The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org
The Foundation has always strived to manage its properties to provide for public access and protect rare ecological resources. These goals can often be at cross purposes, so succeeding at both requires a great deal of strategic planning. Developing property conservation management plans that achieve this balance is one of the primary tasks of the Foundation’s Science and Stewardship Department, and recent management undertaken at Head of the Plains provides a great example of how this process plays out. In January 2016, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved an updated and revised property conservation management plan for our Head of the Plains properties, which includes 414 acres in the southwestern portion of the island between Cisco and Madaket. Management plans are developed to direct and inform our land stewardship activities. They outline three major goals for each property: inventorying species and habitats of special concern, determining the management needs of rare resources, and identifying appropriate public use, passive recreation and educational opportunities. Management plans have been completed for most of our major property holdings, and additional plans are currently under development. Completed plans guide our current research and management planning, and are reviewed and revised every 5-10 years.A high priority identified in the recent plan update for our Head of the Plains management plan was addressing ongoing, severe shoreline retreat. The beach that borders the southern portion of Head of the Plains is a popular destination for visitors, who primarily arrive by vehicle because of the property’s remote location. However, coastal erosion has caused the shoreline to retreat substantially in recent years. Many of the beach access parking areas were very close to the shoreline, infringing into protected coastal wetland resource areas. Parking in these locations was causing destruction to sensitive vegetation that stabilizes dunes and adjacent uplands. Head of the Plains also contains the largest, contiguous area of sandplain grasslands and heathlands found on Foundation-owned land. These globally significant habitats support some of the highest concentrations of rare and endangered species in Massachusetts. Many of the rare plant populations on this property occur along road and parking area edges because they require full sun and nutrient-poor, sandy soils. Because these sites were minimally designated with fencing prior to the plan update, vehicle use was damaging and destroying these populations. Head of the Plains is a very popular site for beach visitors, and continuing to provide access for public use and enjoyment is a high priority for our organization. In order to do this, a number of new management objectives were developed during the update of the management plan. These were recently put into play by our Properties Maintenance staff in time for the 2016 summer season. Several roadways in close proximity to the beach were closed to vehicles in order to protect and prevent damage to coastal dune and rare species habitats. Fencing and signage was installed to designate appropriate areas for visitors to park their vehicles so that they can continue to access the beach. Although these changes will require a little extra walking to get from the car to the shoreline, they are being implemented to protect and provide coastal resiliency to these pristine areas that we all enjoy. An additional management priority at this site is protecting rare nesting shorebirds such as the piping plover. This federally-threatened species began nesting at this site in 2014. State and federal rare species protection guidelines stipulate that piping plover nesting areas must be fenced and posted to prevent disturbance to these birds, which lay their well-camouflaged eggs directly on the open beach in a small nest scrape. Although entry into fenced and protected nesting areas is prohibited, pedestrian and beach use are still permitted outside of the fencing. With proper and diligent management, including regular site visits by our Shorebird Monitor and providing an appropriate buffer from people, pets and vehicles, piping plovers can successfully raise their chicks while visitors use and enjoy the beach. These management actions provide an example of how the Foundation is continually reviewing and revising its management strategies in order to maintain an appropriate balance between public access and resource protection. Acquiring a piece of property and protecting it from development is only the first step in land conservation. Management plans need to be developed and regularly updated to reflect changes in the environment and the way that the public is accessing and using the site. This process of adaptive management allows the results of research, management, and monitoring to be incorporated into future use of our properties and is a critical component of responsible open space ownership and stewardship.