Residents asked to record wildlife sightings

MERRIMACK – Andy Powell is making a little request: The next time you spot a deer bounding through your yard, don’t just stop to admire it.

Write it down.

The Merrimack Conservation Commission is embarking on a wildlife inventory, en route to producing a townwide natural resources plan. As part of the project, residents are being tapped to record any wildlife sightings on their properties.

Powell, the commission chairman, said his group has never studied Merrimack’s natural resources or wildlife species on such a large scale.

He added that while the commission oversees 1,500 acres, “there’s an awful lot of land in town and really we don’t know what’s residing on it and whether it’s important to the ecology of our town.”

Last year, the commission hired consultant Jeff Littleton of the Chesterfield-based Moosewood Ecological LLC, an outfit that – among other things – provides scientific research to help its clients understand the biological diversity of their land.

Since October, Littleton has been studying the state’s wildlife action plan, which indicates that some parts of Merrimack have important wildlife habitats, Powell said.

But Littleton’s goal is to provide the town with a much more in-depth analysis, Powell said.

“There are a lot of areas in Merrimack where we might have prime wildlife habitat,” Powell said, including possible homes for the endangered New England cottontail.

Powell, Littleton, a research associate, and even some students from the middle and high schools have been working on the inventory. During the next eight months, they will try to canvass as much of the town as possible, which would include asking private property owners for a chance to check out their land.

This winter, Powell and Littleton have been focusing on animal tracks and other signs. When springtime comes, they’ll examine vernal pools and check out populations of amphibians, snakes and salamanders, Powell said.

Field work is slated to wrap up in October, and Littleton will produce a report after that.

Powell said he hopes it would become part of the town’s master plan, enhancing the existing natural resources section.

In addition, Powell said, such a plan would help the commission better manage land and protect or enhance it for specific species. For example, the information could indicate where “wildlife openings” are needed, he said. Those are small fields cut into wooded areas, where deer can more easily graze on grasses and shrubs.

Such areas also encourage insects and reptiles, which could attract other creatures, such as owls and hawks.