Introducing A New Wildlife Sanctuary in Warwick

In a secluded part of western Massachusetts, a hidden valley along a brook in Warwick was recently acquired by Mass Audubon. Adjacent to the Warwick State Forest, this 140-acre property has been on the wish-list since 2004 when a neighbor to the north, Nick Arguimbau, generously donated a Conservation Restriction to Mass Audubon on his 30+ acres which include a section of Gales Brook. 

Nick also gave Mass Audubon startup funds to be used to extend protection of the Gales Brook from his property southward. The newly purchased property increases protection of the Gales Brook stream corridor by over 5,000 linear feet.

The property has steep slopes and rocky outcroppings, and contains habitat for rare and endangered species. Conservation preserves this ecologically significant natural area, designated as BioMap2 Critical Natural Landscape by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program of Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game (Fish & Game), and rated as highly resilient to the impacts of climate change.  Protection of the property will also assist wildlife movement because of its extensive connection to Warwick State Forest.

This area is a high priority in the Quabbin to Cardigan (Q2C) Regional Conservation Partnership because it is entirely located in the Core Focus Connectivity area.  Q2C is a collaborative landscape-scale effort of 27 private organizations and public agencies to conserve the a 50+ mile contiguous corridor between the Quabbin watershed conservation holdings and Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire.   

Sam Lovejoy

Importantly, when the owners were considering possible development of the property, longtime conservationist and former land agent for Fish & Game – Sam Lovejoy – got involved and persuaded them to sell to Mass Audubon for permanent conservation instead. We are very grateful to Sam for his volunteer advocacy for conservation in this instance (and others).

Mass Audubon Welcomes 7-Acre Addition to Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

On the southern side of Cold Spring Road in the Town of Sandisfield sits seven acres of ecologically rich land recently acquired by Mass Audubon from Donald and Mary Turek. 

Part of the Minery Property

The Turek’s land is directly across the road from Mass Audubon’s Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and is adjacent to a larger 173-acre parcel Mass Audubon has an opportunity to purchase, if we can raise the funds. These 180 acres, as well as 60 acres of the existing Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, once belonged to Robert Minery. 

Mr. Minery sold the seven acres to the Turek family in 2004, and they are delighted to see it re-connected.  Mary Turek commented, “It is always a pleasure to work with Mass Audubon. We are just happy to see that Mr. Minery had always had a soft spot for the audubon, and now this parcel will be part of the Cold Spring Rd. audubon property.”

View towards Sandisfield State Forest

Building a Bridge

Acquisition of this land eliminates possible development that would fragment the area, and helps form a bridge between the 770-acre Cold Brook Wildlife Sanctuary to the north, the 6,616-acre Sandisfield State Forest to the south, and the 6,600-acre Otis State Forest to the west. 

This type of connection is a key response to climate change.  As temperatures rise, plants and animals will be on the move – searching for hospitable landscapes in which to live.  This particular area is a high priority within the Berkshire Wildlife Linkage of Western Massachusetts, the goal of which is to connect the Green Mountains in Vermont to the Hudson Highlands of New York

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Land Next to Wachusett Regional High School Conserved

Occasionally Mass Audubon comes across a property that is an “inholding” (a property not owned by Mass Audubon that is virtually “within” a sanctuary) in relation to one of our sanctuaries.  In this case, a staff person identified a seven-acre property with no road frontage between the Wachusett Regional High School and the Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in Holden, MA.  What does Mass Audubon do in these circumstances? 

“Would You Like to Make a Gift of Your Land?”

The first step is to contact the owner and see if they might be interested in donating the land.  The owner of this parcel was a real estate investment company and when we approached them about donating the land they said “Yes”!  On December 10, 2019, that intention was realized when UMass Memorial Realty signed the deed to Mass Audubon. 

Asked to comment on the gift, Renee Mikitarian-Bradley of UMass Memorial said, “We should all have a goal of leaving a space, a building, or a property in a better condition than on our first encounter. Mass Audubon has demonstrated for years its commitment to being responsible environmental stewards here and beyond. We think it is appropriate and fitting that this land is now in their hands.”  

Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

With everything from large red oaks to extensive wetlands, Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary supports a wealth of wildlife including fisher cats, deer, a variety of snakes, as well as hosting nesting sites for Scarlet Tanagers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

The Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1983 with a gift by Clifford and Hilda Appleton of 130 acres.  It has almost tripled in size since then thanks to many generous donors. This newest addition gives Mass Audubon an opportunity to preserve an ecologically significant and locally popular natural area, as well as the potential to connect with established trails at Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.

The boy’s and girl’s cross country running teams at the abutting neighbor to the east—Wachusett Regional High School—have used the property for many years to augment their running route, and agreements are in place for them to be able to continue that use. Wildlife will benefit, the runners will benefit, and our sanctuary is now more closely connected with the regional high school that abuts it – “it’s all good”, as they say!

By Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Gift Protects 70 Acres Adjacent To “The Mount” In Lenox

A 70-acre woodland parcel adjacent to “The Mount,” Edith Wharton’s home and a National Historic Landmark, is now permanently protected thanks to a Conservation Restriction generously donated by the property’s owner, David Carver, to Mass Audubon.  

Partnering With The Mount

Becky Cushing, Director for Mass Audubon’s Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, has partnered with the staff at The Mount for the past two years – providing free bird walks for the public on The Mount property and extending on to Mr. Carver’s property next door.  The Mount’s Executive Director, Susan Wissler, has been working closely with Mr. Carver for several years to protect this property and says, “This is a huge move on David’s part, and through Becky, Mass Audubon is proving to be an excellent partner.”

A trail on the newly protected property.

Protecting these acres will provide greater resiliency to the impacts of climate change in a relatively developed location – absorbing flood waters from storm events and connecting 14 acres of Lenox Township conservation land on Laurel Lake with The Mount and at least 1,000 acres of undeveloped lands around Rattlesnake Hill to the west.  

Trail Network

Mass Audubon and The Mount will work together on improving and maintaining the trails throughout the Carver property – enhancing and restoring a 6-mile network of trails for public access and recreation. 

“Our intention is to improve the trails, expand the trail network and reactivate wonderful old carriage roads that connected old estates,” Wissler said.  “It’s a marvelous opportunity, given The Mount’s interest in protecting its borders and Lenox’s interest in having open space and natural beauty preserved.”

“This partnership supports the integration of nature and culture, a theme strongly woven through the fabric of the Berkshires. We look forward to working with The Mount to connect visitors with nature through interpretive signage, trails and programming,” Cushing said.

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

New Hampshire Couple Donate Land in Princeton

Scott and Gladys Olson generously donated their 4.9-acre property in Princeton, to have it become part of the Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary. While modest in size, the parcel situated at the intersection of Gates and Goodnow roads near Wachusett Meadow’s western boundary represents a significant addition to the 1,100-acre wildlife sanctuary.  

Benefits for People and Nature

A section of the Midstate Trail, a popular long-distance hiking path stretching from Rhode Island to New Hampshire, passes right alongside the newly-protected parcel and also links to the sanctuary’s network of trails. These additional acres help preserve the integrity of the natural landscape, and secure a larger area for wildlife movement—a critical need as our climate changes.

A Family’s Generosity

Scott and his family have owned this land for almost 40 years.  Scott grew up in Holden, attended Wachusett Regional High School, and ended up living in Princeton.  He and Gladys reside in New Hampshire now and decided the best thing for the land would be to donate it to Mass Audubon. 

On behalf of his family, Scott wrote, “I have a trove of wonderful memories of my life in Princeton, particularly time spent walking in the sanctuary at all times of day in all seasons of the year…I took my forty-one year old son on his first hike down our dirt road into the sanctuary when he was six days old. It gives me profound satisfaction to know that the land will be conserved in perpetuity for others to share.”

The generosity of the Olsons is a lasting legacy to people, wildlife and the nature of Massachusetts.

by Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Dave the Trailblazer

About a month ago, I attended a very nice event at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (aka, “my old school”).  While scheduled late on a Friday afternoon in the western part of the state, I gladly made the trek to Amherst – because my longtime friend – David Kittredge – was being honored. The well attended event was held at the brand new, and very “green”, John W. Olver Design Building on the UMass campus.  

Dave had retired after being a professor and extension forester at UMass for many years in the Department of Environmental Conservation.  Among many things, he taught a class in land conservation – the very first of its kind that I was aware of – providing a new “on ramp” for the field I had been so passionate about since graduating from UMass (Natural Resource Economics) in 1981.

Dave invited me, and a number of other experienced “practitioners” from the Massachusetts land conservation community to present case studies to his students.  I readily accepted, and returned to present to his classes for more than a dozen years following.  I did so to help advance this fledgling effort to provide academic training for the land conservation field, and to stay connected with the University.  I felt honored to be asked.

In the years that followed, it was great to see a number of the names and faces from Dave’s classes establish themselves in the land conservation field here and elsewhere around the country.

I give Dave a lot of credit for having the foresight to launch this training when he did.  His trailblazing instincts are also reflected in the fact that he founded the Massachusetts Keystone Program (formerly Coverts), a multi-day workshop in existence since 1988 to advance the conservation of forestlands.  Paul Catanzaro now carries both efforts forward.

Dave has been experiencing some health challenges of late.  I and many others send him positive energy/strength for that, and certainly wish him the very best.  

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Longstanding Partnership with City of Northampton Bears Fruit Once Again

Mass Audubon and the City of Northampton worked in partnership to add one and a half acres to the conserved land known as the Rocky Hill Greenway and approximately four acres to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary (see map below). The Greenway is an active wildlife corridor that has been the focus of protection efforts by the conservation partners for much of the last decade.

The two organizations swapped ownership interests in the transactions.  In the case of the Greenway property formerly owned by “Open and Shut, LLC” located on Route 10, the City owns the land and Mass Audubon holds a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR).  The reverse is true for the four-acre parcel, formerly land of Ralph Thompson, added to the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.  Mass Audubon owns the land and the City holds a permanent CR. 

A Wildlife Corridor

The Thompson property has been vacant for at least the past 50 years.  The owner, a local entrepreneur, considered installing a public storage facility on the site but opted for this sale to Mass Audubon instead.  The property is within the identified wildlife corridor. The ravine on the southern side in particular shows evidence of animals crossing from Arcadia to the Rocky Hill Greenway. 

The Thompson property is located next to the wetland area of Arcadia, and provides a good vantage point to observe wildlife and also provides access for people to wander along the wetland’s edge in the woods. 

Getting More Done

Wayne Feiden, Director of Planning and Sustainability for the City of Northampton, notes that, “Partnering with Mass Audubon allows the City of Northampton to protect much more land than we would be able to on our own.  Together we have expanded the conservation land in this area by 120 acres over the past five years alone.” 

Bob Wilber, Mass Audubon’s Director of Land Conservation, comments that “while many other states are just beginning to cultivate a public/private ‘conservation community’ working regularly in partnership, it is second nature here in Massachusetts.  Each partner has unique skills and capacities that, when combined, give us the ability to do great things.  We simply get much more accomplished this way.  Our partnership with Wayne and the City of Northampton is a shining example of what a public/private partnership can achieve.”

By Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Director’s Note: Strategic Land Conservation

Strategic land conservation (land acquisition and stewardship/ecological management) has literally never been more important or more beneficial, to all living things – people most especially included. 

Benefits to Human Health

It has long been understood that conserved land provides cleaner air and drinking water.  More recently, studies have documented what we all intuitively experience when spending time in a natural setting – the direct benefits to human health are very extensive, both in depth and breadth. 

But recent events have put land conservation into a different realm of importance entirely.  Protecting key lands is now recognized as being a lead strategy in blunting the impacts of climate change.  The recently released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides strong validation for the overriding priority of strategic land conservation, both now and in the important years ahead.  

Blunting the Impacts of Climate Change

At Mass Audubon, we are striving to be at the forefront, fully employing climate change response strategies in our land conservation efforts.  Actually, we have been doing that for much of the last decade.

Projects like the creation and protection of the Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Plymouth, where strategies to help nature and people be more resilient to the impacts of climate change are on display.  Or other efforts, such as establishing the Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in the Great Marsh, where upland areas abutting existing current marsh are now set aside to accommodate saltmarsh migration as the sea rises – giving that uber-important ecosystem a fighting chance going forward.  An example of a current project in progress with tremendous climate change response relevance is the Bear Hole Landscape conservation effort.  Climate change response is also central to our multi-year effort to protect a heavily used wildlife corridor between our Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton/Easthampton and other protected lands located to the west.

Given the urgency, more actions are needed at all levels in response to climate change. Mass Audubon is advancing impactful actions now, rather than waiting for others to act.  Please consider helping us do more at this important juncture.  Our brand of land conservation has never been needed more.  Land conservation can, and will, make the future in a climate changing world better, both for people and for plants and animals. 

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Restored landscape at Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Project Update: Confirming a Legacy of Conservation on Cuttyhunk Island

Our recent acquisition of the West End parcel on Cuttyhunk Island for conservation marked only one step in a much larger project on the tiny island at the end of Buzzards Bay.

Over the last several years, Mass Audubon has been doing the work necessary to accept the gift of several parcels on Cuttyhunk.  These pieces of land, scattered around the island, were all owned by Muriel “Oriel” Ponzecchi who passed away in late 2015.  Oriel, as she was known by her friends, generously left all these lands to Mass Audubon in her will.  We are very grateful to have the opportunity to help achieve her intended legacy of conservation.

Accepting gifts of land can be more time consuming than one might think.  There are many things to consider before taking on a property, especially on a place like Cuttyhunk with its long history of varied human uses including military, agriculture, and tourism.

View from Cuttyhunk southwest towards the Atlantic Ocean

Similar to buying a house, we have to consider all sorts of issues to make sure we understand the property we are about to own.  For example, we have to consider if there are any safety concerns on the property and if there is clear title to the land (meaning no risk of disputed ownership) among other things.

Some twists and turns are expected.

That all aside, we have worked on some wonderful properties so far and there are more to come.  Next on the list is a high point on the island with one of the best views of Buzzards Bay that one could hope to find. 

More trips to the island by this Mass Audubon Land Protection Specialist will likely be necessary, hopefully in summer, because fortunately someone has to do it!

 By Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Progress in Effort to Permanently Protect 1,500-acre Bear Hole Landscape

Mass Audubon has been working for some time, in close partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), and the City of West Springfield, to permanently protect more than 1,500 acres located in the southern Connecticut River Valley.

This large-scale project seeks to conserve the spectacular Bear Hole Landscape. That extensive, intact, forested area was acquired by the City of West Springfield over the last century as a surface water supply.  When the City went to a groundwater well system to fulfill their municipal water needs in recent decades, the future of the land was brought into question because it was no longer needed for the purpose for which it had been acquired. 

Paucatuck Brook at Bear Hole

In recent years, Mass Audubon and DCR have had the good fortune of working with two forward-thinking mayors of West Springfield – mayors who have embraced the vision of placing permanent protections on Bear Hole.  In that future, the conserved landscape would be managed for powerful climate change response, as well as increased and enhanced low impact public use and enjoyment.  West Springfield is to be commended for recently taking steps necessary to become one of the first municipalities to monetize the carbon sequestration services of their forests – opening up exciting reinvestment potential for the Bear Hole Landscape.

While there are a number of important milestones still ahead of us, we remain optimistic that the exciting opportunity to permanently protect Bear Hole will be fulfilled.

By Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation