The Conservation Model Of Martha’s Vineyard


Whether or not you have been to Martha’s Vineyard, if you have been through our pages at all you will understand how this excerpt from the above book captures our attention and why we are interesting in tracking it down for a closer look:

The Vineyard landscape is distinct in many ways — most notably in land values, pace of development toward full build-out, the assemblages of plants and animals, and past success in land protection — but it typifies many qualities of Massachusetts and the greater New England region, including their conservation challenges. They share the history of agricultural and woodlot land use, the ongoing growth of their forests, the tension among farmed, open, and wooded lands, the relentless sprawl of development, the fragmentation of the land by many small, private landownerships, and the looming threats from climate change, sea level rise, insect outbreaks, and other stresses. Nevertheless, the Vineyard has put itself into a particularly strong position to address the looming challenges due to its expansive breadth of conserved lands, its forward-looking and Island-wide planning efforts and knowledge base about the landscape, and the capacity for ongoing land protection and stewardship.

The single most important step in mitigating future environmental impacts is to conserve our natural and food-producing landscapes intact. Before we turn to the question of how the land should be managed, we must adhere to the bumper sticker designed by Islander Tweed Roosevelt — “Martha’s Vineyard: Save What Is Left” — so that we have a future to manage. To keep nature and farmlands intact is a powerful commitment that every citizen, landowner, and Vineyard advocate should make in order to mitigate future environmental change and support human well-being. The Vineyard landscape faces many environmental challenges. But whether we focus on climate change or other forces of nature or man, the most resilient landscape — one that is capable of both buffering and recovering from diverse impacts — is that of nature itself.

A recent interview with the author, in Harvard Gazette, compels us to take a closer look at the book, published earlier this year:

A pragmatic model to conserve land

‘You absolutely have to embrace change,’ says author and Harvard Forest director

GAZETTE: You hold the Vineyard up as something of a conservation success story. What have been the biggest conservation challenges there?

FOSTER: The first challenge was just motivation. Fortunately, one island board commissioned this Metcalf & Eddy study that just scared the hell out of everybody.

GAZETTE: That was in the ’70s?

FOSTER: That was in the ’70s. They were just lazing along with rudimentary planning tools and very poor environmental oversight. There was open dumping of septic waste into pits in the middle of the landscape, and those kinds of things. This report came out, and people took one look at it, and it suddenly dawned on them that they were going to become Long Island, or New Jersey, or Cape Cod, which everybody on the Vineyard or Nantucket or any of the other islands dreads as much as anything.

The other thing was [U.S. Sen.] Ted Kennedy, who had a conservation passion. He proposed a federal solution of zoning and purchasing Vineyard land which was going to usurp local power. So it was the people who were scared of development and the people who were scared of government takeover who got together and said, “We’ve got to do things locally, and do it now.”

GAZETTE: And that combination over the last couple of decades has proved effective, right?

FOSTER: It has proved effective. Then the state and large organizations — Nature Conservancy and Trustees of Reservations — came in and helped. The biggest problem right now — and this is actually what I spent the last couple of days talking to people about — is how do you sustain additional land protection? How do you sustain it when you’ve been so successful?

You’ve got 40 percent of the landscape conserved. There’s a whole group of people who say, “Well, we’ve accomplished it.” But 30 percent of the landscape is quote “up for grabs” right now. It’s extraordinarily expensive, so the question is: How do you advance conservation in a landscape where the normal players, the state agencies and so on, no longer can be effective because they can do so much more elsewhere with the equivalent amount of money?…

Read the whole interview here.

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