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Eastern Towhee on a branch
Eastern Towhee © Scott Kelly

Habitat Management on Nantucket

Northern Harrier flying over heathlands at Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary
Northern Harrier at Sesachacha Heathlands

When so much of the Massachusetts landscape reflects the impacts of human activities, it's critical that we apply our knowledge of natural systems to optimize habitat for rare or declining species on our properties.

This frequently involves a passive approach—monitoring our land to ensure our objectives are being met. However, in specific cases, active habitat management is required to improve and/or maintain suitable conditions for plants and wildlife to thrive.

Prescribed burn to manage habitat

Managing Land with Prescribed Burns

Nantucket is home to several rare plant communities including sandplain grasslands, coastal heathlands, and scrub oak barrens—all of which 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. Fire reduces woody plant cover and promotes the growth of grasses and flowering herbs. 

Mass Audubon and its partner conservation groups have been conducting prescribed burns on Nantucket since the 1980s. These burns are conducted by a highly trained and experienced burn crew with the support of the Nantucket Fire Department.

Removing invasive purple loosestrife

Invasive Species Management

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

The longest term project is an effort to control Purple Loosestrife along the shore of Sesachacha Pond. The plants are treated with herbicide in the fall, and the loosestrife's 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 email us.