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Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program

Open Space Planning Initiative

1998 Announcement: The BBP will assist the Bay Lands Center

An initiative of the Buzzards Bay Coalition in partnership with the Buzzards Bay NEP and eight area Lands Trusts


Some places, some lands, are so important to the preservation and vitality of a living Bay ecosystem that the only way to truly protect them is to acquire them. Uplands bordering a productive shellfishing area, lands along the bay's herring and shad rivers, forest lands in the watershed to a nitrogen sensitive cove, nesting habitat for endangered coastal birds are examples of some of these important lands. Many of these vital links in the Buzzards Bay watershed will not be preserved without an active program to acquire them for permanent conservation.

The non profit citizen organization, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, in partnership with the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program and eight bay area land trusts, has begun an initiative to enhance land conservation in the 17 cities and towns that together comprise the Buzzards Bay watershed through the creation of the Bay Lands Center. Housed at the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, the Center will focus entirely on enhancing the land acquisition capabilities of each of the member land trusts and increasing the amount of protected shoreline, forest lands, and open farmland in the bay area. The goal of this initiative is to accelerate land conservation initiatives in the Buzzards Bay watershed over the next five years in order to protect Bay and river water quality and coastal and inland habitats and wetlands for future generations.

Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program

The Buzzards Bay NEP, established in 1985, was among the first National Estuary Programs. Today there are 28 Estuary Programs throughout the United States. In 1991, the Project completed the Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) which outlines research conclusions and management strategies for the protection and restoration of water quality and living resources in the Bay and its surrounding 432 square mile watershed. The Buzzards Bay NEP is administered by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The primary role of the Project since the completion of the CCMP has and continues to be to provide technical assistance and funding to municipalities surrounding the Bay to facilitate implementation of the recommendations contained in the CCMP.

The Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan concludes that the use of non-regulatory, permanent land protection strategies need to be employed to a greater extent in Buzzards Bay to truly preserve wetlands, water quality, and living resources in the watershed. Toward that end, the Buzzards Bay Project National Estuary Program has been coordinating a loosely organized network of land trust staff and volunteers in the bay area since early 1996. At that time, land trusts working in Wareham did not know the people working to protect land as nearby as Mattapoisett or Dartmouth. In the past two years, the Buzzards Bay NEP initiated Buzzards Bay Land Trust Network. This Network has worked to create a sense of regional connection between the work of the eight Bay area land trusts. Toward this goal, the Network published its first ever collaborative effort in the form of a 1998 full-color calendar highlighting protected open spaces in the Buzzards Bay watershed.

The Foundation - Buzzards Bay Land Trusts

Private land conservation is not new to Buzzards Bay. Land Trusts have been doing what they can to protect the very best of our landscape - sensitive wildlife habitats at Allens Pond in South Dartmouth, productive farmlands in Westport, the Red Brook herring run in Bourne and Wareham - since the early 1970s. Through their efforts they have protected more than 5,000 acres of land for permanent conservation. Throughout this time, however, progress has been slow with all volunteer Boards mostly accepting gifts of land when offered. With a few exceptions, it was not until the early 1990's that Buzzards Bay area land trusts began more actively pursuing important lands either through purchase or conservation restriction. Of all lands protected by bay area trusts, 75% were donated outright; 10% were purchased through bargain sales and the final 15% were donations or purchases of Conservation Restrictions.

Only two Buzzards Bay land trusts, the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust and Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, have full time staff. The Sippican Lands Trust has part-time assistance. The remaining five are run solely by volunteers with limited time to put into landowner outreach, fund raising for important purchases, and most importantly, closing land deals. New Bedford, Carver, and Wareham do not have local land trusts.

Statement of Need

Southeastern Massachusetts is the fastest growing region in Massachusetts, and among the fastest growing in the Northeastern United States, with 200,000 new people forecasted to move to the region in the next 20 years. Regional Transportation Improvement Projects with a combined cost of $1,000,000,000 (MBTA Commuter Rail Extensions to Fall River, New Bedford, Lakeville, and Middleborough, Rt. 44 reconstruction, and Rt. 3 & Rt. 24 widening) will soon significantly broaden the impact of already intensive land development beyond the more accessible communities to encompass virtually the entire region. In other words, Southeastern Massachusetts is headed for a sustained development boom.

Since the 1950s as many areas of eastern Massachusetts have been steadily suburbanized, much of Southeastern Massachusetts has remained undeveloped. Historic farms, vast woodlands, pristine pond and river shores, and scenic shorelines have escaped intense development - not (largely) because of proactive protection efforts- but due to relative isolation. The arrival of new rail lines and expanded highways in the region will forever alter this time-tested, if artificial, type of open space protection.

But, fortunately, there is a growing realization and appreciation for the potentially significant decline in the region's rich natural resources and high quality of life. In a Standard Times/University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth poll in June of this year, the loss of farmland, population boom, housing developments, and the need to protect the coastline and water resources led the list of concerns of southeast residents, 83% agreed that more needs to be done to protect the coastline (only 8.5% disagreed), 80% agreed that officials need to better protect water supplies from continued development.

Why Now?

Historically, land conservation efforts in Southeastern Massachusetts have been modest. Consider these facts:

Protected Land (1997):

Southeastern Massachusetts has the lowest percentage of protected open space of any comparable region in the Commonwealth. The status of land conservation is exceptionally weak in areas of the Buzzards Bay watershed. Today, only 9.5% of the Bay watershed west of the Canal is permanently protected (see table).

Federal Land:

Federal agencies have protected approximately 60,000 acres of land in Massachusetts. However, there is no federally protected open space in Bristol & Plymouth Counties. In contrast, extensive tracts of federally protected open space exist north of Boston (Parker River National Wildlife Refuge), west of Boston (Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge) and on the Cape and the Islands (Cape Cod National Seashore, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Nomans Land National Wildlife Refuge).

State Land:

Across the Commonwealth, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) owns approximately 275,000 acres of protected open space. The landholdings of DEM encompass approximately 5.1 % of the state's land mass. In Southeastern Massachusetts (Bristol & Plymouth Counties) DEM owns approximately 26,000 acres of land. Bristol & Plymouth Counties encompass 15% of the state's land area, yet contain only 9.5 % of DEM's landholdings. (Over half of DEM's acreage in the region is encompassed within the Myles Standish State Forest). Land owned by the State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife is similarly under represented in the region with the major holdings being Rocky Gutter Wildlife Management Area in Middleborough and Haskell Swamp Wildlife Management Area in Rochester, Mattapoisett, and Marion.

Non-Profit State/Regional Land Protection Organizations:

Massachusetts is well known for the extensive amount of open space protected by private, nonprofit land conservation organizations. However, in Southeastern Massachusetts private land conservation organizations protect relatively limited acreage. The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) is the oldest land trust in the world and has protected nearly 30,000 acres in Massachusetts. However, only 959 acres of The Trustee's landholdings are in Bristol & Plymouth Counties. Similarly, The Massachusetts Audubon Society owns more than 22,000 acres across the Commonwealth, yet only 475 acres in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Thus, not only is the Buzzards Bay watershed experiencing an elevated need for increased land conservation, it has never before been more well positioned to preserve the very best of the Buzzards Bay landscape.

The Infrastructure

Buzzards Bay Land Trust Network: Beginning in May 1996, the Buzzards Bay Project began coordinating a loosely knit network of land trust staff and board members in the Bay watershed called the Buzzards Bay Land Trust Network. The purpose of this network was to provide a forum to discuss matters of common interest to small land trusts, learn about available technical and funding assistance, and share successful strategies for land protection. The most significant benefit of the Network was improved communication and sharing of ideas. The first accomplishment of the Land Trust Network was the publication of a 1998 calendar entitled "Buzzards Bay Landscapes" featuring properties protected by the eight bay area trusts. Funding for the development and printing of the calendar was provided by the Island Foundation, Woods Hole SeaGrant Program, and each of the participating land trusts.

Open Space Plans: In 1995, the Buzzards Bay NEP National Estuary Program began an initiative to bring all bay watershed towns up to ensure that all bay watershed municipalities had both identified critical land resources and prepared Open Space and Recreation Plans to make them eligible for state and federal funding opportunities to acquire important lands for conservation. Toward that end, the BBP embarked on an 18 month initiative to assist the City of Fall River and the Towns of Westport, Mattapoisett, Wareham, and Plymouth in completing their Open Space Plans. Fall River, Westport, and Mattapoisett were starting from the beginning and needed full assistance in coordinating, writing, and preparing maps. Today, nearly all of the Bay watershed has up to date Open Space Plans and therefore are not only eligible for state funding, but have land conservation projects "on the shelf" ready for implementation.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Also in 1995, the Buzzards Bay Project provided $80,000 to bay watershed municipalities to develop geographic information systems (GIS) for creation of parcel land ownership and wetland resource mapping. With the exception of Mattapoisett, Carver, and Plymouth all towns in the Buzzards Bay watershed have GIS data completed making new land use and resource conservation planning possible. The potential for GIS is just beginning to be realized by municipal staff and is still completely unavailable to land trusts. It is unlikely that many if any land trusts will be able to become GIS capable in the next two-three years highlighting the need for a central GIS service making the region's GIS database available to land trusts for both land acquisition targeting and specific property mapping.

New State Funding:A new program announced in September promises to provide much needed financial assistance in increasing the amount of protected open space in southeastern Massachusetts. Recognizing the lack of state investment in land conservation in the region, Governor Celluci and Environmental Affairs Secretary Trudy Coxe outlined the Scenic and Natural Diversity (SAND) Program for Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties. The program provides $30 million for open space acquisition, growth planning, watershed protection, and related activities over a period of four years. SAND funds will be accessed through existing state programs such as Self Help and will therefore require additional work on the part of towns and land trusts to access the funds.

The Bay Lands Center

The Bay Lands Center concept was developed by former Buzzards Bay Project Regional Planner Mark Rasmussen, who had been working with area Lands Trusts in the Land Trusts Network he established. Funding to initiate the Lands Center was provided by the Island Foundation. With the departure of Mark Rasmussen from the Buzzards Bay NEP in May 1998 to head up the non-profit organization the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Coalition will now become the lead organization to house the Bay Lands Center. The leadership of the Coalition on this initiative makes sense since this non-profit can conduct the necessary fund-raising, public outreach, and lobbying for passage of town meeting appropriations to fund open space acquisition. The Buzzards Bay Project will continue to participate in the initiative by providing maps and database management relating to large parcels in Buzzards Bay to enable the Coalition to succeed in their task.