Incorporating Climate Change into Research and Management at Mass Audubon
Mass Audubon is integrating climate change into all aspects of its work. In addition to supporting measures to reduce fossil fuel emissions and increase renewable energy resources for the state, Mass Audubon has also incorporated climate change into its education, research, management, and policy efforts.
Mass Audubon owns 34,000 acres of land and is the largest private landholder and conservation organization in Massachusetts. As part of its mission, Mass Audubon acquires land in order to protect wildlife habitat and provide recreational space for residents and tourists, and manages 49 wildlife sanctuaries in the state (about 17 of which are located along the Atlantic coast). Mass Audubon is very concerned with how climatic changes, particularly sea level rise, increased storms, and accelerated erosion, will affect the land they protect and their management approaches. Mass Audubon has been involved in a number of climate change activities, including making improvements to infrastructure at their properties, incorporating climate change into education, research, and management efforts, and actively engaging with state efforts to enhance policies related to climate change and coastal and ocean management.
Mass Audubon is involved in the following activities on their properties and as active members of the state’s conservation community:
- Reducing their carbon footprint by conserving energy in buildings, buying electricity generated from renewable sources, generating renewable energy, replacing vehicles, building green buildings, and conserving water, among other activities.
- Increasing public awareness by incorporating climate change into onsite exhibits at sanctuaries and on the main website. For example, they installed posts along sanctuary walkways that show the height of projected high tide levels and the associated year.
- Convening Youth Climate Summits, which bring together high school students from different schools to learn about climate change, talk about potential solutions (mitigation and adaptation), work together in small teams to develop climate action plans that outline changes that can be made in their community or school), and then support each other to implement their plans.
- Convening Climate Café’s with communities, which bring together community members to discuss the challenges of climate change and what individual (e.g., behavioral changes) and collective actions can be taken.
- Developing the Shaping the Future of Your Community program to help the fastest-developing communities create a more sustainable future through customized workshops and direct assistance.
- Completing the Building Climate Action Communities project, a collaborative effort with Connecticut and Rhode Island Audubon Societies and other regional partners to integrate climate change concepts into environmental education programs.
- Gathering additional information through an inventory and assessment of the biodiversity on properties. Scientists are conducting comprehensive inventories of different species (e.g., ants, birds, amphibians) in order to develop a baseline to measure the response of these groups to a variety of factors, including climate change. For example, they used bird banding studies to monitor changes in species composition, which showed new southern species moving into the area.
- Incorporating climate change into existing and newly created ecological management plans for each property, and creating a Climate Action Plan, which builds on Mass Audubon’s existing climate action work to achieve a Net Zero emissions by 2050, build an informed and passionate constituency to implement meaningful climate solutions, conserve and steward natural lands to mitigate the effects of climate change and enhance natural and human community resilience, and pass strong climate legislation from local to federal levels.
- Acquiring land that will be important for species and habitat persistence in the face of climate change impacts. For example, they purchased and restored land in Plymouth to allow coastal wetlands and salt marsh habitat to migrate inland in response to sea level rise. They also recently acquired lands for future turtle nesting habitat based on sea level rise projections. For any potential land acquisitions, Mass Audubon now evaluates the value of the property in terms of climate change mitigation and/or adaptation potential before purchasing.
- Establishing living shorelines along coastal properties to enhance resilience and evaluating the vulnerability of their properties (considering both wildlife and people) to climate change.
- Participating in state policy efforts through active involvement on the state’s Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee and Ocean Advisory Commission.
- Working closely with the state to develop legislation specific to climate adaptation, including Bill S.2028, an Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change (CAMP). This bill codified a grant and technical assistance program (i.e. Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness [MVP] program), of which Mass Audubon serves as a facilitator in southeast Massachusetts.
- Partnering with The Nature Conservancy to organize the Mass Climate Change Adaptation Coalition, which includes engineers, architects, planners, and conservation organizations, among others, to reduce the Commonwealth’s vulnerability to climate change impacts.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Mass Audubon has incorporated climate change into its programmatic activities and plans to continue working on both adaptation and mitigation strategies that will benefit the state. Common barriers to taking action include funding and staff capacity, although passing of the CAMP bill and its associated grant program has significantly facilitated adaptation action throughout the state. Additional facilitating factors include lived experiences (e.g., extreme storm events, flash floods) and the information generated by the scientific community, both of which create a deep sense of urgency to be prepared for and able to respond to impacts.
Gregg, R. M. (2020). Incorporating Climate Change into Research and Management at Mass Audubon [Case study on a project of Mass Audubon]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated June 2020)