Leominster, MA – On March 26, 2011, more than 450 people gathered for the 21st Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference, in Worcester, MA. The gathering included land conservation professionals, land trust board members and other volunteers, educators, members of town boards and conservation commissioners, AmeriCorps members, graduate students, and other concerned citizens from across Massachusetts and neighboring states. Conference attendees came together to gain the skills, knowledge and resources they need to protect and care for land in Massachusetts, with a particular focus on the added challenges that result from climate change.
Conserved land plays an important role in reducing the pace of climate change. In their natural state, forests, prairies, farmland and other land types help slow climate change by absorbing nearly 15% of the United States’ annual carbon dioxide emissions. Conservation land helps to strengthen an ecosystem’s resilience as climate change occurs making the acquisition of strategic lands for migration corridors, connectivity, and buffer zones key ingredients in helping landscapes adapt to future conditions. Many land trusts nationwide are leaders in the fight to slow climate change. They are committed to reducing their carbon footprints, participating in carbon markets, influencing climate policy, and providing educational efforts. [Land Trust Alliance. “Land Trusts & Climate Change”. 2009. April 5, 2011. www.lta.org/climatechange] The Massachusetts-based Trustees of Reservations, the oldest regional land trust in the world, has set the ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2017.
Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition (MLTC) Chair Robert Wilber launched the conference by welcoming attendees and thanking them for their successful work. Mr. Wilber pointed out that their dedication and hard work resulted in more land being protected than developed in Massachusetts for the first time in decades.
The Trustees of Reservations’ Vice President for Land and Community Conservation Wesley Ward reflected on the just-released U.S. Census demographic figures for Massachusetts that showed a 6% to 21% increase in racial diversity in communities across the Commonwealth. “To quote Bob Dylan, ‘Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone for the times they are achangin’,’” Mr. Ward said. He urged the conservation community to connect and collaborate with people from all backgrounds in order to become more effective in land conservation efforts in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ (EOEEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan started his remarks with impressive statistics: the Patrick-Murray Administration has protected 75,000 acres over the last 4 years – 79 % of which are Core Habitat and/or Critical Natural Landscape. Mr. Sullivan relayed Governor Deval Patrick’s continued commitment to invest $50 million annually to protect land in the Commonwealth, with a renewed focus on land and forest conservation. Mr. Sullivan introduced two new EOEEA staff: Stephanie Cooper, Assistant Secretary for Land and Forest Conservation, and Pete Church, the new Director of Forest Stewardship. Both positions were newly created as a direct result of the Forest Futures visioning process recommendations that were issued last year. Secretary Sullivan announced that Climate Change Adaptation, a long-awaited report, was in its final proofreading phase, and EOEEA would release it very soon. He also announced deadlines for the PARC and LAND Program Grants, and a second round of Conservation Partnership Grants. Mr. Sullivan said that the Patrick-Murray Administration was committed to maintaining level funding for land conservation efforts and encouraged the audience to continue working together to limit the effects of budget cuts. In closing, the Secretary said that he and his staff were not trying to continue the legacy, but to move the legacy to a higher level. The audience responded with thunderous applause to this declaration.
Environmental Protection Agency’s New England Region Administrator Curt Spalding delivered an inspirational speech about the importance of sustainable communities. He seconded Mr. Ward’s reminder to be attentive to demographic changes. Mr Spalding said, “As more and more people are born and live in cities, the next generation won’t be able to afford to move into the large suburban homes built by Baby Boomers. We need to renew our focus on urban living, and improve the quality of urban living.” Mr. Spalding spoke of the “New American Dream” as a goal for smart growth and reduced sprawl that “includes access to green space and affordable transportation.” To support these goals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $91 million in Sustainable Community Grants to New England communities last year, and is working collaboratively and holistically with the Department of Housing and the Department of Transportation to restore green capital and public health. “New England gets it,” Mr. Spalding said, complimenting the audience on the collaborations among the State, communities, and other partnerships that are already happening in this part of the country. Mr. Spalding advised conference attendees to consider climate change and the likely adaptation efforts we will need. He spoke about the severe flood damages in Rhode Island this past year that personally affected him. He called
the floods a “testament to our unsustainable behavior.” Mr. Spalding warned that one in 50 people in New England live in coastline communities, directly in harm’s way if sea levels rise by two to four-and-a-half feet above the levels of 2005, as locally predicted. He said that regulating greenhouse gas emissions, as recommended by the EPA, did not only have economic benefits, but would also be essential for the public’s health and safety. The EPA estimates that the benefits of clean air were 40 times higher than the cost of regulation, for example by preventing thousands of hospital admissions due to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Other speakers during the plenary session included Edward Ladd, board member of The Trustees of Reservations and the Land Trust Alliance, who awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to Jim Lentowski from the Nantucket Conservation Foundation for 40 years of service. The Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition thanked Coordinator Bernie McHugh for a decade of dedicated service and advocacy for the land trust community in Massachusetts, as he steps down from his volunteer position, and begins an 18-month long sabbatical in Wyoming.
Several conference workshops addressed the need for changes to land protection and management strategies in the face of climate change and global warming. “BioMap 2: Conserving the Biodiversity of Massachusetts in a Changing World” introduced an enhanced land conservation planning tool that was designed to guide land protection and stewardship decisions by helping land trusts to identify land that is most critical for ensuring the long-term persistence of rare and other native species and their habitats. Many plant and animal species are at increasingly high risk of extinction as temperatures are rising, and need our help in adapting to the changes. Henry Woolsey of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Andy Finton of The Nature Conservancy, and James DeNormandie of MassAudubon presented this workshop.
Another workshop, “Restoring Ecological Integrity to Your Land in the Face of Climate Change: An Interactive Workshop and Discussion,” focused on the challenges of managing land, water and wildlife habitat within a changing climate. The workshop emphasized making natural areas more resilient to the stresses of climate change and “boosting nature’s immune system.” The presenters also solicited feedback from the participants on useful approaches, and facilitated a lively discussion that brought up many questions. Chris Polatin of Polatin Ecological Services, Tom Wansleben of Mount Grace Conservation Trust, and Russ Hopping of The Trustees of Reservations presented this workshop.
The workshop “Wind Turbine Siting on Conservation Lands” discussed the use of privately protected land for siting renewable energy infrastructure – a subject that more and more land trusts are looking into as the country is striving to increase its capacity to generate clean energy. The presenters shared insights about challenges that land trusts that are considering installing a wind turbine on their properties may encounter and criteria that should be considered to determine if such siting is appropriate, and provided recommendations on how to address these. Edward Becker of the Essex County Greenbelt Association and Jim Younger of The Trustees of Reservations presented this workshop. Mr. Younger shared a case study of The Trustees of Reservations’ pursuit to install a 1.8MW wind turbine atop Turkey Hill in Cohasset.
The 21st Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference was co-convened by The Trustees of Reservations’ Putnam Conservation Institute and the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, and cosponsored by the Land Trust Alliance, Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land.
* Please see the link below for images of the event. Photo credit: Robert Quevillion