Category Archives: General

To Protect, or Not To Protect…That is the Question.

One question we often get asked is “How exactly do you choose which land to conserve?”

The answer is probably less straightforward than you might think.  There are a range of factors that influence our land protection decisions.

Prioritizing Land Protection

Mass Audubon has traditionally focused on land that can expand and enhance our wildlife sanctuaries across the state. 

Such land provides two very important things: critical habitat for plants and animals (the nature of Massachusetts) and places for people to connect with nature – to experience it directly. As a sanctuary-based organization, we look for ways to preserve the integrity of the landscape and to enrich the experience of visitors.

Even then, some lands around our sanctuaries are more important than others. 

When someone gives us a call about donating or selling land nearby, we conduct an initial “desk review”, using various digital tools to determine how important a property might be for conservation.  If that initial screening looks promising, we follow-up with a site visit for a more fine-grained assessment.

Maps are a great tool to help us sort that out (the land department really loves maps!).

In particular, many sanctuaries have “Sanctuary Protection Plans” like the one for Rough Meadows in Rowley shown below.

These are maps that we produce that rank properties for conservation by their importance.  The red parcels in the map above are ranked the highest with lighter shading ranked lower.  Blue indicates existing Mass Audubon sanctuary land and green indicates other protected land.

A lot of data and fancy computer mapping go into making these. Much of the data comes from the state of Massachusetts which maintains a variety of map layers showing different types of natural resources.  These include things like:

  • Rare species habitat
  • Drinking water, wetland and other water resources
  • Connection with other conservation lands (i.e. wildlife corridors)

Using the map above as an example, you can see that a lot of conservation has happened around Rough Meadows already.  However, a number of gaps remain. Protecting these gaps will ensure Rough Meadows remains a large, intact natural area providing better habitat for biodiversity and richer experiences for people.

Scenic views like this one at Rough Meadows not only nourish the soul, but provide critical habitat.

Protecting Habitat for Future Generations

While we tend to focus on protecting land around our existing sanctuaries, Mass Audubon also establishes altogether new wildlife sanctuaries on occasion, in instances where there is particularly outstanding habitat, or in an underserved part of the state.

Our new Brush Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Warwick is the most recent example.

Increasingly, the Land Department focuses on protecting land that will reduce the impacts of climate change for nature and people.  This connection between land conservation and climate change response has grown clearer over time.

Protecting wetlands in a floodplain, for instance, ensures that those wetlands will keep storing and absorbing flood waters during increasing extreme rain events, and protecting forest ensures that those trees can keep storing carbon.

Practical Matters

Once we’ve decided that we want to pursue the protection of a particular property, there are a number of practical matters to consider.

  • Do we have the financial resources needed? Even a gift of land requires significant staff time and funds to pay for legal work, environmental assessments, etc.
  • If it is a purchase rather than a gift of land, do we think we can launch a successful fundraising campaign? Thanks to our work securing donations and bargain sales, every $1,000 we raise averages to roughly $9,000 of land protected.  Even so, the ability to raise funds for purchases is a key practical question to answer.
  • Is the project so complex that it would be difficult for Mass Audubon to protect the property on its own? Are there organizations (government or other non-profits) we can partner with to help achieve the conservation outcome? We do conservation in partnership with others a lot and the public/private conservation community in Massachusetts is unusually collaborative in this respect.  It’s a way for us all to accomplish more by working together.

How You Can Help

If you own, or know of, property that might be of interest to Mass Audubon after reading this post, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Land Conservation Department.

Even if it is not the right fit for Mass Audubon, we always try to refer any interested landowners to a local land trust, their municipality, or other conservation organization that might be able to help.  We want to find a “home” for any conservation project.

Or, consider donating to the Land Conservation Department so we can carry on this work!

-Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist

Partnerships Across Town Lines


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

Plymouth Partnership Protects Entire Tidmarsh Landscape – Forever!

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.

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation 

Key Link in Climate Change Wildlife Corridor Protected

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.

– Kate Buttolph, Land Protection Specialist

Tidmarsh Sanctuary Land in Plymouth Purchased!

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.

    Tidmarsh River Otter

    For more information, please go to:

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Words of Wisdom from the Village Elder

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!

Welcome Rose Watts!

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

Hand-held GPS

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!

Saying Goodbye to a Friend of Us All

Special note: the image above, in our Gaining Ground banner, of my then-six year old daughter Lindsey, was taken at Sacred Hearts Healing Center on Great Neck.  


Father Stan Kolasa

Father Stan Kolasa

Special people leave a lasting impression.  That was certainly the case a decade ago, when I had the great pleasure to meet Father Stan Kolasa – the dedicated Vicar Provincial for the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts – owners of 120 acres of beautiful, and ecologically important, land on Great Neck in Wareham.  The property had been used for decades as a Healing Center – a place where cancer survivors, substance abusers, and those who had experienced domestic violence firsthand could be rejuvenated by the healing powers of the spectacular coastal landscape.

Up until that point in time, land conservation interests – both private and public – had relatively little interaction with religious entities owning important land in Massachusetts – or elsewhere, for that matter.  So after an introduction by longtime conservation partner, Mark Rasmussen of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, Stan and I knew that we were breaking new ground for others to follow in the years ahead.

Statue of Saint Damien at Sacred Hearts

Statue of Saint Damien at Sacred Hearts

We each did a lot of talking, and a lot of careful listening.  I learned that the Congregation of  Sacred Hearts was part of a global entity, delivering their mission to far reaches of this planet. Similarly, I learned that the sale of the entire property at Great Neck for top dollar for the funds it would yield was being considered by Sacred Hearts simultaneous with our “conservation conversation”.

As we talked, and built important and lasting trust between us, it became very clear that there was considerable common ground under our feet – likely more than either of us realized going into it.  Stan spoke eloquently about the importance of “preserving God’s creation”, and I would profess the importance of “protecting biological diversity” as an unintended echo back to him.  The language we each used was clearly different, but the realization of shared values was powerful – and highly motivating.

Father Stan (with former Mass Audubon President, Laura Johnson immediately to the right, at Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Sanctuary ribbon cutting.

Father Stan (with former Mass Audubon President, Laura Johnson immediately to the right, at Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Sanctuary ribbon cutting.

When the fate of the property was determined at a large gathering of decision-makers within Sacred Hearts some months later, conservation prevailed.  Stan no doubt played a key role in the deliberations leading to that favorable outcome.  Sacred Hearts’ property at Great Neck, abutting existing Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary land on two sides, was legally protected with Stan Kolasa playing an absolutely central role.  The plants and animals that thrive there, and all of us, owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.



Father Stanley J. Kolasa died on Friday, December 2nd following an heroic bout with cancer.  Please remember him as you walk the trails at the beautiful Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.   

Most of the Sacred Hearts property was protected through the acquisition of a permanent Conservation Restriction. In total, nearly 300 acres was protected at Great Neck, in a successful partnership involving Mass Audubon, the Wareham Land Trust, the state Department of Conservation & Recreation, the Town of Wareham, MA CZM, NOAA, and the generosity of many conservation-minded neighbors, several of whom conserved their own land at that time.    

Planning for Resilience

One of the most hopeful recent advances in conservation science has been the concept of resilience—that some natural settings are better suited than others to withstand the impacts of climate change. It has been equally helpful and hopeful for us to learn that there are actions that virtually any human can take to increase the resilience of a given place.

The concept of resilience is the centerpiece of the most recent edition of the just-released fifth edition of Losing Ground—a publication put out periodically by Mass Audubon’s Advocacy department documenting Massachusetts’ development and land conservation trends. In this edition—Losing Ground: Planning for Resilience—Mass Audubon employs resilience data prepared by our longtime partner, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, to help public and private land conservation practitioners, legislators, and the general public to better understand these important concepts.

The two primary factors contributing to the inherent resilience of a natural setting are landscape complexity and connectedness/permeability. Complex landscapes are those that have greater landscape diversity—an array of microhabitats. Connected or permeable landscapes are those that enable organisms to shift location relatively easily in response to changing conditions. Places that have both complexity and connectedness are projected to be the most resilient—settings where natural systems are resilience flowerfunctioning well, and where nature will fare better as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced.

A related concept worth mentioning is that of “stressors”—factors that act to compromise the form or function of natural systems. “Stressors” include invasive species, development/conversion, dams on rivers, and the construction of roads that fragment an otherwise intact landscape—just to name a few. So whether it’s volunteering to remove invasive plants from a town conservation area (or on your own property), or providing financial support for ongoing land conservation efforts, we can all do things to help build resilience.

We now have some powerful, and hopeful, new tools in the climate change response toolbox.

-Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference is this Saturday

The Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference is just a few days away! Attendees will be in for a real treat—they will listen to environmental medicine superstar Dr. Eric Chivian kick off the event as the plenary speaker. You can read more about him in our latest “People Making A Difference” feature.

The Conference, to take place at the Worcester Technical High School, is an annual training and networking event for land conservation professionals and enthusiasts. This year, nine Mass Audubon staff members will be workshop presenters. Register now, if you haven’t already.

Hope to see you there!

Dinah Rowbotham, Land Conservation Associate