Bernie McHugh: Massachusetts’ Land Conservation Advocate

Bernie McHugh

Bernie McHugh is making a difference. He’s the long-time coordinator of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition (MLTC) and one of the most recognized people in the Massachusetts land conservation community. He is an outspoken conservation activist, a gifted impromptu speaker, and he has a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to protecting land and wildlife. 

Bernie walks the walk. He donates huge amounts of time to the organizations he believes in, not just for MLTC as the volunteer “part-time” (more like full-time) coordinator for the past 11 years, but also as a Council Member for Mass Audubon and as a member of boards or committees for many other conservation organizations – including Climate Change and Wildlife Alliance, Mass Outdoor Heritage Foundation, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, and Manomet Center for Conservation Science.

Thanks to MLTC and the dedication of Bernie McHugh, the land conservation community in Massachusetts is strong, organized, and informed. MLTC is the largest voluntary association of land trusts in the United States. It was founded to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and information, to increase the effectiveness of Massachusetts land trusts in working with the state legislature and environmental agencies, and to conduct outreach to build capacity of Massachusetts’ land trusts. MLTC has played a crucial role in supporting key conservation legislation and has become an important networking resource for the state’s land trusts. 

MLTC holds quarterly meetings and an annual retreat between private land trust staff and state agency staff at Harvard Forest. These retreats have become an important tradition of the land conservation community as they provide the setting for professionals from both the public and private sides of land conservation to come together to discuss challenges, strategies, and priorities. 

"For me, the real work of the last 10 years has been helping to nurture and sustain the working relationships between conservation groups and state government, and between small, grassroots organizations and the larger groups with multi-faceted missions and a broader perspective,” said McHugh. 

During Bernie McHugh’s tenure as Coordinator, MLTC has grown considerably and developed into a well established, staffed, and highly effective organization. A recently developed logo gives the coalition a face, and a revised website offers a usable interface that is chock full of news and resources for anyone interested in protecting land.

Bernie led MLTC in hiring its first paid staff person and program manager, Kathy McGrath, six years ago. And just last month, part-time outreach coordinator, Lindsey Sarquilla was brought onboard. Much to the credit of Bernie, MLTC has grown to have over 120 organizations as Members and Friends, consisting of land trusts, watershed associations, open space committees, and advocacy groups. MLTC is now moving toward incorporating as a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit organization, further reflecting its growth and stability.

MLTC increases the effectiveness of Massachusetts land trusts and conservation organizations with government agencies and legislature on issues of direct interest to the land conservation movement. They have worked within a coalition to advance environmental bond bills. During the last gubernatorial race, MLTC approached all four candidates asking if they would pledge $50 million per year to make ongoing land conservation possible, and only Deval Patrick was willing to make that pledge. Not only did he pledge substantial support, he kept his promise as governor and has spent $145 million for land protection across the Commonwealth to date. Since he has been in office, more than 61,000 acres have been protected.

Another majorly supportive contribution to the land conservation community from MLTC has been the dialogue they’ve facilitated to address concerns with the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) land trust Accreditation program. While LTA’s program aims to strengthen land trusts by recognizing those that implement select standards and practices as “accredited”, MLTC recognizes that despite best intentions, there may well be significant unintended consequences for the land trust community – particularly on local land trusts, of which Massachusetts has so many. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of MLTC and a special celebration is planned for Friday, May 28, 2010 to honor some of the key figures in Massachusetts land conservation and launch a new beginning for the nation's leading land trust coalition.  Don Henley, noted land conservationist closely involved with the Walden Woods Project and with the musical group, The Eagles, will be attending as a special guest speaker.  Please visit www.massland.org for more details about MLTC and to purchase tickets for the celebration.

MLTC’s existence and strength is a direct reflection of the time and energy invested by Bernie McHugh. Bernie has lived in Lincoln for many years with his wife, Frances Clark – a well known botanist and board member of the New England Wildflower Society.