Category Archives: Wildlands


A few weeks ago, Mass Audubon hosted a field trip from LTA’s 2014 Rally (national land conservation conference), held in Providence, RI. We took about 30 people to our Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary at LaSalette to learn from expert forager—Russ

Russ Cohen

Russ Cohen

Cohen—how to identify and indulge in edible wild plants and mushrooms.

We started the day at the LaSalette shrine with a brief story about how the sanctuary came to be. Religious lands conservation projects like this one bring faith communities and land conservationists together to develop new tools to preserve common and complementary values on the land. The land conservation opportunities around the country in this area are huge, and it’s no wonder that so many Rally attendees from across the US participated in the field trip and were eager to hear from Land Conservation Specialist—Charlie Wyman—how the project came together and was such a success.

Hog Peanut

Hog Peanut

After the talk, we ventured into the woods, Russ Cohen leading the crowd over the sanctuary’s universally accessible trail and pointing out all sorts of plants with palatable parts, like hog peanut, sulphur shelf (crazy orange mushroom), and wild grapes (taste just like Concord grapes!). He pointed out a whole slew of edible plants, way more than I ever imagined we’d see! I had no idea that so many of the common plants that surround us have bits and pieces that are delectable, like rose bushes, autumn olive, and jewel weed.

Side note and disclaimer: before you waltz outside to take a bite out of your rose bush, please note that none of the plants I’ve mentioned are entirely edible, only parts of them are and before trying to eat anything you find in the woods you should 1. be confident you’ve correctly identified the plant species, and 2. be confident that you know what part of the plant is edible.

Sulphur Shelf Mushroom

Sulphur Shelf Mushroom

Wild Grapes

Wild Grapes

If you ever get the chance to go for a wild-edibles-walk with Russ Cohen, I highly recommend it! In the mean time, you can do some self teaching through his book, available on Amazon.

-Dinah Rowbotham, Land Conservation Associate

This Sanctuary Has Never Met a State Forest it Didn’t Like!

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation
Connections, linkages, corridors, land bridges – these are all related and popular concepts in conservation science these days. With conserved lands, bigger is almost always much better – particularly when one is looking through the lens of climate change, where many plants and animals will need to move around a bit to sustain over the long term. By physically connecting one tract of existing conservation land with another, not only do both tracts become more significant, but the value of the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Mass Audubon recently completed the acquisition of such a critical link – 82 acres of high quality forest land from Gregg S. Whitney, connecting our Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary with a portion of the Wendell State Forest to the west. We acquired this important property for $95,000 – a bargain sale $45,000 below current appraised value.

Whetstone is unique for several reasons, including the fact that it is both Mass Audubon’s largest Newly protected landwildlife sanctuary, and the only one managed explicitly as a wildland – where human impact is minimized and the extent and function of natural communities are of paramount importance. Whetstone Wood is a terrific example of a wildland, consistent with the Wildlands and Woodlands forest conservation vision put forth by Harvard Forest and the University of Massachusetts. Whetstone Wood is also located within the multi-state Quabbin to Cardigan (Q2C) corridor conservation initiative. In addition, the land lies within an area designated by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs as the North Quabbin Bioreserve, further reflecting its ecological significance.

Making connections between conservation lands is one of the most prominent themes underpinning the Sanctuary Land Conservation Plan for Whetstone, located in the north Quabbin region of the state. Under that plan, we have been working hard to link that sanctuary with two of the largest expanses of protected open space in the state – more than 50,000 acres surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir and its watershed to the south, and the nearly 80,000 acres of land protected by private land trusts and by state conservation agencies to the north and west as well as extending further westward to Mt. Toby and the Connecticut River corridor. The “land bridge” context of Whetstone will be particularly important in the years ahead, as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced. By connecting these lands where possible today, they will be more resilient tomorrow – a critical factor in natural communities adapting to climate change.

From the Big World of Small World Experiences

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Conservation
Every now and then, one encounters a situation that reminds us that, for all of its far reaches and obvious magnitude, the world really can seem like a very small place at times. That was certainly my experience recently, after meeting with a Mr. Whitney – the owner of 82 acres of land we wish to acquire to add to our Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary in Wendell.

During our first meeting, I casually made note of the fact that Mr. Whitney appeared to be in his late eighties – of essentially the same vintage as my father, who passed away eleven years ago. During the next hour, as we toggled back and forth from getting to know each other to negotiating acceptable terms for a purchase of his land for conservation, degrees of separation became difficult to discern. Its a small world

I learned that Mr. Whitney was a veteran of World War II – same as my dad. He went on to say that he was stationed at Fort Devens in central Massachusetts – as my dad was – and was there at the very same time as my father. Mr. Whitney then proudly proclaimed that he attended UMass – Fort Devens, an obscure bay state trivia tidbit which he seemed truly astounded to see that I was familiar with – because….you guessed it! When he later told me that the primary employer in his career was General Electric – just as it was for you know who – I half expected it. And when he remarked that he cherished memories of taking his kids hiking on many weekends to the “4,000-footers” in the White Mountains, I simply accepted that there was something a bit cosmic going on – I thought of my dear old Dad, and smiled.

We hope to complete the purchase of Mr. Whitney’s land before the end of this month.

A Whole Lot of Land Protection Goin’ On!

By Bob Wilber, Director of Land Protection

As we say here in the Bay State, it has been a “wicked busy” spring and summer! Following a relatively quiet period at the beginning of the year, a number of important projects recently came to fruition during a flurry (can we use that word in this weather?) of activity as the warm weather set it. Now that the dust has settled a bit, it is fun to share all of the good news. 350+ acres in Spencer (Sibley Farm) were protected in perpetuity, along with 50 acres at our Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Barre (Patterson), 100 acres in Wendell, Orange and New Salem (Fisk) at our Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary, and 9 acres in Barnstable Village (Ferguson) at our Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. During this whirlwind of activity, we also celebrated a Conservation Assist – helping to Everyone is ecstatic about all the newly protected land!achieve an important outcome by the Town of Ashland, in which they successfully protected the 120 acre Warren Woods property in that community. And, if that’s not enough, we also succeeded in obtaining the final $800,000 in grant funds from NOAA to deliver the final payments to the Sacred Hearts Healing Center, wrapping up the very successful Great Neck Conservation Initiative in Wareham. These projects succeeded by working in partnership with our valued public and private conservation partners, and through the invaluable support of people like you. Wicked good job!


A Blizzard of End-of-Year Closings Make for Holiday Treats for All!

Bob Wilber, Director of Land Protection

For the second year in a row, we had a flurry of land protection activity in late December.  The fast accumulation of acres resulted in welcomed drifts of cherished conservation land for people and wildlife, sprinkled across the commonwealth.  71 acres in Sharon near our Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, 15 acres in Wendell abutting Whetstone Wood, 8 acres in Wareham at the our newest sanctuary – Great Neck, and 2 acres in Marshfield as part of the North River Wildlife Sanctuary, all arrived on time.  While not all were “gifts”, each brought smiles to boys and girls, and salamanders, birds and turtles across the land! 

Look for more details on these success stories in our next e-newsletter, scheduled to arrive in your inbox in February.  If you don't already receive our e-newsletter, please sign-up here!

Closing the deal on 15 acres in Wendell!

Dinah Rowbotham, Land Protection Program Assistant

In Wendell, Mass Audubon is rounding the bend on a project that will protect 15 additional acres at Whetstone Wood Wildlife Sanctuary!  The soon-to-be protected land is mostly surrounded by the existing sanctuary, which is managed by Mass Audubon as a wildland and is not prepared for public visitation.  Because this land enhances the sanctuary so well, has been identified by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program as BioMap Supporting Natural Landscape, and consists of excellent habitat for interior forest species like moose and bobcat, it has been identified as highest priority for protection in the sanctuary protection plan for Whetstone Wood.

The landowner and Mass Audubon have worked together to carefully structure this project so that both the landowner, who will continue to reside on a portion of the protected property, and Mass Audubon shall meet their goals for the conservation of the land and habitat.  Mass Audubon is purchasing 10 acres–-the northernmost 5 acres and the southernmost 5 acres–-of the property in fee to add to our surrounding landholdings at Whetstone Wood, and protecting the remaining 5 acres which will remain in private ownership and contains the landowner’s residence with a conservation restriction.  The conservation restriction on the remaining 5 acres has been carefully written to protect part of the property as undisturbed wildlands, yet specifically defines and details a residential area that accommodates the conservation-minded landowner’s home and living activities.

The photos below were taken earlier this week when I was at the property to help prepare the baseline report for the conservation restriction and complete the site inspection for the land we will acquire in fee.