Summer Interns Tackle Land Conservation

This summer, three interns worked with multiple land trusts to explore regional Wildlands and Woodlands themes at a local level. Hosted by W&W lead partners Harvard Forest and Highstead, the internships engaged multiple conservation organizations, offered a more in depth look at conservation in specific geographic areas, and provided opportunities for the students to better understand the challenges and rewards of regional land conservation.

Academics for Land Protection in New England (ALPINE), a Wildlands and Woodlands supported initiative, will publish a brief detailing both the successes and lessons learned from engaging students in research-based conservation projects. The brief will be available to land trusts and other organizations interested in creating their own internship opportunities for students or young professionals.



Creating a conservation snapshot of the Pioneer Valley – with Harvard Forest in partnership with Kestrel Land Trust

Jon Hamilton focused on mapping conserved lands in the 69 towns that make up the Pioneer Valley watershed in Massachusetts. Under the guidance of Harvard Forest Director  David Foster, Senior Ecologist Jonathan Thompson, and GIS Research Assistant Brian Hall, Hamilton calculated the percentage of protected and unprotected open space, prime agricultural soils, and ecologically important area in each town, effectively creating a conservation snapshot or, as Hamilton puts it, “a grand sweeping narrative” of the valley.

Hamilton also worked with Kestrel Land Trust Director, Kristin DeBoer, to scale the regional Wildlands and Woodlands vision for the New England landscape down to a vision specific to the valley, conceptualizing what the valley could look like by 2060. Boasting fertile farmlands, cool forests, and working timberlands, as well as one of the state’s most populated city centers (Springfield) and one of the state’s most rural counties (Franklin), the Pioneer Valley offers a perfect case study for exploring the intersection of wildlands, woodlands, farmlands and communities. Hamilton presented his findings to the board of Kestrel Land Trust, a non-profit that operates within many of the Pioneer Valley towns.

This internship gave me the opportunity to work at a professional level and represent that data I worked on to the people who will use it,” said Hamilton. “I had more agency. It made me feel like I was a part of something.”



Understanding the culture of conservation within the Pioneer Valley – with Harvard Forest in partnership with Kestrel Land Trust

Annina Kennedy-Yoon zeroed in on the culture of individual towns within the Pioneer Valley. With Harvard Forest Director David Foster, Senior Ecologist Jonathan Thompson, and GIS Research Assistant Brian Hall, Kennedy-Yoon looked for patterns that may describe the demographics of towns that conserve more in comparison to those that have conserved less. She presented her findings to Kestrel Land Trust’s Board of Trustees and Director, Kristin DeBoer.

Kennedy-Yoon, under the guidance of Wildlands and Woodlands Communications Manager Hannah Robbins, also interviewed various landowners in Worcester County to capture anecdotes about why people conserve their lands.

Before I just assumed [why],” said Kennedy-Yoon. “I knew conservation was happening, but I assumed a bunch of people thought, ‘this land is important – lets conserve it.’ But conservation is a process. It seems as if land trusts are working against the clock to get parcels of land conserved.”

Maps detailing which lands are still at risk of development in each town coupled with an understanding of a community’s demographics and values could help conservation organizations beat that clock, so to speak. Identifying towns that may have large ecologically important areas or prime agricultural soils that are still intact but unprotected could help land trusts prioritize projects and, ultimately, increase their conservation footprint.


Supporting the Stewardship Science long-term forest monitoring program – with Highstead

Amanda Hewes supported the Wildlands and Woodlands Stewardship Science initiative, a long-term forest monitoring program that allows landowners to get a more intimate look at their own wooded properties. With Highstead Senior Ecologist Ed Faison, Hewes’ work expanded the number of participants in and engagement with the program. She also co-led workshops for land trusts in Connecticut and Massachusetts to describe the importance and benefits of forest monitoring and to demonstrate how to set up plots in the woods and measure trees and other vegetation.

There is this interest out there for people to have an easy accessible way to understand their forests. I personally feel that people who are interested in science or academia need to put time and effort into making that science accessible to the public, especially in terms of conservation. If we are going to maximize our impact we need to explain things like monitoring in a way that people understand and can get excited about rather than in a way that has a lot of scientific jargon,” Hewes said.

Landowners, once trained, can enter their findings into an online database and track changes to their land. Because landowners are all trained in the same methodology and are gathering the same types of data, they are also able to see how their land fits into the context of the surrounding lands and the larger landscape. The data collected can also help land managers tailor and adapt stewardship plans to individual parcels, taking into account how the lands have changed over time.

It definitely got me to think on a broader scale than I had before,” said Hewes. “Coming from an ecology and evolutionary biology background, I was always focused on one charismatic species like the rhino or the elephant. But this got me to looking at the entire region and the importance of connected lands.”