MA Conservation Achievements for 2002

BOSTON, Massachusetts, 12/30/02:Today, the Massachusetts office of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit organization, announced its conservation achievements in 2002. The past year included the protection of more than 4,000 acres in Massachusetts, the most ever protected by TPL in the Commonwealth in a single year, and the passage of critical environmental legislation. Highlights include:

Thompson Island, Boston Harbor
TPL helped the National Park Service and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management purchase a conservation and public access restriction over Thompson Island, the last privately owned island in Boston Harbor. The 240-acre island, owned and operated by the nonprofit Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, is located off Dorchester Bay, roughly one mile from Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library.

Thanks to the leadership of the Commonwealth’s congressional delegation, especially the late Representative Joseph Moakley, Congress appropriated $2 million for the purchase in 1999. The remaining $2 million in state funding was secured through the 1996 Massachusetts Open Space Bond Bill. Thompson Island is the fourth largest island in Boston Harbor and its varied landscape includes a salt marsh, meadows, beaches, woods and a school campus. In 1996, following major progress in the cleanup of Boston Harbor, the 34 harbor islands were designated a national park area, and the conservation of Thompson Island completes the protection of this unique resource.

Massachusetts Environmental Bond
On July 31, during the final hours of the legislative session, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved the largest environmental bond bill in Massachusetts history—$707 million in capital authorizations, including roughly $220 million for land conservation. A few days later, Governor Jane Swift signed the bill into law. As a leading member of the Coalition for the Environmental Bond, TPL worked hard to promote passage of this bill, which replenishes funding for many critical state environmental programs, including farmland conservation, acquisition of land around drinking water supplies, and grants to cities and towns for the protection of open space.

Assawompsett Pond Complex, Lakeville
Last summer, TPL helped a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies negotiate the permanent protection of nearly 4,000 acres of watershed land in Lakeville, Middleboro, Rochester, Freetown, New Bedford, Dartmouth, and Acushnet, forming the new Assawompsett Pond Complex Bioreserve. The pond complex, which includes Assawompsett, Pocksha, Great Quittacas, Little Quittacas, and Long Ponds, is New Bedford and Taunton’s sole source of drinking water, and supplies drinking water to several other communities in the region. It also supports the largest Alewife fishery in the state and provides habitat for rare wildlife.

In the first stage of this collaborative effort, the Town of Lakeville acquired 292 acres on Assawompsett Pond and a conservation restriction over 150 adjacent acres from the Decas family for $8.4 million. Funding for the purchase was provided by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Town of Lakeville, the City of New Bedford, and TPL. The City of Taunton also hopes to contribute to the project and is applying for funding from the Statewide Revolving Fund for the purpose.

As a condition of its funding, the Commonwealth received a conservation restriction over the Decas property. It will also receive restrictions over more than 3,100 acres of watershed land owned by the City of New Bedford and roughly 340 acres of watershed land owned by the City of Taunton. The restrictions, which will be held jointly by the Department of Environmental Management and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, permanently prohibit development and guarantee public access for low-impact recreation.

Mizzenmast Road Burial Ground, Mashpee
In July, TPL helped the Commonwealth and the Wampanoag Tribal Council protect a Native American burial site on Mizzenmast Road. Previously slated for development as a single-family home, the quarter-acre plot holds 17 unmarked graves dating from between the 17th and 19th centuries. Historic maps show that the property was owned by Rosanna Jonas, head of a Mashpee Indian Family in the 19th century, and the graves likely include members of the Jonas family, as well as other Mashpee Indians who lived in South Mashpee.

To make protection of the burial ground possible, TPL purchased the property and sold a permanent conservation restriction over the land to the Department of Environmental Management, with partial funding from the Division of Conservation Services. A grant to TPL from the Massachusetts Historical Commission provided the remaining acquisition funding and covered project costs. As a condition of its grant, the Commission acquired an historic preservation restriction over the site. Once the restrictions were in place, TPL donated the property to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council along with a $10,000 grant for site restoration.

The Trust for Public Land is a national conservation organization dedicated to protecting land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.4 million acres nationwide, including nearly 10,000 acres in Massachusetts. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money Magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation charity, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs, for the third year in a row.