Author Archives: Mass Audubon

Kids at camp

The Power of Camp

Today is Summer Camp Day of Action for Black Lives

As a statewide conservation organization that operates 19 nature day camps and a residential summer camp serving more than 15,000 campers, we stand with our colleagues and friends in the camp world affirming that Black Lives Matter at Camp.  

Nature itself is untainted with prejudice; however, too many Black and Brown community members have felt the sting of systemic racism when exploring the outdoors, connecting with and studying nature.  

Designing thoughtful and impactful summer camps in nature, about nature, and for nature is core to our work and why our commitment to our summer camp program runs deep. We understand the power of camp to uplift and empower youth, families, and communities. Our camps are focused on nature, yes, and they are also about people and community.  

Creating safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities for positive youth development is what camp is all about. It is our most essential work, and yet we know we need to continue to do better for all our campers.  

Why? Because we know that camps are agents of change—the communities of campers, staff, and families that we build can serve as a model for the just, fair, and equitable world that our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) campers and their families deserve.   

We commit to creating and fostering spaces that are welcoming, equitable, and inclusive for all of our campers, staff, and families. 

We pledge to cultivate an inclusive community and recognize that this work will be ongoing and ever-evolving.  

What We Are Doing 

  • Forming a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) Camp Director Committee that works collaboratively to define the role and responsibilities of Mass Audubon camps in activating Mass Audubon’s DEIJ strategic priorities 
  • Providing professional development workshops for all camp staff including facilitating activities and group initiatives that build an understanding of and appreciation for DEIJ in the camp community and in life 
  • Celebrating the diversity of our current campership and camp staff and honoring the voices and perspective they bring to building our camp community 

What We Are Committed to Doing   

  • Listening, learning, and acting to ensure that our nature camps are safe, welcoming, and inclusive spaces for Black and Brown campers and their families, because what happens at camp can deeply affect individuals and communities  
  • Working diligently to increase the representation of BIPOC staff and campers at our camps  
  • Fostering relationships with young people who move through our camp programs as campers to become staff and future environmental and social justice leaders  
  • Using our platform as the largest provider of nature-based summer camps in Massachusetts to promote diversity and inclusion and lift up BIPOC voices of our staff and colleagues who are doing inspiring and impactful work in camp and in the environmental education field.  

Mass Audubon camps are committed to the learning and growth that is required to move this commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice into deeper forms of action and leadership. We know we have lots of work to do and we look forward to working with our colleagues across the nation as well as our camp families on this important work.  

volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia

Planting a Forest with the Climate in Mind

More than 50 volunteers turned out in the last days of a mild October to help restore a floodplain forest at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton. Together, these nature heroes planted around 1,500 of the 2,000 trees and shrubs going in the ground before winter.

Volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia
Volunteer at Arcadia

In this first phase of the project, 8.5 acres of field that is unproductive for both farming and grassland bird habitat will be turned back into land dominated by trees—including pin oaks, silver maples, and even American elm.  

Floodplain forests are uncommon in Massachusetts, hosting rare plants and wildlife habitat, storing stormwater during floods, and, like all forests, keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But visitors to Arcadia who walk the Fern Trail are lucky to be able to see the large shagbark hickories and tulip trees, that make up one of the best examples of this natural community in the state. The restoration project will significantly expand Arcadia’s protection of this special forest type. 

Climate Implications 

This is a climate adaptation project, preparing us for the impacts that have already begun and will be continuing through the coming years and decades. 

Like all living things, trees have optimal conditions where they grow and reproduce. As temperatures continue to rise because of climate change, tree species’ ideal habitats are shifting northward; however, natural movement rates over generations of trees are generally too slow to keep up with rapid warming.  

This restoration project assists the trees’ northward migration in two ways.  First, for some of the species native to the Connecticut River Valley, saplings are being sourced from nurseries further south so they go into the soil already better adapted to warmer climates.  

Second, volunteers are planting trees that currently don’t occur in the wild in Massachusetts, such as sweet gum, a tree that exists in floodplain forests further south, up to southern Connecticut. These choices increase the likelihood that the forest will flourish in the future, since Massachusetts’s climate is projected to become comparable to the climate of the south between 2070 and 2100.  

The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration has selected this restoration for Priority Project designation and have been a key partner in the process. Mass Audubon is also partnering with the Nature Conservancy’s Christian Marks, who has planted his Dutch-elm-disease-tolerant American Elms on the site. 

— Jonah Keane, Arcadia’s Sanctuary Director

PV 101: The Power of the Sun

Sunlight has been an important tool for humans for centuries, from tracking time via sundials to starting fires through a magnifying glass. Over a series of discoveries and novel inventions, scientists were able to develop special metal cells that expand what we can use sunlight for by turning it into energy.

Solar panels at Mass Audubon Oak Knoll wildlife sanctuary.

A Brief History Lesson

Photovoltaic cells are what we more commonly call “solar panels,” and you might have already spotted a few on rooftops of homes and commercial buildings. Photovoltaics refers to the technology inside the panels that converts sunlight directly into electricity. When particles of sunlight hit a solar panel, it creates a microscopic reaction that separates electrons from the atoms they reside in. This separation results in an electrical current that we can harness and use.   

Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, first discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. During an experiment, he noticed that when light struck a metal electrode (a conductor through which electricity travels), it created an electrical voltage.

Then, in 1873, Willoughby Smith, an English electrical engineer, discovered a process to make the chemical element selenium conduct electricity when it absorbs light.

Ten years later, American inventor Charles Fritts constructed the first working solar panel by spreading selenium onto a copper plate and covering it with an extremely thin, semi-transparent layer of gold.

A (Solar) System of Benefits

Currently, people rely on fossil fuels for most of our energy needs. Fossil fuels are finite resources found in the earth, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. If we continue relying on these resources, we will eventually run out of them. Not to mention, continued use means we keep releasing excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – the root of climate change. In fact, burning fossil fuels is responsible for 65% of carbon dioxide  in the atmosphere.

Solar energy, on the other hand, is cleaner and limitless. Let’s put solar in perspective: The sun produces more energy a day than the world uses in one year. For example, the energy consumption for the entire planet in 2017 was 17.7 terawatt-year (TWy), compared to the solar energy available per year, which is 23,000.0 TWy.

A Future Powered by Clean Energy

Mass Audubon has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions as an organization by 2050 – and solar energy is one way we’re accomplishing this goal. In fact, 100% of our energy is renewable – with about 37% being generated on site, and the remaining purchased from green sources. Check out this map to find out if there are photovoltaic arrays at a wildlife sanctuary near you and see how much energy they’re producing.

If the evolution and benefits of solar photovoltaics have inspired you, you can also be part of the solar solution. You can install solar panels, purchase green energy, consider community solar options, or see if your community is participating in Green Municipal Aggregation. If solar development is coming to your community, be sure to read up on our recommendations for solar siting to preserve important habitats and ecosystem services.

— Abdishakur Ahmed, Energy and Climate Change Intern      

A Trip Down the Conn River

Becky Cushing-Gop, Director of Mass Audubon West, recently joined legislators, state officials, and environmental, cultural, and Indigenous leaders for a paddle down the Connecticut River on a gorgeous fall morning.  

The goal of the event, organized by State Senator Jo Comerford and nonprofit All Out Adventures, was public awareness about the Connecticut River’s importance to the environment, farms, economy, culture, as well as its significance to Indigenous communities.  

It was an opportunity to gather a broad range of stakeholders dedicated to the river’s well-being and a celebration of the partnerships that protect it. Becky highlighted two current projects Mass Audubon is working on with local and state partners to protect the nature of the Connecticut River Valley:

  • In West Springfield, just two miles from the Connecticut River, we’re in the process of permanently protecting the 1,500-acre Bear Hole Reservoir in partnership with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and the City of West Springfield.  

After the trip Sen. Comerford, whose district includes communities located along the river and within its watershed, gave a shout-out on social media to Mass Audubon for its steadfast role in protecting and promoting the natural and environmental values of the Connecticut River Valley.

A Victory for Birds

Great news for birds and for all of us who care about them!

Great Blue Heron copyright John Yurka
Great Blue Heron © John Yurka

A federal court ruled yesterday that the legal basis for the Trump Administration’s rollback of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is inconsistent with the intent and language of the law.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni found that the Administration’s legal opinion, which would needlessly put millions of birds at risk, “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.”

As many Mass Audubon members know, the MBTA’s passage in 1918 was a direct outgrowth of the advocacy spurred by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who more than two decades earlier had founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society to end the slaughter of birds for their feathers.

It is heartening to know our founders’ legacy lives on in the actions and support by nature lovers that continue to inspire today.

The court’s decision comes as a result of lawsuits filed by environmental organizations and eight states, including Massachusetts; we specifically thank Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff for their stalwart determination to help bring about the ruling.

To be sure, this fight is not over. Mass Audubon has formally objected to the proposed regulatory rollbacks and supported legislation in opposition.

But we need your help to stop any future attempts by the Trump Administration and its allies to dismantle the founding achievement of the Audubon movement and one of the nation’s bulwark legal protections in support of thriving wildlife.

Please make a donation today so we can continue to advocate for the birds that we all love.

David O’Neill
President

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose

A Crushing Blow to Birds

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose

The United States government has released a draft environmental impact statement that will crush the bird conservation successes of the last 100 years.

Their report recommends ending federal protections for harassing, trapping, or killing birds, or taking nests and eggs, unless it can be proven that the intent of the action was only to kill birds, or the species is an endangered species. This kind of loss, called incidental take (detailed here), kills millions of birds every year, even with federal protections in place enabling responses to reduce impacts. Removing these protections will unleash unbridled assaults on our native birds, which is why this change must be stopped.

Join us and act now to protect birds, and stop this regulatory change.

An Age of Enlightenment

Since 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has protected our native birds from purposeful or incidental losses.  Mass Audubon’s founding mothers, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, built public support to end the feather trade and protect all birds. Some species were split off to be managed as game – and they flourished with special protection.

The vast majority of species like bluebirds, hummingbirds, terns, and owls all entered a new era of protection and conservation. They were given a reprieve from hunting and harassment, egg and nest collecting, and any other behaviors that killed birds without a permit. This helped drive innovative conservation initiatives that allow industry to thrive, and native bird populations to coexist with a booming economy. It worked well – maybe better than in any other country in the world.

The Return of the Dark Ages

Despite these conservation successes, decades of economic expansion, and public comments representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, the Trump administration has chosen to recommend advancing regulatory changes that will make it legal for anyone to kill unlimited numbers of birds, as long as their action is “otherwise lawful.”

The federal government did this while admitting their chosen path would serve the single benefit of “improving legal certainty,” but have negative effects on all other environmental conditions – including bird populations.

So, if you want to build a shopping center, and construction starts in June, and there is colony of herons or a nest of owls on the land, you can legally cut down the trees, destroying the nests, eggs, and chicks.

And, importantly, if your industry is a repeat offender and kills thousands of birds each year in uncovered oil waste pits (because you won’t follow best practices and cover the pits), there is no penalty.

There will be no repercussions, and no incentive, for making even minor changes to construction or industry practices to protect non-game birds like wrens, egrets, and loons, unless your state has legislation that covers these species. At this time Massachusetts does not have legislation that protects these species – we have always relied on the federal MBTA to do that.

What You Can Do

Join Mass Audubon and others who care about birds:

  • Donate to Mass Audubon so we can keep fighting to save the birds we all love and care for.
  • Submit comments opposing the proposed elimination of incidental take protections for birds. Let federal officials know you support Alternative B to restore the Incidental Take provision.
  • Let your Congressional representatives know that you support legislation to restore MBTA protections, and that you support bird conservation.

Birds fill our lives with curiosity, hope, and wonder. We marvel at their audacious colors, ability to withstand freezing nights, and migrations across the hemisphere. We benefit as they help ecosystems thrive by pollinating plants and eating pesky bugs that damage crops.

But they need us more than they have in the last hundred years. It is our turn to step up and make our voices heard.

The Triumphant Return of Bald Eagles

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) recently confirmed that there are now more than 70 active Bald Eagle nests in the Bay State, including the first nesting effort on Cape Cod since 1905. 

The Bald Eagle spotted nesting on the Cape © Heather Fone

This nest, located in a white pine tree, was discovered many months ago by a homeowner’s association and reported to MassWildlife. Subsequently, Josh Maloney, a burgeoning nature enthusiast and volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary discovered what appeared to be a chick in this nest in late May. 

Josh carefully mapped the location of the nest, documented the chick with photographs, and reported the sighting to MassWildlife state ornithologist Andrew Vitz. Within days, Mass Wildlife ascended the tree and banded the eaglet in order to gather valuable life history information throughout its life and contribute to eagle research across the country. We are hopeful this chick will fledge in the coming weeks, and that this breeding pair will return to this nest annually for many years to come.

Bringing Eagles Back to Massachusetts

© David Ennis

This historic benchmark is a living testament to the conservation efforts initiated in Massachusetts by Mass Wildlife and Mass Audubon in response to the significant regional decrease in the population of Bald Eagles that took place throughout the Northeast as a result of DDT use during the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1982, two healthy young eagle nestlings from Michigan were foster reared in a specially constructed tower in a remote section of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. Using a captive rearing protocol called hacking, the two fledglings were eventually released with hopes that upon reaching maturity in four to five years, they would return to the Quabbin area to breed. Between 1982 and 1988, 41 similarly raised eagle chicks were released at Quabbin Reservoir. By 1989 two pairs successfully reared young of their own.

Since the late 1980s, the Commonwealth’s eagle population has steadily grown and spread. Today pairs of this magnificent raptor are nesting from Berkshire to Barnstable County, and recently they have attempted to colonize Martha’s Vineyard.  

Impact of Conservation

Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Massachusetts citizen scientists who contributed the valuable breeding bird distribution data, Mass Audubon ornithologists now have two invaluable roadmaps to help highlight nesting species in need of state conservation assistance. This includes not only include Bald Eagles, but also declining grassland species such as American Kestrel, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark.

In spite of last year’s chilling national report on 3 billion missing birds in “Decline of the North American Avifauna,” species recoveries like those shown by the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Piping Plover, and Eastern Bluebird offer clear evidence that it is never too late to implement sustained conservation efforts, and that many species will often dramatically respond. 

These species offer clear evidence why Mass Audubon’s bird conservation efforts continue to make a difference, and why financial support for avian conservation programs is more important than ever.

You can support Mass Audubon’s Bird Conservation efforts and help us accomplish even more. Make an impact >

Standing Up for What is Just and Equitable

This week marks my first week as President of Mass Audubon. I had planned to introduce myself to all of you by sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. And I am extremely excited to meet with so many of you who are committed to our important mission. But given the extraordinary times we are in, I feel it is important to use this opportunity to take a stand for what is just and equitable for people of color here in Massachusetts and beyond.

Like many of you, I am appalled by the injustices and acts of violence against racially marginalized groups. The gruesome events that have unfolded in the past weeks and months have rattled me. In particular, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the protests that have followed illustrate the historic, systemic racism and environmental injustice that exists in our country towards people of color, specifically Black people.

Fighting for what is right is core to Mass Audubon’s mission. The organization was founded by two women fighting for the protection of birds, and has since expanded that fight over the last 124 years to comprise all things surrounding conservation, education, and advocacy for the protection of not only wildlife, but also people.

One fight that I know we need to amplify is the fight for racial and environmental justice. For far too long, Brown and Black people have found everyday activities like jogging or birding unsafe and have disproportionately suffered from significantly lower air quality as a result of toxins, pollutants, and greenhouse gases.

I recognize that we have more work to do to right these wrongs. I will dedicate my first few months to gaining a better understanding on how I and Mass Audubon can not only contribute but serve as a model for the Commonwealth.

I will listen to our staff members, especially those of color, on how we can support them and move forward as an organization; I will work with partners and grassroots organizations to ensure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and open space; I will continue our focus on the climate crisis, which causes people of color to bear the burden of some of climate change’s worst impacts; I will work to ensure we create access to our sanctuaries and trails that is safe and welcoming to everyone; and I promise to make diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of what we do from this day forward.

I hope you will join me in standing in solidarity with those fighting racism and injustice, and share your thoughts on how we can make Mass Audubon a stronger community that uses our voice for people and wildlife.

Sincerely,

David O'Neill Signature

David J. O’Neill
President

Bird-at-home-a-thon 2020 in Review

Bird-at-home-a-thon, which took place May 15-16, was more than we could have hoped for. Thanks to all of you, we not only had a record number of participants, but raised a record amount of funds ($290,000 and counting) that will support conservation, education, and advocacy across the state.

The Results

Our 26 teams recorded an impressive combined total of 242 bird species in Massachusetts. We were amazed at all the different bird species we could see right from our backyards and neighborhoods.

Teams across the state not only got points for birds seen, but for taking part in a variety of nature-themed activities including filling bird feeders, going on scavenger hunts, and even coloring! The Teams that received the most points are:

  • Eagle Eye Award for most points earned goes to Team Drumlin Farm with 992 points
  • Home Habitat Award for second place for the most points earned goes to Team Wellfleet Bay with 537 points.

Highlights

We loved seeing all the amazing posts on social media and our online digital gallery during the event. Here are some of our favorites:

Barred Owl

Drawings & Silly Names

Activity Time

Indigo Bunting

Prairie Warbler

Birding on the River

Flicker Drawing

Bird Art in West Boylston

via Lisa Carlin

Getting Crafty

via Christine and Steven Whitebread

View more Bird-a-thon pictures in the online photo gallery. Feel free to add your own Bird-a-thon pictures as well, and please be sure to include your name in the file name so we know who to credit.

It’s Not Too Late To Get Involved

The birding may be over, but fundraising is open until mid-June! We can’t thank you enough for your generous support.

Thank you to our 2020 Bird-a-thon Sponsors!

Hostess Catering
Metlife

Losing a Nature Hero: Liz Duff

On May 15, we lost a member of our family, someone whose work embodied the integration of education, science, conservation, and community-based advocacy.

Liz Duff worked for Mass Audubon for more than 20 years and contributed greatly to our education and engagement efforts on the North Shore, working with partners throughout New England. 

Liz Duff

She leaves our community with a strong and lasting legacy of meaningful environmental education and activism that has transformed the land and people that she so dearly stewarded and loved. Her contribution to students and teachers across the region and her collaboration with colleagues — across Mass Audubon and beyond — will influence how we connect youth to their local ecosystems for years to come.

Whether in the field with classroom teachers, helping connect students with authentic environmental research, or showcasing youth research at the annual Coastal Science Conference that she hosted with Plum Island Long Term Ecological Research, her commitment to her students of all ages was profound. It is incredible to imagine how many students and educators she influenced over the decades.

Liz’s programs, the conference, and community events all demonstrated what an agent of change she was in this region. The number of schools, individuals, government agencies, and community-based organizations that Liz worked with are too many to mention, but each and every one of them was part of the strong network of webs that Liz helped to weave over the years.

Most of all, Liz was a conservationist who cared deeply about her work and the health of the planet. She will be deeply missed here at Mass Audubon and in the greater conservation community.

At Mass Audubon, we are pleased to announce a new award in Liz’s honor. The Liz Duff Excellence in Environmental Education Award will be presented annually to recognize a professional who has developed and implemented field-based environmental education program that combines scientific investigation and civic engagement with the goal of having a positive impact of one’s community.

While we all wish Liz was still in the field, in her waders with a group of enthusiastic and engaged students, we hope that this award will allow her life’s work to continue to inspire others who also aim to connect people to nature and protect our planet.