One Family’s Proud Conservation Legacy at Allens Pond

On December 11, 2018, Mass Audubon was given a 7-acre Conservation Restriction near our Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in South Dartmouth.

Salt marsh on the newly protected land.

This land is one of the last remaining pieces of unprotected shoreline along the sanctuary’s namesake pond. And it was protected by the children and grandchildren of the woman that first started conserving land in this area some 50 years ago.

Continuing a Conservation Ethic

We owe the start of conservation around Allens Pond (the water body and surrounding sanctuary) to Angelica Russell. Angelica first came to Mass Audubon back in 1971 with an interest in protecting her substantial property at Barney’s Joy Point, which borders Allens Pond.

Photo of Angelica Russell
Angelica Russell © Deedee Shattuck

After some negotiations, she ultimately donated Mass Audubon’s very first Conservation Restriction (CR). This was at a time when CRs were a brand new concept in Massachusetts. It was also the first piece of land that Mass Audubon protected in South Dartmouth.

 The scale of Angelica’s donation is noteworthy.

  • Her first donation protected 156 acres of coastline, grassland and sand dunes.
  • Then in 1986 Angelica and her family added to this by protecting another 88 acres of important habitat. 
  • Including this new property, the entire area protected by Angelica and her descendants totals about 250 acres—truly a remarkable act of conservation for coastal Massachusetts.      

Pieces of a Puzzle

After Angelica’s first donation, Mass Audubon worked for decades to protect the rest of the area around Allens Pond. Bit by bit we worked with dozens of private landowners and supporters to conserve one piece of land at a time—filling in a conservation jigsaw puzzle. 

This newly conserved land can be seen then as a further fulfillment of Angelica’s intent to preserve Allens Pond and Barney’s Joy.   

Mass Audubon is grateful for Angelica Russell’s vision of preserving this beautiful landscape, and we are happy to work with her family members and others to continue it today.

By Nick Rossi, Mass Audubon’s Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist

Giving Thanks in 2018

Many Americans gathered with family and friends to give thanks last week.  Earlier this month, many of those who play a role in Mass Audubon’s land conservation efforts gathered to give thanks for the land.  Almost 100 people attended our eleventh Giving Thanks for the Land event, and nature smiled on us with a rare (this year) sunny fall day.  After chatting and enjoying some refreshments outside, we gathered inside the Great Room at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln.

Judy Williams shows the barn where she and her husband "camped out" the first few years after they bought their property.

Judy Williams shows the barn where she and her husband periodically “camped out” the first few years after they bought their property. The porcupine living there at the time was a somewhat reluctant but gracious host.

What does “Giving Thanks for the Land” mean?

At Mass Audubon, it means an annual event where we gather and celebrate the conservation of key pieces of land by those who help make these projects happen—financial supporters, partner organizations, conservation-minded landowners and the Mass Audubon Board, staff and members.

Sharing personal stories is at the heart of the day.

Among those that spoke to the crowd was a retired school teacher named Judy Willliams.  Thirty years ago, Judy saw a small notice in Mass Audubon’s Sanctuary magazine looking for conservation-minded buyers for a property in western Massachusetts. She spoke of jumping in the car with her husband Dudley, driving out to Plainfield, and immediately falling in love with the property and the area.  Turn the clock ahead to the present day and find the Williamses have been responsible for the protection of almost 350 acres of land linking West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Hawley State Forest.

David Gould, a self-proclaimed “Fish Nerd”, told of a career dedicated to protecting our natural resources.  The Director of Marine and Environmental Affairs for the Town of Plymouth, fishing with his grandfather hooked David on the outdoors at an early age.  Without someone to guide him and easy access to a river, David may have chosen a different career and never gotten the opportunity to protect that special fishing spot he shared with his grandfather.

Do you feel a strong connection and love for the land in Massachusetts?  Then we hope you will join us at next year’s Giving Thanks for the Land celebration and swap stories with others who share that passion.


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.    

A Successful Volunteer Clean-Up Day

By Nick Rossi, Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist

In Land Conservation, protecting a piece of land is often just the first step.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, well over 30 volunteers came out to help clean-up old debris and trash on the Handy Street Conservation area in Attleboro, MA.  The Attleboro Conservation Commission ran the event in a collaborative effort with the Mass Audubon and the Attleboro Land Trust.garbage-pile







The Handy Street Conservation Area was protected last year in close
cooperation with Mass Audubon, the Attleboro Land Trust, and the City of Attleboro. The land is owned by the City of Attleboro, but directly connects to Mass Audubon’s Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary.


Less than two miles from Downtown Attleboro, this ecologically rich property with winding streams and numerous wetlands serves as vital habitat, particularly for amphibians.  The City of Attleboro is a hotspot for vernal pools, which are important breeding grounds for frogs and salamanders.

However, the land also suffers from an overabundance of dumped garbage, trails, and other issues. Last Saturday though, our hard working volunteers lugged many pounds of scrap metal, tires, and other refuse out of the woods.  For a couple hours, the property buzzed with activity. Nearly all of us felt a general sense of accomplishment by the end of the day.clean-up-volunteers

Their help has made a huge difference, and is a great first step towards restoring this property to pristine condition.