FWS will discuss plans for Nomans Land


Once sheep pasture, then bombing range, the next chapter in the history of Nomans Land, the small island southwest of the Vineyard, is about to be written.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will host a public meeting at 7 pm, Tuesday, June 23, at the Chilmark Community Center, to discuss a Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Nomans Land Island Refuge.

FWS began work on a comprehensive management plan for Nomans in 1999. The draft includes three proposals identified as alternatives A, B, and C.

Alternative “A” would continue current management practices on the 628-acre island.

Alternative “B” would provide enhanced management and visitor services.

Alternative “C”, the plan FWS prefers, would focus on species of concern and increase off-site visitor services. The plan would also evaluate the feasibility of New England cottontail release

The draft plan is available at the Chilmark library, Chilmark town hall, or at: www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/nomansland/ccphome.html.

During the 1800s, Islanders used the island to graze sheep. More recently, the Navy used it as a practice bombing range.

The Navy transferred ownership of the island, three miles from Squibnocket, to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998.

After discontinuing target practice, the Navy performed a cleanup that included an effort to locate and disarm unexploded shells and remove contaminated soil.

At the time, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), which claims rights to the island, pressed for a more extensive cleanup and a supervisory management role over the island. The town of Chilmark (which also claims ownership of Nomans Land) and Island conservationists opposed any further cleanup that would make the island safe for human visits.

FWS says that because Nomans Land provides diverse habitats including intertidal, freshwater wetland, grassland, and shrubland, it serves an important role for nesting colonial waterbirds and as a stopover for migratory birds.

“This meeting is important for the future use of Nomans Land and possibly the use of the surrounding waters by wind farms,” Tim Carroll, Chilmark executive secretary, said. “People should come tell the USF&WS what they think about the master plan. It is our once-in-15 years chance.”

Karen Terwilliger of Terwilliger Consulting of Locustville, Virginia, a consulting firm assisting FWS, said the service would like to know which option residents think best reflects their view of how the refuge should be managed over the next 15 years.

“We really do want to know what the community thinks, and if they have additional information as well as comments that can help us do a better job stewarding this public resource,” she said in an email to The Times.

FWS will accept letters, faxes, and emails (northeastplanning@fws.gov; include “Nomans Land Island NWR” in the subject line).

To be considered, all comments must be emailed or postmarked by July 2, 2010. Mail comments to Carl Melberg, 73 Weir Hill Road, Sudbury, MA 01776.

The public is invited to visit the FWS website at www.fws.gov/northeast/nomanslandisland/.