Chet Kulisa: Conservationist and Steward of Land

Chet Kulisas

Chet Kulisa was raised to understand that people are stewards rather than owners of land.  He believes that landscapes in their natural condition are vital places where nature and wildlife coexist and water recharges the earth. His conservation ethic and commitment to land preservation have resulted in the protection of literally thousands of acres of land, including Mass Audubon’s Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Dudley.

As a boy and young man, Chet worked the fields of the land he now owns, which has since been permanently protected by Mass Audubon through a Conservation Restriction (CR). A CR is a commonly used tool that removes development potential from land while allowing it to remain in private ownership, to be passed on to family members or sold to others, indefinitely. The now-protected Kulisa farm, which Chet purchased in 1968, dates back to 1734. “I want the land to be protected and to leave this farm as a legacy,” Chet said.

Chet had a career with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a soil conservation agent, and possesses a fundamental belief that “preserving land is about protecting our precious water supply.” Among his proudest accomplishments are two land conservation successes that were made possible through his work with the NRCS:  the establishment of Buck Hill Conservation Center in Spencer, and the designation of Moore State Park in Paxton.

But these accomplishments are really just the beginning of his land conservation triumphs.  In the 1980s, Chet and his wife Ann began thinking about protecting their land in Dudley, and they started a conversation with an adjoining property owner about a land conservation plan for their area. Chet struck a gentlemen’s agreement with the neighbor, George Marsh, who then left 100 acres of land by bequest to Mass Audubon in 1989, which established Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary. For their part, the Kulisas promised that their own land would be protected as part of the sanctuary. Chet and Ann have held true to their word, giving 24 acres of land to Mass Audubon that are now part of the sanctuary, along with a Conservation Restriction that permanently protects the 156-acre farm where they live. Mass Audubon now protects 280 acres at Pierpont Meadow, thanks largely to the Kulisas. Since the establishment of the wildlife sanctuary, the family observes active wildlife more frequently. “We see turkeys, deer, beavers, coyotes, and foxes,” says Chet. “And hawks come out when they hear the tractors to pick up mice and snakes.”

And there’s more. In the early 1990s, Chet organized the Dudley Conservation Land Trust, which, to date, has worked with 14 landowners to protect 1,700 acres through the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program. As a result, the rural character of Dudley is destined to remain intact forever, and a mechanism now exists to continue protecting open space in the town.

Working with Mass Audubon to accomplish land protection in the area where they live was the right choice for the Kulisas. As Ann notes, “Meeting with staff members of Mass Audubon has meant so much.” Chet credits the dedication of Mass Audubon staff as inspirational. “Their enthusiasm has rubbed off on me,” he says. Through the Kulisas altruistic attitude, commitment to protect wildlife habitat and clean water, and desire to protect a beautiful historic farm to serve as their legacy, they have truly made a difference.

Martha Tierney, Chet and Ann’s daughter, sums up what she sees as the motivation behind her parents’ convictions. “It has always seemed to me that my parents uphold the Native American “seventh generation” philosophy by considering the impact of their decisions seven generations into the future. I’m proud of them for thinking of the generations to come.”