Author Archives: Rishya N.

About Rishya N.

A Boston bird-nerd & ocean enthusiast dedicated to climate action. Mass Audubon's Climate Change Communications Manager.

Protect Birds by Addressing Climate Change

When Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall founded Mass Audubon in 1896, they were committed to ending the cruel practice of killing birds for fashion. Since then, Mass Audubon has continued its dedication to protecting birds through the threats they’ve faced over the decades – and now that means addressing climate change

North, North, and Away 

Both plants and animals live in predictable environments, and one of the most important parts in defining these environments is their temperatures. But climate change is causing temperatures to increase world-wide. As Massachusetts gets warmer, the plants and insects that comprise these environments are shifting northward – and we’re seeing birds follow them away from the Commonwealth. 

Higher temperatures also provide a suitable environment for the spread of invasive pest and plant species – both of which reduce healthy Northern hardwoods forested habitat.  

49% of the Massachusetts’ breeding forest bird species we studied are highly vulnerable. 

Black-throated Blue Warbler © Terri Nickerson

The Commonwealth’s Black-throated Blue Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler are expected to decline as the Northern hardwood trees they call home are overtaken by more heat tolerant species. Ruffed Grouse, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Wood Thrushes are also expected to be vulnerable to the reduction of Northern hardwoods forested habitats as a result of this shift in dominant tree species. 

Changing Seasons 

Our seasons are changing, impacting bird food sources and nesting behaviors. With milder, shorter winters and earlier springs (among other shifts) – the environmental cues that typically trigger breeding or nesting behavior and the emergence of food are thrown out of whack. 

66% of the Massachusetts breeding, long-distance migrants we studied are highly or likely vulnerable.  

Tree Swallow in nest box.

Migratory species, like Tree Swallows, can only make minor modifications to their migration schedules to coincide with the shifting peak abundance of their food. The dissonance between migration and breeding schedules and shifting seasons can adversely affect breeding birds— especially if available food sources are insufficient to raise their young. 

Rising Sea Levels 

With tides creeping farther up our shores, sea level rise is swallowing important marsh and beach-nesting habitat of coastal bird species. 

56% of the Massachusetts’ breeding, coastal-nesting species we studied are highly vulnerable. 

Piping Plover and chicks © Lia Vito

These, often already threatened, species now contend with the effects of sea level rise. Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and Saltmarsh Sparrows nest in habitats that are slowly being overtaken by this climate impact in addition to the increasing frequency and severity of storms. 

We Can Make a Difference 

Let’s come together to protect birds by working to solve climate change in two ways: by adapting to climate change (withstanding its current impacts) and mitigating climate change (reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and removing them from the atmosphere). Visit massaudubon.org/climate for how you can start doing both. 

Three Nature Restoration Projects You Can Watch

We’re celebrating Earth Day’s theme of restoring our earth, and we want you to celebrate with us. Here are three restoration projects you can check out by visiting one of Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries. Get outdoors, connect with nature, and learn more about what nature restoration in Massachusetts looks like! 

Tree Planting in Western Massachusetts 

volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia

In November 2020, Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary’s (in Easthampton and Northampton) staff and volunteers planted 1,500 trees and shrubs in an effort to restore the floodplain forest. These new trees will be better suited to deal with warming temperatures — a direct consequence of climate change — ensuring the forest can live for years to come. Walk along the Fern Trail to admire this restoration work and one of Massachusetts’ few floodplain forests. 

Tackling Invasive Species in the North Shore 

Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield is gearing up to restore areas of their south and west fields. Thanks to a generous donor, staff were able to remove a wide strip of invasive shrubs and trees. Property staff will plant native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and grasses. Not only will these actions support our beloved pollinators this spring, it’ll also help preserve the biodiversity of Ipswich River, increasing its resilience to climate impacts. You can see this restoration in action via the Bunker Meadow Trail. 

From Cranberries to Wildlife 

The previous owners of a cranberry farm in Plymouth committed to restoring the wetlands they owned when they stopped farming in 2010. Thanks to Evan Schulman and Glorianna Davenport’s decision, what is now Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary is being restored to create a mosaic of habitats including ponds, cold-water streams, red maple, and Atlantic white cedar swamps, grasslands, and pine-oak forests.  

The original restoration project removed nine dams, excavated over three miles of new stream channel, and removed thousands of tons of sediment to connect headwaters of Beaver Dam Brook with the ocean for migrating fish such as river herring, brook trout, and American eel. After purchasing the property in 2017, Mass Audubon continued these restoration efforts with our partners. Enjoy the Entrance Trail to admire Tidmarsh’s most recent restoration work (along what is now Manomet Brook), or bask in the Madar Loop for a longer walk to see how previous restoration efforts took hold. 

When it Rains, it Pours – This Type of Garden Helps

A residential rain garden in Leominster, MA – EPA.

A rain garden is a collection of plants, often native grasses, shrubs, or flowers. Sounds just like a normal garden, right? Except rain gardens do something a little extra by helping absorb storm water, therefore lessening the damage of flooding. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme storm events, flooding is a real consequence we must learn to adapt to.

Let’s take a look at how this works.

Dealing with Impervious Surfaces

Roads, roofs, and sidewalks (among other artificial structures we build) are made up of materials called “impervious surfaces” due to the fact that they are water resistant. That means when water hits these materials, it’ll sit on top and pool instead of soaking into the ground.

Impervious surfaces create a tricky situation during any sort of storm event with precipitation, because it exacerbates flooding as water continues to collect with nowhere to go.

Enter Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are built in depressed areas of the ground and comprise of deep-rooted flora that enjoy extra water. When storm water builds up and overflows from impervious surfaces, these rain gardens can catch it before it floods important infrastructure. With help from the right types of soil, the garden slowly sinks the water into the ground. So instead of allowing storm water to build up and flood our houses, apartments, neighborhoods, and towns, rain gardens redirect storm water into the earth.

Added Benefits

Rain gardens are typically made of native plants, which is great for pollinators already facing threats from climate change, pollution, and other environmental issues. Not to mention the plants, soil, and mulch that make up rain gardens help filter out pollutants in storm water, preventing nutrient runoff that results in consequences like algal blooms.

Where to Start

If you want to see a real example of a rain garden, visit Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester. The Barbara Elliot Fargo Education Center is surrounded by rain gardens to absorb storm water runoff from their parking lot.

Before planting your own rain garden in your home or in your community, see if one is appropriate for your space. Then, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of resources on how to get started, with specific resources for Massachusetts as well!

Don’t have the time or space to plant a rain garden?  Reducing the amount of impervious surface or lawn cover at your home or in your community is another way to manage storm water. Consider native plants that are particularly thirsty to fill these spaces instead.

Climate Action through Salt Marsh Restoration

 DNRT’s and Mass Audubon’s TerraCorps members, staff, and volunteers hard at work.

When we look to nature, we can find many ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Restoring nature so it can perform these services is, in part, how Mass Audubon acts on climate. Wetland restoration work being done on the South Coast is a prime example.  

On February 15, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT) and Mass Audubon’s TerraCorps members, staff, and volunteers spent the day achieving this goal by removing invasive plant species on DNRT’s Ocean View Farm Reserve (neighboring Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary). This effort is under the recently awarded Southeast New England Program (SNEP) Watershed Grant. SNEP Watershed Grants are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through a collaboration with Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE). 

The Big Deal about Invasive Species 

Invasive species are known for their ability to easily spread past their native habitats — either by accident, opportunity, or purposeful introduction — and establish themselves into new habitats. Upon their arrival, these species tend to out-compete native flora or fauna for resources. This can cascade into a variety of consequences such as already vulnerable wildlife losing critical food sources or homes. 

Why Wetlands? 

Wetlands are our first line of defense when it comes to withstanding climate impacts like flooding, which we are now seeing more of due to sea level rise and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. Not to mention, healthy wetlands (like a salt marsh) store more carbon per unit area than some of Massachusetts’ forests, helping us mitigate climate change at the same time. 

But wetlands also need to be able to adapt to climate change’s impacts. As tides creep further up our shores, flood and salt intolerant wildlife move upland as a response. An abundance of invasive species inhibits how well native plants (and their accompanying animals) can migrate landward. 

Staff and Volunteers at Work 

Following COVID-19 public health guidelines and armed with loppers, handsaws, and chainsaws, staff and volunteers worked together to remove invasive species such as Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose, and Bush Honeysuckle.   

The invasive brush must be cut from the ground to enhance Ocean View Farm Reserve’s ability to act as a wetland buffer, or an area with plants that helps protect the wetland and all its climate services. Volunteers stacked the cut brush on tarps and pulled the brush over 100 yards to a suitable area for disposal.   

The job doesn’t end with invasive species removal, however. Staff and volunteers then began planting native grasses and flowers that are both salt and flood tolerant. As sea levels rise, these actions will help facilitate wildlife and habitat movement landward as a response.  

The Bigger Picture 

The work is tedious and grueling, and relies on the dedication of staff and volunteers to restoring nature and protecting our world from climate change. Invasive species removal is just one component of the grant, which funds a variety of other science and restoration activities at Mass Audubon Great Neck and Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuaries.

All these initiatives are designed to better understand how sea level rise impacts our coastal wetlands, how to protect these habitats from climate change (and therefore the wildlife and human communities surrounding them), and how to model broader climate resilience efforts in the region. 

Thank you to our partners DNRT and TerraCorps for their collaboration on this project, Home Depot for donating tarps for our staff and volunteers to use during removals, and all the Mass Audubon and DNRT volunteers who lent their time and efforts to the project. 

My past is my prologue

The first time I saw myself as a scientist was at a very young age, inspired by scouting. My two favorite merit badges were Nature and Environmental Science – but earning them took effort and time. I had to pick three different environments and observe patterns in them.

I vividly remember taking my bike out every day to our local salt marsh, each time with a growing curiosity. What would I hear? What new discovery would I make? Scouting taught me that if I take the time to look in nature, I will certainly discover something new.

Tom Eid, Climate Champion.

My childhood experiences come full circle.

While my scouting days are over, the lessons I’ve learned still ring true today: that as a community, we must look to the patterns in nature to understand what is happening to it.

Right now, that means grasping how nature is changing in order to adapt to our changing climate.

I’m Tom Eid and I’m a Climate Champion.

I act on climate by helping increase our collective, scientific understanding of how nature fares in the face of rising seas, warming temperatures, and shifting seasons through community science.

Community science is public participation in scientific research and decision making. It has provided me opportunities to collaborate with experts and help protect the environment. It is science by people to benefit nature.

What I did as a scout was science. The activities I completed were part of the practice of phenological monitoring: the observation of long-term patterns in wildlife behavior to understand nature and its adaptation to environmental threats. Many years later, I still use phenological monitoring to better comprehend how wildlife behavior is affected by the threat of climate change.

A return to the salt marsh

From July through September 2020, I worked with Mass Audubon on its Coastal Salt Marsh Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment project.

There was a beautiful nostalgia in the field at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary that reminded me of my time scouting. What struck me is that the smell of a salt marsh is the same – no matter where you go or how many years have passed. There’ll always the gentle bending and bowing of salt marsh grasses as the wind blows through. The feeling of the soft, cushion-like peat underneath me. The calls of birds whistling through the air matched with the slight touch of sea salt in the marsh breeze.

While my monitoring as a scout merited me with a badge, these assessments gave me a pathway for climate action. I helped observe nature’s cues, noting shifts in things like where certain marsh plants grow, to inform adaptation strategies that preserve and enhance this critical habitat for people and wildlife. 

The scientist in you

Climate change is our reality: it affects us here and now. We are all responsible for making a difference.

What can you do to act on climate change to ensure a sustainable future for the world around us? Get outside and into nature! Community science can be that opportunity to engage, here’s how to start:

  1. Pursue your passion. What do you love about the environment?
  2. Leverage your skills: What do you bring to the table? How can you engage and educate others about new scientific findings?
  3. Embrace your sector: What type of work do you want to do? Visit Mass Audubon’s website for some ideas.

Together, lets commit to protecting nature. Let’s learn from nature’s patterns and cues, teach each other, and enable current and future generations to act on climate through science.

– Tom Eid, Mass Audubon Community Science Volunteer

Understanding Coastal Climate Vulnerability

Our coasts are home to valuable habitats and beloved species. To protect them from climate change and understand how vulnerable these important regions are, Mass Audubon’s Climate Adaptation Ecologist, Dr. Danielle Perry, PhD, laces up her work boots and jumps headfirst into cordgrass and salt water.

Joppa Flats Education Center © Jorge Galvez

Why Study Vulnerability

When a habitat is vulnerable to climate change, it means that it is at an elevated risk of suffering from climate change’s impacts, like sea level and temperature rise. Analyzing a habitat’s vulnerability is critical to understanding how well equipped it is to withstand these impacts, which then allows us to urgently act to ensure their protection both now and in the future.

Dr. Perry’s initial study is a trial for a series of vulnerability assessments that analyze the resilience of Mass Audubon properties to the various impacts of climate change. These first assessments examined the effects of sea level rise at five properties: Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats, Rough Meadows, Eastern Point, Barnstable Great Marsh, and Wellfleet Bay wildlife sanctuaries.

Breaking Down Methodology

Dr. Danielle Perry, PhD

First, with the expertise of sanctuary staff and other scientists, Dr. Perry assigned the resources within each sanctuary a numerical score based on their value to wildlife, the sanctuary, and surrounding communities. Resources ranged from hard infrastructure (man-made) to natural environments (like salt marsh habitats).

Then, she used data available by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to project the effect that sea level rise will have on these resources by 2030 and 2050.

Finally, Dr. Perry supplemented her projections with real-time field surveys that looked at the current conditions of salt marsh habitats, since salt marshes serve an important role in increasing our resilience to climate change. She observed cues that demonstrated how resilient the habitat currently is, its health, and how easily it could migrate (or move more landward) as sea levels rise.

The Results

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet had stable salt marsh conditions, with some evidence of disturbances like crab burrows that degrade the marsh’s peat. However, this site is projected to be the most impacted by sea level rise out of all five sanctuaries.

Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary in Gloucester showed similar results: a salt marsh with better current conditions than the other sanctuaries, but significant projected sea level rise impact, right after Wellfleet Bay.

Dr. Perry’s boot reveals a low spot in the high marsh – a sign of peat degradation at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Then came Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, one that stood out to Dr. Perry for a completely different reason than the previous two. This site’s current conditions were among the most degraded: with low climate resilience and an ecosystem health score of five (out of 10).

Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley is a little more prepared for sea level rise, with moderate climate resilience and a high landward migration potential. Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable mirrored this finding, but with even less severe projected sea level rise impacts. This is because most of Barnstable Great Marsh’s infrastructure is located upland, more out of reach of rising tides.

Where We Go From Here

Dr. Perry’s preliminary results, while part of a pilot study, show us that even though all the sites will be affected by sea level rise, each has different levels of resilience. These findings will allow Mass Audubon to prioritize those sites most in need of urgent action. Eventually, we will use this data to inform land use and restoration project decisions at each of the studied locations. Our goal is to increase the resilience of our wildlife sanctuaries and reduce the vulnerability of the surrounding communities.

Leaving the Paris Agreement: What’s Next?

Mass Audubon Ipswich River wildlife sanctuary © Jared Leeds

Born from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st summit, the Paris Agreement pledges to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. This agreement was pivotal, demonstrating international dedication to collectively reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change. Since its inception in 2015, about 188 of the attending 197 countries have ratified the agreement

Last week, however, the United States officially became the first country to exit the Paris Agreement. While the withdrawal process began one year ago, the exit became finalized on November 4, 2020. 

Our Role in Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

The reason this withdrawal is so concerning is related to the United States’ enormous contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) – the root cause of climate change and its byproduct, global temperature rise. Between 1850 and 2011, our country was responsible for the largest portion of total greenhouse gas emissions compared to every other nation in the world. Even today, the United States continues to be the second largest GHG emitter worldwide. 

This global nature of GHGs is part of the reason why international collective action is so important. No matter where we are, our combined emissions contribute to the global phenomenon of climate change. Even more significant, just a few nations are responsible for a majority of these emissions, which then impact the entire planet. 

Collective Climate Action Isn’t Over 

Although the US has formally withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, much of the country is still committed to reaching these international targets. 

Including Massachusetts. 

We know that to fight climate change and protect the natural and human communities we love, we have to act boldly and urgently. Massachusetts is dedicated to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This means that statewide, through a combination of reducing emissions and improving nature-based solutions, we, as a state, will not emit more GHGs than what we can soak back up and remove from the atmosphere. 

And here at Mass Audubon, we know when we work together, we can make an impact. 

Where We Go from Here 

There is still an opportunity for the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement as soon as February 2021. There are also steps that we can all take to keep the momentum going on climate action.  

You can write to your elected official, urging them to continue to support clean, equitable climate legislation. You can make sure your community and local organizations (like schools) are committed to the nation-wide pledge dedicated to achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals. You can support community programs, like green municipal aggregation, which “greens” community electricity supply. You can talk about climate change with your friends and family to inspire hope and dedication to climate action (here’s an upcoming webinar to learn more).  

Use your voice, get active in your community, and inspire the people around you to make change. Our collective climate fight is far from over. 

A King of a Challenge

King tides flooding Boston on March 10, 2020 via MyCoast, a project by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.

Ebbing and flowing, tides are a constantly moving part of nature. At high tide, waters creep up the shore, filling salt marshes and covering our beaches. At low tide, we watch the waters pull back, revealing a plethora of exciting marine critters and hidden landscapes to discover.

Royally High Heights

Tides are influenced by the gravitational forces exerted by the moon, sun, and Earth’s rotation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these are one of the most reliable natural phenomena in our world – even though both high and low tides range in intensity. The highest of all high tides has a very fitting name: the king tide.

King tide” is an informal term that refers to the time (once or twice a year) when tides reach exceptionally high levels. These king tides occur in conjunction with new moons and full moons when the Earth is closest to the moon.

What we “Sea” in the Tides

We know that climate change impacts are happening here and now, and will only become more severe in the future. One we can see right now is sea level rise. We already experience sea level rise impacts through increased coastal flooding, extreme storm surges, beach erosion, and indicators like the presence of flood-tolerant flora (such as cordgrass) in high salt marsh areas. King tides are a way to help us understand and adapt to this threat.

That’s because while king tides are a purely natural phenomenon, they actually allow us to visualize what normal high tides will look like by 2050 if we continue to burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gas emissions at the rate we are currently. King tides, even just bi-annually, can lead to coastal erosion and flooding, which puts shoreline communities at risk. These highest tides serve as a reminder that we must urgently act to both adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Calling All Community Scientists

That’s where you come in! We need all hands on deck to document king tides. Community photographs help scientists analyze coastal vulnerability to flooding and prepare ways for us to adapt to climate change.

So grab your camera, and find out when and where your nearest king tide will be this month, which are expected to be between 11 and 13 feet. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the listed time as local conditions may vary. Once you’ve snapped a photo, submit them to the King Tides Project at MyCoast for this climate science initiative.

But don’t stop there! Save your photos to share with us on Facebook or via email.

Remember, safety first – visit MyCoast for tips and tricks on how to stay safe and still snag the best photo.

Find a King Tide Near You

Check out our map and list of king tide locations in Massachusetts along with their date and time to see if there’s a photo-opportunity near you. If you don’t see your community’s coast on our map, it means while you will be experiencing high tides, you won’t be seeing king tides.

Stay tuned on our social media pages for details on future king tides, including dates, times, and locations.

Download our maps here:

The Message in our Forecasts

There are not-so-hidden messages in the weather and storm trends we’ve been seeing. What does it mean when our winters are shorter and milder or when we experience an increase in storm-induced flooding?

It means our climate is changing.

Flooding in Downtown Boston © Matt Beaton, Former Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Climate Versus Weather

While weather refers to short-term changes to the atmosphere, climate encompasses long-term trends and patterns – such as average temperatures. Climate change, therefore, is the lasting shift in long-term patterns because of the excess greenhouse gasses we release into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.

Shifting Seasons

Massachusetts, along with the rest of the world, is gradually getting warmer on average, and rising temperatures affect the intensity and duration of our four seasons. Spring temperatures arrive sooner than they have before, hotter summers last much longer, and winters tend to be milder and shorter.

These shifts are evidenced by their impacts on the nature around us. You might have noticed your favorite buds and blossoms sprout earlier every year. Perhaps you’ve seen your favorite birds breed or migrate sooner. You might have even noticed a decline in populations facing new threats because of shifting seasons: like bees that missed early blossoms or moose that struggle under the now thriving winter tick.

Weather Weirding & Temperature Extremes

These weather-based impacts aren’t only about the gradual and consistent changes. They also comprise temperature snaps – sometimes referred to as “weather weirding.” Such snaps are characterized by abnormally cold (or hot) temperatures compared to what the average temperature should be: like a freezing cold day in the middle of spring, or an incredibly warm day towards the end of winter.

Dr. Greg Skomal, Senior Fisheries Scientist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, explained that it was most likely cold snaps that led four thresher sharks to strand in Wellfleet and Orleans in 2018 as they tried to move towards warmer waters at a much faster pace than normal.

Surges in Storms

As temperatures increase, so too does evaporation of moisture and water – so while our summers are getting really hot, they’re also getting really dry, which can lead to long summer droughts. But this extra-evaporating effect has a flip side. All the additional moisture gets sent into the atmosphere, which increases precipitation (rainfall, snow, sleet, or hail).

In tandem with sea level rise, we’re watching extreme weather events, storm surges, and significant flooding rise in frequency and intensity around us because of an increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere and changes in sea-surface temperatures.

Nantasket Beach flooding during Hurricane Sandy © Jeff Cutler, Flickr.

Forecasting Hope

Whether you live on the coast, in the city, or amidst our region’s forests, weather and storms impact all of us and the nature around us. While something as intangible as atmospheric changes might seem near-impossible to tackle, we have good news: you can make a difference.

Here are some ways you can join us in fighting climate change to protect our world:

Look to nature for climate solutions.

Nature can be our first line of defense when it comes to buffering extreme storms and helping us, and the wildlife we love, adapt to climate change. Support one of our urgent, regional land projects to protect these important, natural climate allies.

Take a climate pledge to mitigate climate change.

Climate mitigation tackles the crisis at its roots: the greenhouse gasses we emit. Remember to challenge your friends, family, and community to take these pledges with you – we can make a difference when we work together.

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, Climate Connection.

Every month, we’ll send you updates on climate information, action, community solutions, and how you can have an impact.

You Asked, We Answered – Land, Hemlocks, and Climate Change

Last week, Olivia Barksdale, Mass Audubon’s Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist, journeyed into Rutland Brook wildlife sanctuary in Petersham to talk about land, hemlock trees, and climate change.

Photo © Clark University

An Overview of Hemlocks

Hemlock trees are evergreen conifers that are widely distributed across Massachusetts. They’re a long-lived tree, reaching up to 300-350 years old. You can find all sorts of critters thriving near hemlock trees, such as Red Efts (Eastern Newts in the middle stage, the “eft” stage, of their three-part life cycle) and Brook Trout.

Hemlock trees are our natural allies when it comes to adapting to impacts from climate change by buffering increasing storm events, providing shade from extreme heat, and even regulating water temperature and quality.

But these trees also need our help to combat the threats they face because of climate change. Eastern hemlocks are currently under attack by an invasive, sap sucking insect called the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA). Cold, hard winters typically lower the survival rates of HWAs, but climate change-induced milder winters are making more habitats suitable for these voracious bugs. The HWA can take down one ancient hemlock in as few as four years.

How can we Help?

By conserving land! Land conservation provides a wide array of services that help us, wildlife, and plants tackle the climate crisis. Protecting land preserves natural allies in our climate fight like hemlock trees, which not only help us adapt to climate impacts, but also mitigate climate change by soaking up excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We need your help to maximize the climate impact of land conservation – join us in our collective climate fight by supporting one of our current, urgent land projects. You can make a difference.

Here were some questions we received about land, hemlocks, and climate change:

1. How will climate change impact the prevalence of different tree species in our forests?

As temperatures warm, trees can become stressed – which makes them more susceptible to pests that can now find suitable range where they normally wouldn’t. These threatened trees will degrade, which can consequently degrade wildlife habitats. We might also see a “change of guard” as a result, where tree species more tolerant and resilient to climate impacts will emerge or expand in the face of those that are more vulnerable.

2. What is being done to reduce populations of the HWA?

Some universities have looked into different pesticide applications that impact the wooly adelgid’s life cycle, targeting different stages. However, since pesticide use in forest settings or at the scale necessary isn’t the most feasible to tackle our HWA issue, looking at other strategies (like beetles that eat the HWA) will be important as we navigate how to maintain healthy hemlocks in our environments. In fact, Massachusetts has released at least two, Sasajiscymnus tsugae and Laricobius nigrinus (both beetles), to deal with HWAs.

3. How do I get into the land conservation field?

Olivia started her journey through the SCA, or the Student Conservation Association. They place students into internships around the country. Another way to get involved is through state programs, like the Department of Conservation and Recreation, or federal programs like the US Fish and Wildlife Service or US Forest Service. Another way is the Conservation Corps which does fieldwork across the country.

Tune in Next Time

If you didn’t have time to submit your questions, you can ask away in the comments below. We’ll be back the first Friday of every month for Climate Action Instagram AMAs. Visit our Instagram Story in October to learn more and submit your questions for the next round.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for more ways to ask questions, talk about, and learn about climate change, register for our climate café Climate, Community, and Connection on September 29, 5:30-6:30 pm. You can also attend the Climate Change and Human Health virtual webinar  on September 24, 7:00-8:30 pm via the Discovery Museum, where we’ll join Dr. Jay Lemery of the University of Colorado to talk about climate change’s public health impacts.