Author Archives: Mass Audubon

Have a Cold One to Support Mass Audubon

Here’s something to toast about: Mass Audubon is one of five local charities that will benefit from the 2021 sales of Castle Island Brewing Company’s latest IPA: Fiver.

Castle Island Brewing Company is an award-winning brewery based in Norwood dedicated to the idea that beer should be inclusive, approachable, and excellent. They recently kicked off the Fiver Initiative with the purpose of giving back to some deserving local charities.

In addition to Mass Audubon, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, Artists for Humanity, Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, and Facing History and Ourselves will receive a cut of sales.

So whether you enjoy a can of Fiver on a cold winter’s day; a frosty mug of it in the heat of summer; or a freshly poured pint in the taproom this fall, you’ll be supporting Mass Audubon during every season this year. We’ll cheers to that!

~ Emily Sabo

New Year, New Climate Resolutions

Photo © Andrew Weber

2020 was a tough year. It would be easy to simply bury our heads in the sand and ignore the climate crisis, but nature needs us now more than ever before. And what’s more, we need nature too.

As 2021 begins, we can all make some resolutions that will help us feel better while also helping the world we all share. Consider resolving to contend with the anxiety that comes with our global climate crisis.

Serious concern about climate change has been called “climate grief,” defined as a psychological response to loss caused by the environmental destruction of climate change. And we all have plenty of it. We see, often daily, how climate change is playing out in extreme weather events, coastal flooding, and impacts on the health and safety of our communities.

It turns out that taking actions to learn about and help address climate change is not just good for the planet, but also for our mental health.  According to therapists, climate grief can be addressed by:

  • Staying informed
  • Connecting with others who are also concerned
  • Maintaining our relationship with nature
  • And engaging with meaningful climate solutions in ways that are relevant and applicable to us.

For this new year, you can make several resolutions to help the planet, that, in turn, will help you deal with any climate grief you face.

Be informed.

Read more information from reliable and trustworthy sources about local and national climate actions, regulations, incentive programs, and solutions. Digest and reflect on essays and articles from environmental organizations and advocacy groups.

Share and engage with others.

Initiate conversations with neighbors, extended family, and people in your community, about local and global climate threats and solutions. Attend library programs, climate cafés, and public information meetings held by local, state and federal elected officials. Participating in talks, meetings, and conversations will help you feel part of a collective of concerned, committed individuals who are learning together, sharing, and engaging in solutions. Being part of a solutions-oriented climate community can keep you feeling supported and energized when you need it most.

Connect to nature for health and motivation.  

Get outdoors and experience nature in your neighborhood or visit nearby trails every week. These daily connections with local nature will help you stay physically and emotionally healthy, connecting you to the Earth, which needs your help.

Act on climate.

Acting on the climate crisis helps address climate grief. This year, commit to climate action above and beyond what you already do. Start with individual solutions, like increasing how many plant-based meals you eat, and grow to community solutions, like participating in community composting programs or using your voice to support critical climate legislation. Actively engage with more local land protection and clean energy efforts by donating or volunteering. Use your power as a consumer, a voter, and community member, to push for local and global climate solutions.

We all have the power to make a difference, at or near home, in our collective climate fight. With the hope and promise of a new year in front of us, we can address our climate grief by seeking ways to act on the climate crisis. It’s one of the healthiest resolutions we can make.

Lucy Gertz, Adult Programs Education Manager

Sea Turtles Face Challenges in Warming Waters

Photo © Esther Horvath. Lea Desrochers, Turtle Research Assistant at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescues a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle at at Corn Hill Beach, Truro, MA.

Every November and December, for more than 30 years, sea turtles strand on the bayside beaches of Cape Cod. At first there were only a few. But since 1999, hundreds of turtles have washed ashore each year. In 2014, more than 1,200 sea turtles were rescued or recovered.

Cold Stunning in Cape Cod Bay

Sea turtles strand on the Cape in the fall because of “cold-stunning”, a kind of hypothermia. Most are young Kemp’s Ridleys, the most endangered sea turtle in the world, transported north by the Gulf Stream. Ridleys feed along the New England coast during the summer. As they move south in the fall, some may become trapped by the hook shape of Cape Cod. Unable to find their way out of the bay and chilled by falling temperatures, turtles’ systems start to shut down.

For years, the staff and volunteers at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have patrolled beaches to rescue cold-stunned turtles and transport them to the New England Aquarium for lifesaving medical care. Most of the rescued turtles will eventually return to the ocean. 

Warming Waters May Play a Role

Before 1990, sea turtles generally didn’t travel north of Cape Cod because the water was too cold. Young turtles making return trips south in the fall would cold-stun on Long Island, New York, but rarely along the Massachusetts coast. That started changing in the 1990’s. Since then, the Gulf of Maine, which includes Cape Cod Bay, has been warming even faster than the global average. Warmer waters have encouraged sea turtles and many other forms of marine life to take advantage of abundant food resources in New England and even eastern Canada. Unfortunately, for some turtles, the outstretched arm of the Cape can be a deadly trap.

Warming Temperatures Pose More Threats

Green Sea Turtle covering a nest. Photo © United States National Park Services.

Climate change threatens sea turtles well beyond Cape Cod. Warming temperatures on nesting beaches, especially those in tropical regions, could skew sea turtle sex ratios since a hatchling’s sex is determined by the incubation temperature of its nest. Warmer nest temperatures tend to produce females and, in some locations, nests are producing too few males. If the sand at a nesting beach becomes too hot, it can weaken hatchlings or even kill them. Nesting turtles can also be overcome by heat in the process of digging their nests or laying eggs.

And the beaches turtles use to nest are themselves at risk. The increasing rate of sea level rise, more intense coastal storms, erosion, and flooding are likely to accelerate the loss of sea turtle nesting habitat.

Hope for these Resilient Reptiles

Sea turtles have been on the planet for 100 million years and managed to survive the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs. But can they survive all the human-made problems that confront them? Sea turtles are also threatened by ocean pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, and extensive development along their nesting beaches. The good news is that sea turtle populations have been bolstered with help from conservationists, including Mass Audubon, and there are significant legal protections in place for them. There’s been progress, but a great deal of work remains.

A cold-stunned sea turtle that washes up on a Cape Cod beach has already dodged a number of obstacles in its life. Rescuing that turtle supports a second chance at survival. But we also have a special opportunity to make a difference in helping it to overcome larger challenges like climate change.

Jenette Kerr, Wellfleet Bay’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator.

On Bug Boxes, Climate Grief, and Human Health 

My connection to nature sparked as a  kid in the eighties. I owned a bug box – my  grandmother’s neighbor made them in bulk and then let the kids on the block decorate them. It was a simple wooden construction with a panel door that swung sideways and up, with fine mesh netting  that let the bugs breathe. I’d catch and inspect all kinds of bugs in there. I especially remember summer nights chasing fireflies, carrying my bug box like a lantern on the lawn of our South St. Louis home as dusk fell, and releasing the fireflies as rogue twinkle lights before I went inside for bed.  

I’m Claire Berman, a nature lover, an author, a health communicator, and an aunt. Each of these roles motivates me to act on climate change.  

Claire Berman, Climate Champion.

As I conducted research for my first novel this year, I learned more about the impact of climate change on birds and other animals. I wanted to write about the way they were being forced to find new homes or change their migration patterns. So I bought a pair of binoculars, made a few birder friends, and became amazed by the herculean task of migration. Yet I was also troubled by the ways human-caused climate change can alter when and where birds migrate because of temperature changes or availability of food.  

In my job as a health communicator, I see firsthand the ways that climate change affects human health in addition to animals. Through this  work, I  have seen communities struggle against intense hurricanes, mosquito- and water-borne illnesses, or displacement from their homes because of climate change. I’ve seen how systemic racism creates conditions that put  people of color and people in poverty  more at risk of respiratory illnesses and other public health threats borne from climate change.  

I’m fighting for the climate on all of these fronts.  

This year, I completed a certificate program in Climate Change and Human Health to learn how we can mitigate, adapt to, and communicate about climate change’s public health impacts. I wrote to my senators in support of the Green New Deal for clean energy and millions of new jobs. I signed up to support the youth-led Sunrise Movement. I phone banked and wrote postcards to get out the vote. I donated to wildlife conservation organizations like Mass Audubon.

Anyone can take actions like these. We can all do our small part to protect the natural world and work towards a safe and healthy future for humanity and all living things.  

Claire’s childhood bug box.

A few months ago, my mom asked if my 8-year-old nephew could have my old bug box. He’d found it buried somewhere in the basement, a bit worse for the wear. I said yes, of course. I want him to find joy in the beauty of nature, just as I did at his age, and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it survives for his generation of kids and beyond.

Claire Berman, Mass Audubon Member.

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.