Habitat Management on Nantucket

Managing the Land Through Prescribed Burns

Prescribed burn to manage habitat

Nantucket is home to several rare plant communities including sandplain grasslands, coastal heathlands, and scrub oak barrens that depend on disturbance to persist. These plant communities contain several rare plants such as eastern silvery aster and sandplain flax, and birds such as the iconic Northern Harrier. 

As property managers, our preferred ecological management tool on the island to create the disturbance required by these species is prescribed fire. Mass Audubon and its partner conservation groups have been conducting prescribed burns on Nantucket since the 1980s.

Fire reduces woody plant cover and promotes the growth of grasses and flowering herbs. These burns are conducted by a highly trained and experienced burn crew with the support of the Nantucket Fire Department.

Invasive Species Management

Removing invasive purple loosestrife

Mass Audubon is involved in longstanding invasive species management efforts on all three of its properties on Nantucket, including Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary, Smith's Point Wildlife Sanctuary, and Lost Farm Wildlife Sanctuary (the latter two are not yet prepared for public visitation).

The longest term project is an effort to control purple loosestrife along the shore of Sesachacha Pond where the plants are treated with herbicide in the fall and flowers are removed in the summer to prevent further seed deposition. 

Other efforts include hand removal of garlic mustard and spotted knapweed at several locations around the island. All these efforts are conducted with our partner conservation groups. These invasive management efforts improve habitat for native plants and wildlife.

Want to Help?

Anyone who would like to volunteer to assist with these invasive species management efforts should contact Nantucket Sanctuary Director Ernie Steinauer by email