Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Interview with Russell Hopping, Ecology Program Manager for The Trustees of Reservation

Russel Hopping is the Ecology Program Manager for The Trustees of Reservation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping protect and preserve an impressive range of wildlife habitat in Massachusetts. In this interview, Mr. Hopping discusses the mission of the organization, his work in environmental conservation and  some of the beautiful places he is helping to protect.

World's End in Hingham, MA offers sweeping views of the Hignham Harbor, salt marsh and fields. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.
NENN: For people who may not be familiar with the Trustees of Reservation can you give a brief overview of why the organization was founded and what its mission is today?

RH: Founded by Charles Eliot in 1891, The Trustees of Reservations are the nation’s oldest regional land trust and non-profit conservation organization.  Our mission is to preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts. For 116 years, we have been devoted to conserving the cultural and historic character that makes Massachusetts’ landscape and communities unique.  A nonprofit organization funded entirely by our visitors, supporters and more than 40,500 members, we aim to inspire the next generation of conservationists to appreciate and preserve their cultural heritage, for everyone, forever.

NENN:  What are some of the different kinds of habitats that the Trustees help to protect in Massachusetts?

RH: Just about all the habitats found in Massachusetts can be found on The Trustees’ 107 properties.  We protected beaches including Cranes Beach on the North Shore and Coskata-Coatue on Nantucket, floodplain forests, beaver ponds, rivers, forests of many types and mountain tops including Monument and Peaked Mountains in the west. 

Some of the more special habitats include barrens important for a host of rare and declining species.  High quality barrens are some the rarest habitats in Massachusetts.  The Trustees actively manage more than 700 acres of barrens with mowing, selective thinning of trees and prescribed fire.  We also maintain more than 1,000 acres of grasslands.  Some of the better examples can be found at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, FieldFarm in Williamstown and Charles River Peninsula in Needham.

NENN: Why is it important to preserve grasslands such as those found at Moose Hill Farm in Sharon, MA?

RH: Grasslands, typically called fields, pastures or meadows in Massachusetts provide habitat for a multitude of species.  More important, some species such as grassland birds and some species of butterflies depend upon grasslands entirely.  If we didn’t maintain grasslands or in some cases restore them these species would disappear.  Some of our rarest birds including upland sandpipers and short-eared owls require large grasslands for breeding and foraging. The fields at Moose Hill Farm support a population of bobolinks.  These birds fly all the way from Argentina to breed in these fields, what an incredible migration and reason to admire these birds and maintain a summer home for them.  For me grasslands and the species dependent upon them make the outdoor experience more interesting and fun.  I can’t imagine not hearing bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks in the summer or seeing Baltimore checkerspot butterflies flying through the tall grass. 

The Trustees of Reservation help to protect a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands at Moose Hill Farm in Sharon, MA. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

NENN: Who are some of the different community partners you work with when it comes to environmental preservation? Do they tend to approach you or do you actively seek them out?

RH: It depends - we work with private landowners, other land trusts, non-profits, municipalities and state and federal agencies to protect land.  Many of these same partners help with ongoing stewardship needs.  For example, the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR Fire Bureau), The Nature Conservancy and municipal fire departments are critical to implementing prescribed fire where we have fire-dependent habitats.  In other cases volunteers play an important role.  Our bird nesting boxes are almost entirely maintained and monitored by volunteers.  This is a huge help.  Without these volunteers we would be fledging far fewer bluebirds and tree swallows but more house sparrows (an invasive bird). 

NENN:  What are your personal favorite Trustees properties when it comes to ecological diversity?

There are many, but a couple are special.  Weir Hill in North Andover never fails to surprise me.  Habitat diversity is very high with more than x communities.  The Trustees have been actively restoring 80 acres of barrens at Weir Hill for rare species including the frosted elfin, a butterfly that flies in the spring and lays its eggs only on the native wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria).  Weir Hill also includes fields and meadows with a very different set of species from the barrens. One indicator of this property’s biological diversity is butterflies.  More than x species have been documented and the property is less then 200 acres in size.

Crane Beach is also a favorite.  This was the first property I worked at but the dunes, beach, pitch pine forest, swales and salt marsh are some of the best remaining examples of their kind.  In addition to being one of the most important sites for the endangered piping plover, Crane Beach provides habitat for some unusual species at their northern limit such as the Eastern spadefoot toad and prickly pear cactus.  Since I am partial to shorebirds I also enjoy the diversity and flocks of shorebirds during migration.  More than 21 species of shorebirds have been documented at Crane Beach. 

NENN: Can you tell us a little about your own background and how you came to work for The Trustees?

As a kid I was very interested in nature and spent a lot of time outside.  So when I grew up a career in conservation was natural.  I was particularly interested in shorebirds (plovers and sandpipers), so for my undergraduate thesis I studied migrating shorebirds at Crane Beach.  I liked it so much I stayed on helping with the shorebird program managing piping plovers and least terns that nest on the beach.  This started my career with The Trustees.  

NENN:  Is there anything else you would like to add?

I encourage everyone to get outside and visit the incredible protected areas around the Commonwealth.  We are very fortunate to have so many protected areas and a rich natural history. However, these lands face so many threats from invasive species, overabundant deer, overuse, and now climate change to name a few.  Most land managers will gladly welcome volunteer help.   

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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