Mass Audubon, Local Land Trusts Key to Surge in Protected Land Nationwide, Conservation Census Shows
Michael P. O'Connor
LINCOLN, MA—A recent conservation census by the Land Trust Alliance has determined that 10 million additional acres were preserved nationwide from 2005 to 2010 and that Mass Audubon and the more than 130 other land trusts across the Commonwealth contributed to these impressive results by protecting more than 52,000 acres during the same period.
Over the last decade, Mass Audubon saved an additional 10,000 acres from development, according to Director of Land Protection Bob Wilber, who also serves as the current President of the Board of Trustees for the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition.
Land trusts are typically community-based nonprofit groups that protect land by acquiring the land outright, or by entering into legal agreements called conservation restrictions, where landowners do not give up ownership, but instead agree to reduce the development potential of their land, generally in return for cash payment, tax advantages, or both.
“The very idea of setting aside land for public good began with the creation of Boston Common in the 1630s. Two hundred and fifty years later, the land trust movement was born in our Commonwealth,” Wilber noted. “Today, Massachusetts boasts more land trusts per square mile than any other state – making us truly the ‘land of the local land trust’.”
The land protection official stressed that noble tradition has been supported by an unprecedented commitment by the state that totals $230 million over the past four years. “Massachusetts can be proud it ranks in the top 15 among states in total amount of land protected – given that the Commonwealth is the seventh smallest state in the nation, and has relatively little land conservation activity by federal agencies,” Wilber said.
He noted that partnerships have been crucial to Bay State land protection successes, resulting in greater biodiversity, healthier watersheds, and more opportunities for citizens to connect with nature. “Mass Audubon is a proud member of what is arguably the most vibrant and effective land trust community in the country,” Wilber said. “Partnering with local, multi-community, and statewide land trusts is one of our primary strategies for expanding our conservation impact.”
A key example of such cooperation was the protection late in 2011 of 3,486 acres – the largest conservation restriction on privately held land in Massachusetts history – resulting in preserved working forest land in the Pioneer Valley towns of Leverett and Shutesbury. Partners in that effort included the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), its Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Amherst-based Kestrel Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust, and landowner, North Amherst-based W.D. Cowls, Inc.
In another example, where instead the land was acquired outright for conservation, 337 acres adjacent to the Mount Holyoke Range in the Connecticut River Valley were protected. This project included Mass Audubon, the Trust for Public Land, Kestrel Land Trust, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
Richard K. Sullivan, Jr., Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees all state land conservation, said, "Since taking office, Governor (Deval) Patrick has made a historic $230 million investment in land conservation focused on three goals: investing in urban parks, preserving working farms and forests, and protecting large natural landscapes for habitat. This renaissance in land conservation has resulted in the permanent protection of over 88,000 acres by the state and its partners in just the past five years.”
“Mass Audubon has been an essential partner in this effort,” Sullivan noted. “As the Commonwealth looks to concentrate increasingly on partnerships that leverage outside resources, Mass Audubon's strategic support continues to be vitally important to Massachusetts' role as a national land conservation leader."
Learn more about Mass Audubon’s land protection efforts at www.massaudubon.org/land. The Land Trust Alliance’s national census can be viewed at www.lta.org/census.
Mass Audubon is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. Founded in 1896 by two women who fought for the protection of birds, Mass Audubon carries on their legacy by focusing on the greatest challenges facing the environment today: the loss of biodiversity, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. With the help of our 140,000 members and supporters, we protect wildlife, conserve and restore resilient land, advocate for impactful environmental policies, offer nationally recognized education programs for adults and children, and provide endless opportunities to experience the outdoors at our wildlife sanctuaries. Explore, find inspiration, and take action at www.massaudubon.org.