Commentary

Climate change a priority in land conservation

Greenbelt is a vital, creative force in protecting the places that people love and in supporting a healthy environment. As Essex County’s land trust, it works with families, municipalities and organizations to help them realize their land conservation goals, protecting native plants and wildlife, preserving access to nature for the well-being of future generations, and creating an environment that is more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Photo by Lucie Hošová on Unsplash

Daily News Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate & Environmental Stewards.


Greenbelt has an impressive record, having protected over 17,500 acres of farmland, open space and salt marsh, from small but vital projects such as Newman Farm Meadow in Newbury to large-scale signature projects such as the Indian Hill Conservation Area in West Newbury.

The 315-acre Indian Hill Conservation Area is the culmination of a 25-year effort to piece together parcels that now comprise a long, green ribbon of protected open space and trails that showcase the land’s natural beauty and rich cultural history. Protecting the area from development guarantees a long-lasting and essential tool in preserving habitats and species.

Last fall, I came aboard as Greenbelt’s new president. My plan is to build on Greenbelt’s powerful, 50-year legacy of conservation leadership with an emphasis on the role land conservation plays in combatting climate change. Through our work, Greenbelt is taking a leadership position in making the region more resilient.

I came to Greenbelt after serving in leadership positions at the Charles River Watershed Association for almost 25 years. Our work at the watershed association helped transform the Charles River from a heavily polluted blemish on the state’s environmental reputation to one of the cleanest urban rivers in the country.

Greenbelt is strategic and forward thinking.

While traditional land conservation projects were prioritized based on their size and location, sophisticated mapping technology now allows Greenbelt to strategically identify and then focus on conservation projects best suited for their resiliency to climate change.

Jerry Monkman/ecophotography.com A mother and her daughter do some birdwatching in the tidal estuary of Plum Island Sound at Sawyer’s Island in Rowley.

“While we continue working to protect our best farmland and scenic resources, we are keenly aware of the changes already happening as a result of climate change. Land conservation is a critical tool as we look to a future that may be quite different from what we’re accustomed to,” says Christopher LaPointe, Greenbelt director of land conservation.

The impacts of climate change are far reaching. Coastal communities are increasingly battered by severe storms and threatened by sea level rise that could wipe out homes and the businesses so vital to the North Shore. Inland, the maple and birch forests which give us our signature fall colors may give way to less-vibrant oak and hickory trees.

New Englanders count on resilient landscapes to filter water for drinking and recreation. In protecting forests and grasslands, more carbon emissions are absorbed from the atmosphere. And increasingly, the benefits of outdoor activity are recognized as important public health factors.

At Greenbelt’s Jennie Langoulis Reservation in Newbury, trails lead hikers through rolling stands of pine, cedar and oak. This important habitat supports state-listed species like Northern harrier and short-eared owl.

A healthy salt marsh protects our coastal communities by absorbing floodwaters and lessening storm surge

At Greenbelt’s protected Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley, the tidal pools and extraordinary ecosystem of the Great Marsh are home to an astonishing diversity of plants and animals.

For over 10 years, Greenbelt has also worked in osprey conservation by protecting their summer breeding area, building and maintaining nesting platforms in the Great Marsh. Once a rare sight, ospreys are now seen in Essex County soaring over coastlines, diving into waters to catch fish and standing on their large nests.

Greenbelt will continue to emphasize science-based conservation by using new climate data to help determine where our land conservation efforts are directed, building on its deep connections to the people of Essex County.

Kate Bowditch is president of Greenbelt-Essex County’s Land Trust, and invites everyone to explore, volunteer, attend a walk, lecture or film with Greenbelt, or support its mission. Learn more at https://www.ecga.org.


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about the author
Kate Bowditch

Following a career of more than twenty years at Charles River Watershed Association, Kate moved into a leadership position at Greenbelt, Essex County's land trust. With a strong history of land conservation, land stewardship and community engagement.

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