Maybe you find inspiration in the dunes at Ipswich’s Crane Beach, or the birches at Sheffield’s Bartholomew’s Cobble. Perhaps it’s the hint of the past offered by the old cellar holes at the Swift River Reservation in Petersham, or the glimpse of the future in a newly hatched osprey chick on Nantucket. Whatever the attraction, there’s something you should know: climate change is putting these and many of the state’s other natural and cultural features at risk.
Through 118 years, The Trustees have become synonymous with land protection. But this raft of new threats means simply conserving land isn’t enough. In the face of extreme weather, invasive species arriving, and native species being forced out, the organization must work harder than ever to strengthen its 102 properties.
Lisa Vernegaard says the health of a landscape is the key to its chances of surviving the stresses of climate change. She likens the situation to a flu epidemic: the victims are often made more vulnerable by underlying conditions. With that in mind, Trustees staff and volunteers will be working to strengthen properties by battling invasive species like Japanese barberry and hemlock-attacking woolly adelgid; restoring natural systems; and taking other measures to ensure that the state of the land is strong.
They’ll also wield another effective tool, though it’s one that requires partners: the creation of landscape-scale corridors that allow species to migrate, while preventing fragmentation of the region’s remaining forestland. One such effort began in 2003: together with 27 public and private organizations, The Trustees are working to protect a two million-acre corridor between the Quabbin area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire’s Mount Cardigan.
In a sense, none of this work is new – but it does carry a new sense of urgency. “We’re doing what we’ve always been trying to do,” says Vernegaard, “but we’re really ramping up.”
Other steps include restoring natural systems, through projects such as the recent Red Brook dam removal at Lyman Reserve in Plymouth; updating the care and management of gardens and designed landscapes to account for changes including longer growing seasons; and considering climate impacts such as more powerful storms when planning how to maintain structures and cultural features.
Climate change is a global issue, yes, but at heart it’s a very personal issue. As it progresses, we are seeing not only threats to the land, animals, and plants we hold dear, but to our fellow humans, and to ourselves.
For this reason, a central part of The Trustees’ plan is to encourage others to join the climate fight – not just members, but the 1 million people who visit our properties each year, the neighbors who live nearby, the subscribers to our Community Supported Agriculture programs, the students whose very futures are at risk.
“Our goal is to influence a much greater circle than just our membership,” says Younger. So how will that happen? Through green volunteer opportunities, workshops, tours, signs, stories, programs – in short, through any means possible. And significantly, it will happen in some new, creative ways as well; reaching the broadest possible audience will require veering away from traditional land-conservation rhetoric, says Angela Park of Diversity Matters, who consults with environmental organizations including The Trustees on inclusion and diversity. Park points out that “polar bears and parts per million” don’t tug at everyone’s heartstrings, and says the most effective climate change rallying cries are “visceral, and deeply connected to people’s day-to-day experience.”
Searching for new connection points is a challenge The Trustees are prepared to take on – because reversing climate change is an effort that will require all hands on deck. “We need to involve our members, visitors to our reservations, and the people who live in the towns and cities where we work – even if 10 percent of us change our behavior or take some action, we will far outdo the impact the organization will have on its own,” says Vernegaard. “We want to inspire many, many more people to care and to act. It’s the principle that drives all our work.”
Among the ideas for mobilizing a new circle of people is creating a high-profile demonstration site in each region; adding interpretive signs at some reservations; hosting climate-related events such as the recent International Day of Climate Action events at Crane Beach and World’s End; developing a network of “backyard” stewards; and partnering with other organizations focusing on climate.