conservation Corps camps
  • The Acts of 1939 established a 227.5 acre Wampanoag Reservation in the state forest on the site of one of the CCC camps
  • In the 1700s and early 1800s, a grist mill and saw mill operated at Doctors Mill Pond, the headwaters of Rattlesnake Brook. In about 1840 an acid mill began producing acid for the textile industry
  • From the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, the Fall River Granite Company operated a quarry in the forest; stones from this quarry were used to construct the city's textile mills, Fort Adams in Newport, RI, and the state house in Albany, NY

Significant dates:

  • 1826 - Watuppa Reservoir Company, a private entity, was established by the state legislature to assure a steady supply of waters for the textile industry
  • 1895 - City establishes Fall River Reservoir Commission to assemble lands to protect the water supply
  • 1920 - Rights to North Watuppa Pond transferred to Fall River from the private corporation, giving the City full control of its own water supply
  • 1925 - By this date, the City has purchased more than 3,300 acres of land to protect the water supply
  • 1931 - Reservoir Commission replaced by the Watuppa Water Board
  • 1934-35 - State's Department of Natural Resources (now Department of Environmental Management) acquires most of the land that is now Freetown/Fall River State Forest
  • 1955 - 60 acre Profile Rock parcel added to the state forest
  • 1965 - Division of Fisheries and Wildlife establishes 826 acre Wildlife Management Area within the Freetown State Forest
  • 1972 - Fall River creates Copicut Reservoir
  • 1988 - Fall River Water Department issues a moratorium study for the watershed
  • 1990 - Division of Fisheries and Wildlife purchases Acushnet Wildlife Management Area
  • 2000 - Partners sign agreement to purchase 3,800 acre Acushnet Saw Mills property and to establish the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve
  • 2002 - Commonwealth and Fall River complete trade of 300 acres of state forest, which the City will develop as a business park, for a conservation restriction on 4,200 acres of watershed land and $2,45 million toward purchase of the Acushnet Saw Mills property
  • 2002 - The Trustees of Reservations purchases its part of the Acushnet Saw Mills property, completing the initial land acquisition for the Bioreserve.

Back to top