Category Archives: Notes from Bob

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

Spending a Saturday with 500 of My Closest Friends

By Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

April 2, Worcester Technical High School, 26th Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference (convened by the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition and sponsored by Mass Audubon and others): the largest annual statewide gathering of land protectors in these United States. They come together once each year to learn new things, share ideas, and feel a powerful sense of community.

land-conference

The energy in the Plenary Hall is palpable, as we await the talented keynote, Conservation International’s M. Sanjayen, who will infuse us with the optimism and hope of how nature—the very thing that the collective “we” have been striving to protect all these years—will in turn save humans in a climate changing world. Powerful stuff.

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The gang’s all here—from those creating invaluable pocket parks in urban settings like Chelsea and Somerville, to those preserving pristine wilds in the Berkshires—and everything in between—these are the land savers, the union of earnest women and men whose combined efforts are quite literally making the world a better place…..in so many ways.

We’ve Been Awarded Accreditation!

We are happy to report that Mass Audubon was just awarded accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, which supports land conservation groups nationwide.

Accreditation provides Mass Audubon the benefit of an unbiased outside assessment from other land conservation professionals as the organization seeks to maintain its standard of excellence. The designation culminates a two-year process that included submitting extensive documentation and a rigorous review of our land acquisitions and practices.

With more than 35,000 acres under protection, Mass Audubon is the largest owner of privately conserved land in the state. As such, it serves as one of the most influential land trusts in New England and helps engage the public in appreciating and supporting the preservation of significant open space.

Our statewide wildlife sanctuary system, stretching from the Cape and Islands to the Berkshires, offers extraordinary destinations for public visitation; conservation research and study; and places to engage visitors of all ages and abilities in a wide range of education programs and outdoor explorations.

“This designation enhances Mass Audubon’s reputation as a model for responsible land conservation and stewardship, not only in how we approach our own projects, but as a willing partner with other conservation groups and government agencies,” said Gary Clayton, Acting President and Vice President for Conservation Programs.

The concept of Land Trust Accreditation was first put forth by the Land Trust Alliance a decade ago as in response to IRS scrutiny of several high profile real estate transactions involving land trusts employing questionable practices. The theory behind accreditation is simple: To encourage more land trusts to put policies and procedures in place to ensure that their work is carried out at a consistently high level of quality – ethical and otherwise.

As a committed leader of the vibrant land trust community in Massachusetts, where the land trust movement began in the 1890s, and is now  home to more land trusts than any other state, we readily acknowledge that the rigorous framework for Land Trust Accreditation is definitely not for every trust. That said, Mass Audubon has long advocated for trusts at all levels to pay attention to the Standards & Practices upon which Accreditation is based. Our hats are off to the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition for their commitment to working with smaller trusts to enhance their familiarity and use of Standards & Practices for land trust operation.

Learn more about our land conservation efforts at massaudubon.org/land

People to celebrate!

People make conservation happen. That statement is so very true, as several categories of people play essential roles in the process of conserving a tract of important land.

Landowners play important roles, usually being the first to know that they own a “special place”, and often stewarding it lovingly for decades or more – preserving or even enhancing the natural attributes that make their property of interest to conservationists. Landowners are often deserving of “unsung hero” status in the course of a successful project.

Our many conservation partners also figure prominently in the equation of conservation – sharing the burdens of fundraising, risk, and long-term commitment to stewardship encountered in virtually every single project we find ourselves involved with. Our successes and overall progress is largely defined by the strength of our ongoing alliances with others in the amazing Massachusetts land conservation community.

As one might expect, Land Conservation department staff here at Mass Audubon are centrally involved in every project we do. This team of talented, dedicated individuals has a collective capacity rivaling almost any on this planet. In many ways, it is the many staff from outside of this unit – including our President, Board of Directors, Business office, Philanthropy Division, Sanctuary and Regional Directors, Property Managers and so many others who play critically important roles in moving a project to successful completion.

From many perspectives, those who provide the all important financial support for our work are the ones who deserve the brightest spotlight and greatest thanks. While those listed previously are obviously key, the simple fact is that almost no conservation would occur but for the tremendous generosity and obvious conservation ethic displayed by those who provide support our land conservation efforts.

Acknowledging the importance of these groups, we hold an annual event called “Giving Thanks for the Land – a celebration of the people who make land conservation possible”. This year, the event will be held on Sunday, November 16th, from 1:30-3:30pm at our Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln.

Even if you are not currently in one of these groups, but would like to learn more about what we do and why, please come and help people pat each other on the back – working together, we are really making a difference.

-Bob

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

Land Trust Accreditation

Early next month Mass Audubon will submit its first-ever application for Land Trust Accreditation. Accreditation is a new, independent program of the national Land Trust Alliance, of which Mass Audubon is a member, which encourages the application of national quality standards to the work land trusts do preserving natural areas, forests, and farms.

The application is a royal pain. Just to apply we had to register last year (proving we had met a number of prerequisites) and then submit a pre-application in July. The recipe for a full application begins with a 46-page questionnaire. Next add 41 statements answering various questions in greater detail. Fold in 70 documents requested as evidence to back up your answers. Top it off with copies of numerous documents for several land protection projects they’ve chosen from those you’ve completed in the last twenty years. The Commission says once you’ve filled a 3” loose-leaf binder with the material they’ve requested, add a second and third as needed. In triplicate, please.

Why would any land trust in its right mind put itself through this? We have asked ourselves that on several occasions. Applying for accreditation takes money and time, money and time that isn’t getting spent today saving land, teaching kids, or lobbying for bills.

But we think it’s worth it. Why? Mass Audubon is proud of its 118-year history. Over that time extraordinary people have done great work in its name. Over 35,000 acres of the finest habitat in Massachusetts have been entrusted to our care. Literally millions have learned about nature at our sanctuaries, day camps, and school programs. The legislation we have helped pass reads like a how-to list for creating one of the most environmentally progressive states in the nation.

We care about excellence, we care about permanence, and we care about the public’s trust. And those concepts are at the core of what Accreditation is and what it offers. If you care, why wouldn’t you take advantage of an opportunity for a group of your peers to take an independent look at how you do business, and applying standards developed by the best land conservationists in the country, examine your operations and push you to do better?

Here at Mass Audubon, we think we do a lot of things well. But that’s not enough, because the stakes are so high. We – our board, staff, volunteers and members – know we need to do the best we can with the resources we’ve got if we’re going to succeed in protecting the nature of Massachusetts, now and for generations to follow. And if Land Trust Accreditation can help us do that, and we think it can, then put that extra ream of copy paper over there and break out those 3-ring binders.

-Charlie Wyman, Senior Land Conservation Specialist

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PS If you have thoughts on our worthiness for accreditation, the Commission would like to hear from you. The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how Mass Audubon complies with national quality standards on the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. If you’re interested, learn more about how to submit a comment.

It’s a Beauty of a Pocket Pahk…Ayuh!

Real estate professionals often utter the words “location, location, location”. And grandmothers and others have reminded us all that “good things come in small packages”.  Those two well-worn adages become beautifully interwoven while I was visiting Bangor, ME with my family recently.  We found the pocket park on Central Street to surely be tiny in size, but nothing short of wicked-awesome (highest praise from Beantown).

Pocket Park before © Pigeon Nation

Pocket Park before © Pigeon Nation

© Pigeon Nation

Photo courtesy of Chris Rudolph

Bangor in 2014 is a vibrant place – a terrific example of an older urban area striving to reinvent itself, substantially upgrading quality of life for its lucky residents in the process.  Nearly every business we visited was independent (non-chain) and led by an inspired, creative proprietor.  Collectively, these places create a great energy of hope, optimism, and forward vision.

In the middle of this urban area, on Central Street, was a “hole” in the otherwise continuous row of storefronts.  I have since learned that there was once a grocery store standing there, until it burned to the ground in a fire years ago.  The Zoidis family, which owned the grocery, donated the open lot to the City, which then sold it to Zeth and Betsy Lundy, the owners of Central Street Farmhouse business right next door – specializing in home brewing, wine and cheese making, and local foods.

© Pigeon Nation

© Pigeon Nation

Art in Pocket Park, Bangor, ME © Pigeon Nation

© Pigeon Nation

Today, this once burned out lot serves as a soothing oasis in this urban setting, providing a welcomed greenspace for all to enjoy. I did not miss the opportunity to impress upon my kids that while iconic places like Acadia National Park were essential to protect for future generations, so are places like the wonderful Central Street Pocket Park.  Without drama or overstatement – humans need both.  Well done , Mainers!

-Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

 

 

 

The Economics of Conserving Land

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation

I attended a great event last week at the State House – celebrating the release of a study completed by our valued partner – The Trust for Public Land – to quantify the return onRick Sullivan ROI Release Event 9.4.2013 investment from state spending on land conservation. The report was paid for by Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, and dozens of other land trusts from all across the state.

Keep in mind that the study only looked at natural goods and services generated through land conservation – such as nature’s amazing ability to generate and protect clean water, to remove hazardous pollutants Money Treefrom air, and reduce the damage done by floods. Even so, the initial investment in conserving land yields a very handsome return indeed: $4 worth of these natural goods and services for every $1 expended!

And when we consider the additional, and equally “real” benefits to our economy from some of the many related items not included in this study, the impact becomes enormous. Try this stat on for size:

    Outdoor recreation provides a huge boost to our state’s economy, generating $10 billion annually in consumer spending, and $739 million in tax revenue, while supporting approximately 90,000 jobs earning $ 3.5 billion in Massachusetts.

I served as one of the final reviewers of the study – proudly using my degree in Natural Resource Economics from UMass Amherst (1981)…..my mom is so pleased! 🙂
ROI Event I. 9.4.2013
If you want to see the full report, go to: http://www.tpl.org/massachusetts

Some great number crunching – a detailed look at the economics of conserving land. Now we know it’s truly one of the best investments one could possibly make – but you already knew that, didn’t you?