With increased stress associated with the COVID crisis, natural lands have never been more important – to all of us. They provide essential places of peace, solitude, and healing as we all attempt to navigate a world that became so much more complex, seemingly overnight. Our protected lands are a great place to appreciate the small things in life that bring us joy.
A good example of such a place is in Stow, where I live with my family.
The Stow Conservation Trust – an all-volunteer local land trust started in 1977 – protected a special place there, now called the Leggett Woodlands. I have been a trustee/director of the Trust for some time, and serve as the organization’s current president.
In 2004, I had the pleasure to work with Dorothy Leggett to protect this 23-acre forested property through her generous donation of the land. Charlie Leggett, her late husband, developed a new variety of squash in the mid-1940s, later named the Waltham Butternut Squash, in a field across Gleasondale Road from the Leggett Woodlands. The squash he developed has since become world famous.
A loop trail was constructed on the property in 2008, and the Leggett Woodlands are now home to two stations on the Trust’s Nature Discovery Trail. The first is a woodland Music Station with an amandinda (a log xylophone) and chime wall. The second station is “Forest Tales” which is home to whimsical forest fairy statues created by artist Linda Hoffman of Frog Pond Orchard in Harvard. The Trust commissioned them with a grant from the Alice Eaton Foundation. There are a series of small statues on rocks along a path; people are encouraged to play with the statues and add to the sculptures – as Ann Carley’s photo shows.
This serves as an important reminder that the natural world can bring us joy, even in stressful times.
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
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
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
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.
Strategic land conservation (land acquisition and
stewardship/ecological management) has literally never been more important or more beneficial, to all living things – people most
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.
After a great deal of persistence and anticipation, Mass Audubon has recently added a new 23 acre Conservation Restriction in Holliston, Massachusetts.
This represents the final piece of the Warren Woods project—a joint effort undertaken by Mass Audubon and the Towns of Ashland and Holliston to protect a roughly 140 acre property formerly owned by Northeastern University.
Since this land straddles the boundary of two towns, the project was undertaken in two cooperative phases. First, Mass Audubon and the Town of Ashland worked together to raise money to purchase the Ashland side of Warren Woods (the bulk of the property) with The Town of Ashland purchasing the land (with help from Mass Audubon) and Mass Audubon holding a permanent Conservation Restriction to best ensure that it remain in conservation over the long-term. This phase was finished in 2016.
Then Mass Audubon worked to repeat this success by partnering with the Town of Holliston in a similar arrangement: the Town purchases the land and Mass Audubon then holds a permanent Conservation Restriction to protect it.
This is not the first time Mass Audubon has worked with local governments to preserve land. By pooling our resources, this project illustrates how so much more conservation can be accomplished when we work together, especially in regions of the state like Metro West where land is relatively expensive. Without the joint effort of Mass Audubon and these local governments, it’s likely that this would have never happened.
As for this new property in particular, it may be relatively small, but it provides a truly key link of woods and wetlands (see map) in a large corridor of protected land in Metro West, totaling over 1,000 acres – no small feat in a densely populated and growing part of the state.
– Nick Rossi, Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist
Big news – yesterday, we completed the second and final phase of protecting the 610-acre former Tidmarsh Farms property in Plymouth!
Mass Audubon acquired a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR) to ensure the perpetual conservation of “Tidmarsh West” – 129 acres of land located on the west side of Beaver Dam Road, across from the 481 acres of “Tidmarsh East” that is now Mass Audubon’s Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary. Reflecting our ongoing partnership with the Town of Plymouth, “Tidmarsh West” was acquired by the town for conservation purposes, and is now known as the Foothills Preserve. Similarly, the Town holds a permanent CR on our sanctuary land.
Importantly, the Foothills Preserve will undergo an extensive wetlands restoration, as our new wildlife sanctuary did – the largest ever in the northeastern U.S. It is anticipated that the small unrestored section of our sanctuary will also be restored at that time, including the critical connection under Beaver Dam Road, which will hydrologically reconnect the two restored properties.
Five years ago, I first met with David Gould, Plymouth’s Director of Marine & Environmental Affairs, at “Tidmarsh East” (pre-restoration). As we walked around the property that day, we discussed a shared vision of the entire 610-acre property someday being legally protected by Mass Audubon and the Town, working in partnership. Perpetuity is indeed a long time – that mind-bending time horizon began yesterday, when our perpetual CR was recorded at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds.
O’Brien – Plainfield, MA – West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary
On June 15th, Mass Audubon has protected a spectacular piece of land in Plainfield, MA. This ecologically rich 110-acre property is adjacent to our West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, and is part of a large network of significant wildlife corridors extending north all the way to maritime Quebec – as highlighted in the Berkshire Wildlife Linkages initiative that we are active participants in.
Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Conservation Partnership program, foundation grants, and the generous donations of individuals, we were able to acquire this land 6 months earlier than anticipated. The sellers, cousins who inherited the property, were pleased to see the land protected and under the care of Mass Audubon.
On the wildlife front, one of the most exciting aspects of this property is the recent tracking of a moose directly through the property! We suspect the use of this property by numerous large mammals is common, and cannot overstate the importance of maintaining this wildlife corridor.
Wildlife corridors will play a particularly important role in the age of climate change, where many species of plants and animals will need to shift location to find a more comfortable setting. West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary is such a land bridge, linking the Kenneth Dubuque State Forest to the north with the Deer Hill State Reservation to the south – creating more than 10,000 acres of connected conserved land. The map demonstrates these connected wildlife corridors as “conductance,” and West Mountain is on the eastern side of an area of very high conductance.
This critical addition to the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary will help ensure that this wildlife corridor remains intact for the important role it will play in sustaining nature.
Congratulations – and many, many thanks – to all who helped Mass Audubon successfully complete the purchase of 450+/- acres of land in the Manomet section of Plymouth that will soon become our newest wildlife sanctuary – the Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary!
For many of us, the effort has been nearly all-consuming, as we pulled on the oars together to bring about this long-sought conservation outcome. From the hundreds who generously donated funds to help reach the somewhat daunting fundraising goal, to the Mass Audubon Board, Council, and staff that worked so diligently for several years, to our valued partners – particularly at the Town of Plymouth, MA Division of Conservation Services and Department of Conservation & Recreation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – everyone played important roles.
I am well aware that others, who may not yet have visited Tidmarsh, or know much about it, may be wondering, “Why is this such a big deal, what’s all the fuss?”
Here is my best answer:
Demonstrating Strategic Land Conservation for Climate Change Response: At a critical juncture, when the sobering realities of climate change are becoming broadly known, and when there are virtually no tangible, “on the ground” examples of meaningful human response, our Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary will be a shining and hopeful example of actions that humans can take to help nature be more resilient to the impacts of climate change – so that it can, in turn, help all of us withstand the impacts of climate change in the important years ahead. To me, this is the reason Tidmarsh is such a big deal – pure and simple.
Feature Ecological Restoration: The property has recently undergone a state-of-the-art ecological restoration – the largest freshwater wetlands restoration ever completed in the northeast. Our new wildlife sanctuary will showcase this amazing restoration (implemented masterfully by the very capable Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration), helping all better understand the important role that ecological restoration will play in conservation going forward. Due to restoration, the property is on a trajectory of change that will fascinate sanctuary visitors for many decades to come with the spectacle of “nature’s return”.
From Bog to Restored Cold Water Stream
Conserving Big Property Near People: With Mass Audubon acquiring/protecting “Tidmarsh East”, and project partner the Town of Plymouth acquiring/protecting “Tidmarsh West”, 600+/- acres, located in the eastern (most populated) part of the third most densely populated state in the country, less than a mile from the current ocean edge, has now been conserved for all time. That alone is hugely important.
Living Observatory: Acquiring Tidmarsh Farms also opens a pathway for Mass Audubon to collaborate with the Living Observatory, a non-profit learning initiative that has roots in the MIT Media Lab. The initiative documents and reveals the changing Tidmarsh landscape, illustrating the relationships between ecological processes, human presence, and climate change response. This collaboration has tremendous potential for Tidmarsh to be a sanctuary with deeper applied science and for presenting interesting citizen science opportunities for sanctuary visitors on any given day.
Establish a Mass Audubon Sanctuary in Plymouth: With this acquisition, Mass Audubon has established a land base for people to connect with nature in the Town of Plymouth. This has been a long-held goal in the fastest growing, and arguably the most biologically diverse, municipality in the commonwealth. Importantly, Plymouth (“America’s Hometown”) is celebrating its 400th anniversary in just two years, and has embraced an ecotourism future – we are very excited about establishing a beautiful large wildlife sanctuary in that setting.
Biologist E.O. Wilson, being interviewed by former Mass Audubon President, Laura Johnson, in low-key format.
Last Saturday in Worcester, more than 550 people attended the Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference, which Mass Audubon is a primary sponsor of, and participant in. This is the annual gathering of the wicked-awesome Massachusetts land conservation community – private and public land conservationists, both paid and volunteer, and working at all levels. With the bay state being the place where the concept of conserving land for the common good began nearly 400 years ago, and also where the land trust movement emerged in the 1890s, this annual event is the biggest of its kind in the U.S., and almost certainly the entire planet as well.
This year’s conference was extra special, for one simple reason: those attending had the pleasure of an audience with one of their biggest heroes – biologist E.O. Wilson. Professor Wilson is revered by this group in part because his unrelenting curiosity to explore and understand nature inspired so many to pursue careers in the natural sciences. His now well-known, and utterly audacious, call to conserve half of the earth’s land mass in order to preserve biological diversity on this planet has inspired and motivated nearly everyone in the audience – and thousands of others that were unable to make it to the event – to strive to have maximal impact. But perhaps more important to this group of dedicated tree-huggers, Ed Wilson has played a key role in validating – for themselves, for their families, and for their neighbors and friends – what attendees had chosen to do with their lives. After years of routinely getting blank stares after answering the question of what they did for work, they now answer loud and proud. Thank you, E.O. Wilson!
The Land Conservation Department at Mass Audubon is excited to announce that Rose Watts is joining the team as our Conservation Restriction Stewardship Intern this spring. As a Clark University undergraduate student working on a degree in Environmental Science and Conservation Biology, she’s excited to see what this internship has in store. Originally from
Vermont, she loves exploring the environment that surrounds us; luckily she gets to do just that in the spring while visiting many of Mass Audubon’s Conservation Restrictions (CR’s). Last Spring Rose went to Tanzania to study wildlife management and ecology. She was also a team member on two separate research teams; one studying native bees in Vermont, and the other looking at threespine stickleback in British Columbia.
For the next few months Rose will be busy working with Nick Rossi, the Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist here at Mass Audubon. As a CR Steward, he coordinates the continued stewardship of Mass Audubon’s CR’s around the state. This partially involves visiting, at least once per year, Mass Audubon’s 100+ CRs across the state of Massachusetts, protecting more than 5,000 acres of privately owned land.
Rose will be helping with all things related to CR stewards. Primarily, she will visit sites with Nick in the spring when the weather warms up, and then create monitoring reports stating what we observed during these visits. Additionally, she will be doing some digital mapping and planning work in the winter months and then she will also help gather data to legally recognize vernal pools on multiple CR’s.
CR Monitoring Tablet
Rose looks forward to being challenged by the complexities of CR Stewardship work. There will be a lot to do in the coming months–all worth it in the name of Land Conservation!