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“Conservation Innovation” best describes the work of Abby Hardy-Moss, Greenbelt’s Conservation Planner and GIS Manager. But behind those two words is the very complex work of creating a one-of-a-kind database that now allows Greenbelt to better prioritize its land conservation work.
Hardy-Moss, with assistance from David Heacock, Greenbelt’s Geographic Analyst, has spent the past several years developing the technology to both evaluate prospective conservation projects and identify new ones using six vital data sets.
While Greenbelt continues to place particular importance on land’s agricultural potential and wildlife habit, a changing climate creates many new challenges and opportunities. As Greenbelt’s partners, especially municipalities, look for ways to adapt to these changes, Greenbelt is increasing its commitment to this new reality, and the Prioritization Project is a key part.
Using raw data from the Nature Conservancy and other sources, the conservation team now analyzes resiliency to climate change.
“Is this habitat, is this salt marsh, or upland woods going to continue to support biodiversity and ecological function in a changing climate?” asks Hardy-Moss, as she looks at a land’s ability to continue to thrive. “One part of a marsh can be more important (in that regard) than another part of the same marsh.”
The flooding brought by increasingly severe storms in recent years is an “overwhelming concern” among coastal communities, and the custom database allows Greenbelt to “Identify the most important areas to conserve in order to reduce future flooding in those flood-risk areas,” she said.
Urban cooling is another new area of focus. As temperatures rise, conservation strategies to alleviate urban heat islands – areas where development traps and retains heat – are now a part of Greenbelt’s research.
“It is a new perspective for us and allows us to look at the region in a new way,” said Hardy-Moss.
“We are looking at highly-forested urban parcels to find those (for possible conservation) which provide the most cooling effect for these urban heat islands,” said Heacock.
Greenbelt is also looking specifically at drinking water for the first time, recognizing that protecting drinking water, quality and quantity, is an important goal for cities and towns. While water resource protection has long been one of Greenbelt’s goals, the new data allows a conservation focus specifically on drinking water supplies, and aims to protect these supplies across the county.
“This project really highlights the best of what a regional land trust can bring to the table,” said Greenbelt President Kate Bowditch. “We’re working at a scale that is practical and applicable to specific land conservation efforts, but is also large enough to be able to see impacts at the regional scale that effect species, microclimates and watersheds. It’s terrifically exciting, innovative work.”
The Greenbelt team expects that a year from now they will have processed more of the data into actionable knowledge, but they have already learned much.
“We learned more about the Merrimack Valley’s active agricultural operations. There is a large amount of unprotected farmland in that region and a need for Greenbelt to help protect it,” said Heacock.
The work has been funded by New England Biolabs Foundation, Towards Sustainability Foundation, The Land Trust Alliance, and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.
April 27, 2020
82 Eastern Avenue, Essex,
Greenbelt is grateful to several professional and staff photographers whose work is featured prominently within our website.
Thank you Jerry Monkman / ecophotography.com, Lynne Holton, Kindra Clineff, Adrian Scholes and John Raleigh.