Monday, April 17, 2017

New England Cottontail hops back

In honor of the unofficial start of spring, we re-post an earlier feature on Avalonia's work to restore habitat for the New England Cottontail.

By Beth Sullivan
Since 2013 I have been writing about our New England Cottontail project on Avalonia’s Peck and Callahan preserves in Stonington. Not accessible to the public, people have had to rely on written reports and photos to follow the progress.
We have laid out the welcome mat. Now we wait.  Photo from USFWS.

New England Cotton Tail returns

The New England Cottontail was determined to be in danger of needing Federal protection due to plummeting populations. They are out-competed by the non-native Eastern Cottontail that is highly adaptable to living near people and our homes and gardens. The New England Cottontail (NEC) needs shrubby, overgrown thickets of dense brush, of the kind found decades ago when farm fields were abandoned and were overgrown. Once the fields progressed into forests which are now abundant in our state, the NEC had less desirable places to live, they didn’t breed successfully (like rabbits are supposed to do) and thus the population dropped.
Studying the problem, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined it would be far better to try and stabilize the population, create habitat, rather than allow it to further decline and need federally mandated protection. Since 2012, we worked with USFWS, CT DEEP and the Wildlife Management Institute to help create a big block of habitat up in the woods between Pequot trail and Route 184.
Last year this area was low and sparse. Now perfect habitat. 

You can read about the progress and process herehere, and here.
Last week representatives from several federal agencies and teams from New England States met in New Hampshire to celebrate a success story. Because of all the efforts to study and restore habitat in focus areas throughout New England, it was determined that the NEC did not need to be placed on the Endangered Species List.
Plentiful berries of several species provide food.

The next question seems to be: Why is that a good thing: don’t they still need protection?
The NEC will continue to need protection and monitored to make sure all the work done to create habitat is successful in having the rabbits move in and thrive. Studies will continue over the next years as the project areas regrow into the young forest habitat they need. Teams will go out in the winter when the ground is covered to collect rabbit pellets to check for DNA confirmation of NEC presence. THAT will be success! Then plans can be made to continue to work with this habitat management system, keeping it in rotation of optimal size and level of growth, and work with other land owners to provide more of the same.
Under the powerlines, the habitat is dense and thick.

If the New England Cottontail had been placed on the Endangered Species list, there would have been a huge, bureaucratic need to install protections on large territories where the rabbits “might” be located and restrictions placed on areas where they are found. Private landowners could lose the choice of being able to create habitat or not, to develop their land, or not. The expense to list and then protect a species far outweighs the money spent to provide what it needs to keep it off the list.
A large Black Rat Snake probably finds many small mammals to eat.

The added benefit of the work, is that there are a number of other species, about 50 in CT alone that benefit from the newly created habitat. Some of them were heading toward that “E List” themselves.
Since our project was completed in August of 2013, we have visited a number of times. The area is almost impossible to walk through: Excellent for rabbits! Berry bushes cover the ground providing fruit for all manner of animals. It is teeming with more wildlife than ever before. We have counted new birds, noted many new insects in great numbers, and reptiles and amphibians as well.
Walking through the preserve in no longer easy.

On behalf of a special bunny, we are all grateful for funding by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Long Island Sound Futures fund ( LISFF), the efforts of the USFWS, CT DEEP and those supporters who had the vision to proceed with the project.
We will keep you posted.
Link to The Day article on the NEC is here.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Making a Difference

By Beth Sullivan
This is the fifth year that the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College has collaborated with Avalonia to provide students with first hand knowledge of how a land trust functions and to give Avalonia some much needed energy, assistance and strength.
In past years, one student has taken over writing the blog for me, as part of an outreach project and to introduce the students. This year no one decided to take me up on that, so I will be writing a few of these entries to describe what some of the teams have chosen as their projects.
The frontage was overwhelmed by brush and litter.

Ricardo Olea and Emilio Pallares recognized that our outreach efforts, publications and web photos were lacking in diversity. We discussed several ways to remedy this, and their goal will be to engage diverse students from New London schools near the College, get them outside at the Arboretum, and get some great photos for us to use to be more inclusive. They will promote the new Hike and Seek program and encourage city kids to venture out onto Avalonia trails not far from town for education, fun and, adventure. As they work toward this goal, Ricardo told me about his unique campus group: MEChA ( explanation coming shortly) which needed some community service time and offered to spend a Saturday morning with me, working at a preserve of my choosing.
Invasives were impenetrable behind the wall.

Collier Preserve Clean-up

Great. I never turn down strong young helpers, and it would give me a chance to talk a bit more with Ricardo about his project. We chose the Marjorie Stanton Middleton Collier Preserve, near the top of Quoketaug Hill on Pequot Trail. Over the winter a dedicated volunteer has hacked away at vines strangling the trees and covering the walls. (Thanks Jim.) There was so much dead wood, and dense invasive growth and brush, that the roadside walls were barely visible, and the frontage was a mess. The preserve was donated to Avalonia by the Collier family, one of the founding families living up on the hill far back in Stonington history.
A break of cookies and juice, and a therapy dog, was welcomed.
Ann Collier, art of the donor family, last visited about four years ago.

On a blustery Saturday, six students, including Ricardo, showed up to help fix up the walls. While none of us were stone workers by any stretch, with muscle and some good tools and team work, they were able to get fallen rocks lifted back onto the walls. Over decades these rocks had tumbled, then become grown over and buried. Now they are back out where they belong. The brush along the road and in a nice broad swath behind the walls has been cut down. It is more open and appealing. Litter was picked up by the bag-full, and the area is already drawing positive comments from the neighbors.
Big, fallen rocks were placed back on the walls.

The right tool and a great team made all the difference.

But now about MEChA. As I talked with Ricardo and his friends, they explained that their group was comprised of students of similar ethnic backgrounds going back to indigenous people in Mexico, before Spanish influence. I was intrigued. I will quote Ricardo here as he described his group:
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) is a student organization that promotes higher education, culture, and history. Each word in MEChA symbolizes a great concept in terms of la causa (the cause). Movimiento means that the organization is dedicated to the movement to gain self-determination for our people. Estudiantil, identifies the organization as a student group for we are part of our Raza's future. At the heart of the name is the use of the identity: Chicanx. At first seen as a negative word, now taken for a badge of honor. In adopting their new identity, students committed themselves to return to the barrios, colonias, or campos and together, struggle against the forces that oppress our people. Lastly, the affirmation that we are Indigenous people to this land by placing our movement in Aztlán, the homeland of all peoples from Anahuak.
The term Anahuak is more of a general term often used interchangeably with Valley of Mexico , and both Aztec and Mayan civilizations fall under the umberalla of Anahuak. It is the core of ancient Mexico. This is generally where Mexico City is located today. Essentially, it is where the indigenous peoples of Mexico are said to have originated from.”

What a change!
I found it refreshing to meet and learn about a group of young people who take pride in their heritage. They set great examples for others too as they support the greater community and promote diversity and understanding. Thanks for all the muscle too.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Warm Gathering on a Cold Night

By Beth Sullivan
It snowed all day. Threatened to turn bitter cold and windy. But the word had gone out, the committee had been planning for so long. So when the snow stopped, roads were cleared, the decision was made to go ahead and Avalonia’s Winter Potluck Gathering was ON!
March 10 was getting pretty close to spring. We were all hoping that the lovely warm weather we had briefly experienced would hold on. But it didn’t. The anecdote for winter blues has always been good food, good friends, and a good cause.

Winter potluck dinner

Avalonia Land Conservancy has held a Winter Potluck event for decades. There were years when it was a huge event, and then years when it was smaller and more intimate. But always there were shared home-made dishes and friends looking forward to connecting with each other. Part of the tradition has been to have a basket or tea-cup raffle and folks donated all manner of treasures. There were home-made birdhouses, garden baskets, books, and jewelry. There was also the usual assortment of knick knacks, small appliances and treasures that someone would absolutely need to have.
A big table of donated treasures to be raffled 

This year there was also a silent auction of smaller works of fine art. There were several framed pieces: watercolors, oils, and acrylics. There was a lovely quilted table runner and the bidding was lively for that. There were also packs of nature- themed cards, just perfect for those who still believe that a hand written note will never go out of style.
Items of fine art for the silent auction.

While people trickled in, several wonderful Girl Scouts and Avalonia volunteers met guests, explained the evening, and took steaming pans of food and covered salads and desserts to the kitchen. As everyone mingled, and bid on items, there were opportunities to look at displays of Avalonia projects including the new Hike and Seek program. Guests were encouraged to seek out those with Avalonia name tags, indicating people who might have answers to their questions.
Displays of Avalonia projects were on view.

The food came out, people found tables with old friends and new friends, and enjoyed music provided by The Avalonia Quick Steppers. They were fun-spirited, foot-stomping good, and inspired a few people to dance.
Old friends and new enjoyed dinner together.

The Avalonia Quick Steppers.

After dinner speaker

After dinner we were educated and entertained by an excellent presentation by Russ Cohen, author of “ Wild Plants I Have Known….and Eaten”. For those of us who are nature lovers, as well as gardeners, and who love to eat too, foraging is a natural extension of our interests. And what is fun, is that can be a positive, natural outcome of some of our stewardship efforts-eradicating invasives. Russ presented a great program, concentrating on wild-growing plants, many of which we constantly battle. How satisfying it was to see that instead of just cutting down, and swearing at, Japanese Knotweed, that there are a number of very delicious and easy recipes to be made from young tender stalks. They can be used like rhubarb. Autumn Olive berries can be as nutritious and tasty as cranberries in jellies and spreads. Maybe we should open up our work party days to foragers?
Author and forager, Russ Cohen.

Other plants provide roots that are tasty when prepared , like Chickory and Burdock. Leaves of Sheep Sorrel, Violets, and Lamb’s Quarters are excellent replacements for other farm-produced greens.
Russ also discussed other native plants that have produced foods that were appreciated by Native Americans and colonists such as Acorns, Hickory Nuts, and Black Walnuts. He even took the time to share some of his secrets for extracting the nuts in big edible pieces, rather than the smash up job I have been using.
Of course he offered the important cautions about foraging certain foods, Mushrooms as an excellent example, and the need to be absolutely certain of your identification. He also cautioned about harvesting plant populations that may be too small or scarce to sustain a harvest. All of this information is available in his book.
Desserts ended the evening with a very special creation by one of the Girl Scouts: Earth as a gem with a cake baked to appear like the jewel encrusted formation we see in geodes. Really creative!
The baker and her creation-Earth as a geode.

Included on the dessert table were creations offered by our guest speaker. No offense intended to all the other delicious treats, but his were spectacular.
Everyone went home happy. We made new friends, new members, and enlisted some new volunteers for our efforts. We went out into a cold night, warmed by a special event.

Thank you to the team who planned this event, and Bruce Fellman for his photographs.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Birding, here and there

By Beth Sullivan
We were lucky enough to escape the day before “the Blizzard” to fly to warmer, greener places. I only felt a little guilty leaving while I knew people here would be dealing with lots of snow and cold and wind, but just a little.
We were in Puerto Rico. We had the opportunity to stay on the north coast, but far enough east to be away from the hub of the cities. We had decided to spend as much time relaxing as possible, but that included birding and nature study which for me is most relaxing. We are at the vernal equinox, when the length of days and nights are equal, with days getting longer, and this spurs many changes in nature. Everywhere.
It was easy to be distracted by the beautiful scenery. 

I think I have been watching birds forever, beginning with my little yellow parakeet I had as a baby. But I became a birder as my own kids got older and we had the time to take vacations with them and really began to study birds in their native habitats. Binoculars, bird books, and now Apps are essentials on any trip. A camera is great but a birder knows that certain birds never sit still long enough to be seen clearly, never mind photographed.

Habitat is key

One of the first lessons a birder learns is about habitat and distribution: certain types of birds like certain habitats. Anywhere. And certain birds are not found in certain places, ever. So a warbler is going to enjoy trees and brush, sparrows often like to find seeds on the ground, ducks and herons and egrets like water, and shorebirds like seashores. It may be a bit of generalization and is never set in stone, but it helps. Looking at the range maps helps you narrow it down too. A bird you are investigating may never be found in your present area, but another similar bird may be abundant. It becomes easier to narrow down the choices.
Royal Turns act just like our local Turns.

Along the coast it was hard to focus on the birds because the water and scenery were so beautiful. We watched terns diving for small bait fish, and while they were bigger Royal Terns, they looked and acted just like the terns (Common, Least and Roseate) that we have here. Along the coast in Luquillo and Fajardo there were also Magnificent Frigate birds and Brown Pelicans. Those were easy to identify. In Puerto Rico, osprey are considered endangered. I expected to see a number of winter visitors, but we only saw two. They do not spend much time there, but their behavior is unmistakable. I wished them safe journeys northward as they should be arriving here soon.
Magnificent Frigatebird

Hiking into the rain forest of El Yunque was definitely the highlight. We spent hours over several days exploring side trails, dense rain forest, open areas, and water falls. Interestingly many of the best birds were actually closer to places where there were openings for parking or picnicking. Just like here, birds of certain types will find different niches and like edges that are sunny to find flowers for nectar and insects and seeds. It may also be that it is a lot easier to see a bird in an opening as opposed to way up high overhead where you just know he is singing, but cannot be seen for all the dense greenery. The leaves are so large they could hide an Eagle.
The rain forest canopy is a distinct world and the vegetation hides countless birds.

One bird we enjoyed early in our hike challenged our identification skills. When we first spied it, it definitely acted like a Robin. After watching it for a bit, we turned to the books. By knowing where to look-Thrush family with Robins-we could narrow it down. While we noted its red legs, its beak was most outstandingly red, and there was no mistaking it as a Red Legged Thrush.
The Red-legged Thrush acts just like our Robin.

There were Flycatchers all over. They were easy to sort into a family group, but like Flycatchers here, many were impossible to identify without hearing their song. We were able to identify several.

In the Mangrove swamp

A little yellow bird zipped in front of us. I thought it reminded me of our Yellow Warbler at home, and sure enough, the book shows range and habitat of the Yellow Warbler and describes it as being a common resident of Mangrove swamps. That was easy.
Doves act like doves in all places. We just had to sort out the species.
This Zanaida Dove mimics our Mourning Dove.

Deep in the forest we could hear a repetitive song. We knew it was close by, but we couldn’t find the singer. Finally it moved. The silhouette seemed familiar, good size, longish beak, speckled chest, but very strange light eyes. ID : Pearly Eyed Thrasher looking and acting much like our Brown Thrasher.
Pearly-eyed Thrasher.

There were so many more, some very unique to Puerto Rico.
All these birds were beginning their breeding season, singing with the sun, posturing for mates, collecting material for nests. Some things don’t change no matter where you are looking for birds.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Where did the Fox go?

Beth Sullivan has been away, so we're re-posting an older entry that seems fitting for our very cold spring weather.  Beth returns next week.

By Beth Sullivan
We all have been through some pretty brutally cold weather recently and some pretty erratic temperature swings. Can you imagine what a toll it takes on our resident wildlife?
Take a winter or cold spring walk and, if you are really lucky, find a child to take with you. Think like an animal in winter.
Any nature preserve or bit of woodland or backyard will work, but try Paffard Woods off North Main Street in Stonington.
We tend to think of mammals in winter as hibernators, but in reality most of them are not. Locally the Woodchuck or Groundhog is our deepest sleeper. In the late fall they fatten up and retreat into deep burrows, far below the cold surface. Their metabolism slows, and they will not emerge until February or March. Woodchucks can be found in woodlands, but more usually along farm fields and open lands, their burrows marked by mounds of earth.

Red Fox
Most of our other resident mammals are only semi-hibernators. They may be inactive for long periods of extreme cold and bad weather, but will rouse themselves and move about during the winter months.
The Red Fox will adopt a Woodchuck burrow in a more open area and preferably near water. They pair up in winter and dig or expand a den as part of the bonding process. You may come upon a woodchuck hole with what appears to be a lot of new gravel at the entrance. At this time of year, Woodchucks are sleeping. It is the Red Fox doing the digging. You can often sniff out a fox den too; they have an odor similar to skunk which lingers near their abode. They hunt mice and small rodents and have an uncanny ability to find them deep beneath snow. Have that child you are with look for mice tunnels, look for foot prints in the snow, and look for holes that look active and smell skunky. That’s where the Fox goes!
In the woods, look up and down for holes: holes up in trees, at the base of trees, in crevices, under rocks and by stone walls. Little ones and big ones. Just imagine what might be in them.
Large hollows in trees are good for many mammals.
The Gray Fox is our true native fox, and they tend to like the rocky woods. Look for holes at the bases of the ledges and between boulders. With the brook nearby, that would be a perfect place for a den.
The Gray Fox likes a rocky den.
Opossums and Skunks are usually considered nocturnal, but during the winter they make use of the warmth of daytime to forage. They will hole up in a tree cavity or hollow log, often in family groups. It’s warmer that way.

Gray Squirrel.
Holes at the base of trees often lead to tunnels higher up in the core of the tree. Hollowed out by ants, smaller creatures, like Chipmunks, will stash their nuts and seeds and remain sheltered inside. Squirrels will make use of holes, but also make big fluffy, leafy nests high in the branches and may rotate their lodgings as the mood strikes them.
A Squirrel's leafy nest.

Chipmunks will nest in stone walls.
Hickory nut shells at the base of this tree hint that someone is inside.
Raccoons will be active irregularly during the winter. When it is truly cold and stormy, they will seek refuge usually high in a tree, a hollow or snag. You might even find a raccoon peering out at you from a high safe place as you take a winter walk, but you have to be looking!
Small holes for squirrels and even some birds are found high up in trees.
Get that child to stop and look, all around. Find the holes high up and low down. Look in the ledges, wall, trees and stumps. Think like an animal and see where he or she might choose to spend a cold winter day.

Photographs by Rick Newton and Beth Sullivan.

Monday, March 13, 2017

What is She thinking?

By Beth Sullivan
Mother Nature must have an amazing sense of humor. At least I’d like to think it is humor and not some angry punishment for our human transgressions against her.
As I sit here and try to think of an upcoming trip to a warmer place, I am looking at a lovely, but at this point unwelcome landscape of beautiful, fluffy white snow. You cannot deny the beauty of a snow fall that sticks just enough to cover branches, to transform the woodlands. It is not yet cold enough to be uncomfortable for the clean-up nor are the winds howling(yet), so it really isn’t a bad storm. The kids were happy. My dogs are happy.
A few weeks ago we got hopeful.

Early Spring

But about 3 weeks ago, on one of those unusual, warm, February days, I was walking through Pequotsepos Preserve, and stopped not believing my ears, when I heard a PEEP of a solitary Spring Peeper in the woods. I was near a vernal pool off the trail; part of it was still ice covered. But the sunnier south facing shore was totally thawed. As I poked into the leaves at water’s edge with a stick, just messing around, as I have done all my life, I disturbed a small, larval salamander. At this time of year it is the Marbled Salamander whose larvae inhabit the shallow vernal pools At only about an inch long with no markings on their black skin, they are identifiable by their feather-like gills.
The larvae of Marbled Salamanders exhibit feathery gills. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.

Then two weeks ago, while driving on a rainy, warm night after an unusually warm couple of days, we noticed Spotted Salamanders and more Peepers. They were making their way across the wet roads from their woodland hibernating areas to the newly filled and thawed wetlands on the other side of the road. For me, the first spring emergence and crossing by the salamanders is a date to be celebrated. But this early event was a little worrisome.
Some Spotted Salamanders already made the trek to breeding pools.

Yesterday, a friend was walking at the Henne Preserve. Those of us who consider ourselves Naturalists are a bit obsessed about getting out and looking for those first signs of spring, especially in the face of the impending return of winter . Some of us even seek out very specific places where we have come to count on a particular species making a first appearance. At Henne, he was serenaded by a chorus of Wood Frogs, quacking happily in the pond near the entrance to the trail. He also looked for and discovered the first Mourning Cloak Butterfly in a spot we have come to know must have a special winter hiding place for them. These butterflies actually hibernate in cracks or crevasses to emerge when the temperature moderates and the sap rises in the trees. I am sure it is tucked back in today-and will be for a while.
Many of us look for Mourning Cloaks in the same places every year. Photograph by Bruce Fellman

Wood Frogs have the ability to survive freezing temperatures due to changes in their cellular fluids. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.

Back to Winter

So, spring has tried to make an appearance. More than once. Those creatures out prematurely have wonderful adaptations for being able to re-enter a hibernating state, dig into mud, or literally adjust their body chemistry so they can freeze without rupturing their living cells. Amphibian eggs will survive in the vernal pools. Those early risers will survive to rise again.
Some flowers were just making it through the last snow.

We may think Mother Nature has gone whacky, but she has given her creatures amazing adaptations to survive her whims.
We don fleece or fly south, even now.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, March 6, 2017


By Beth Sullivan
During late winter, things can get pretty dull and depressing. We all look for a spark of color in our landscape.
Lucky for some of us that the spark we see is the most beautiful blue. During the winter, our local Bluebirds do not migrate, at least not far. Mostly they roam in loose flocks through woodland areas to look for berries remaining, even dried, on shrubs and trees. I see them in places where there are the blue fruits on the evergreen Cedar trees in and around some of our preserves. Fennerswood, Knox Preserve, Preston Nature Preserve, and Knox Family Farm are just a few with the essential field habitat adjacent to cedar groves.
This male Bluebird clings as easily as a Woodpecker to the suet cage.

This  female waits patiently nearby while her mate takes his turn at the suet cage.

During February I think Bluebirds tend to become more desperate and begin to seek out bird-feeding stations and will join the suet lovers. This is my favorite time because it brings them close to my house, right in front of my kitchen window, where I can watch them cling to the suet as if they were woodpeckers. They can become pretty territorial too! I have seen them flaring tempers at Downy Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. But I have also watched some tender sharing moments as a Bluebird couple deliberately and politely, take turns on a suet block while the mate sits on a nearby branch or porch rail waiting.
Tempers flare when they have to share.

Spring house hunting

By late February or early March they have begun moving back to the fields and start searching out nest boxes. If you are a Bluebird landlord, you know it is time to clean the houses, remove old nests if you left them from last year, and get rid of mouse nests and debris that has accumulated. A clean house harbors fewer overwintering pests and parasites.
Cleaning out old nests insures fewer parasites for the new occupants. Photograph by Ethan Frohnapfel. 

Check to make sure your predator guards are intact and that your latches function so you can get in during the season to check on things. Unfortunately the “things” that need to be checked on are invasive House Sparrows. There are very few creatures that I really dislike, and I have tried to give credit for House Sparrow’s adaptability. But for several years running I have witnessed their cold blooded murders of nesting Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, destroying eggs, killing young and adults alike. Once I found an entire, new, Sparrow nest built on top of the bodies of the Tree Swallows that nested there first.
A House Sparrow built its nest on top of the Tree Swallow it killed to take the nest box.

That meant war. They are not protected by the laws that protect our native songbirds, and even the DEEP and USFWS encourage removal by whatever means possible. I will remove nest material, remove or addle eggs, and beyond that you don’t want to know.

Making Bluebird-specific nest boxes

But there are some new and ingenious methods to be found on line, to fix your houses to thwart Sparrows that do not deter Bluebirds or Swallows.
Now is the time that the Bluebird pairs check out available real estate. Photograph by Rick Newton.

One of our volunteers has made skylights in the top of the bird houses and created a plexiglass roof cover . Apparently the Bluebirds like the extra light and the sparrows do not. We have one as a trial at Knox Preserve.
A skylight is welcomed by Bluebirds but unattractive to House Sparrows. Photograph by Ethan Frohnapfel.   

Another volunteer steward has outfitted the boxes there with a special design using fishing line. The line really bothers the sparrows and prevents them from perching, but the bluebirds have no problem with it. Follow this link for more information. 
For more information, here is a link to the DEEP Bluebird Fact sheet
The DEEP would like all Bluebird landlords to report their successes, and failures-those are important too. Follow this link to fill out their survey.  
Together we can find the best methods to support these most beautiful of our birds-our spark of blue at the end of winter. Welcome to spring nesters.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Congratulations! Avalonia achieves National Land Trust accreditation

By Beth Sullivan
By now I hope you have heard the news, read the press releases, or have noted the fireworks. Achieving national accreditation is a huge milestone.
Being able to display that logo on our website reflects so much effort and commitment by a dedicated group of volunteers who sacrificed the better part of the last couple of years reaching for this. And the actual planning and preparation began in 2005, if not earlier.

A look in the mirror to start

First was the assessment of the organization, a self -assessment, like looking into all the corners, stripping off the dust covers and really taking a close look at where we stood when held up to the Land Trust Alliance’s (LTA) Standards and Practices. Yikes, it’s worse than getting into a bathing suit in February.
Avalonia protects varied habitats from shore to inland forest and all in between. 

Take a look at the LTA website and try to read the Standards and Practices. Chapter by chapter, bullet point by bullet point, it lays out the standards of excellence that are expected in all areas of a land conservation organization. There is so much more to the formalities of governance than one tree hugger could imagine. There are polices, practices, and charters for each standing committee: Governance, Finance, Personnel, Development, Acquisition, and Stewardship. Each Town committee has a charter to follow with goals, objectives and deliverables.
Education about our irreplaceable resources is part of our mission. 

Over the next period the organization took each point and answered the questions about how well it measured up to expectations. In very many ways we were doing great. As is the case with just about anything though, documentation is the crux of the whole thing…if it isn’t documented, you can’t prove it is done. So the next years followed in making sure all our processes and procedures, things we have been doing right, were properly documented for the long term. It is quite an eye opening experience to put all the great work that has happened in nearly a half century, into organized files, digitized, prioritized and able to be looked at and approved. Some folks were great at the finances part. Others understood the organizational guidelines. Others of us worked to make sure all our property documentation was in order and all knew, in no uncertain terms, our responsibilities as stewards of the land.
Fleeting beauty should be accessible to all. Photograph by Rick Newton.

A regional land trust

Also remember that Avalonia is a regional Land Trust, not just dealing with one town with a few properties, but properties in eight southeastern CT towns and over 3500 acres. And it has been in existence for almost 50 years. The times have changed; the standards and practices of working with land and donors has changed. Laws have changed. Everything was reviewed for the future.
Our properties protect cultural aspects of human history on the land.

We all sure learned a lot. For the last two years, a dedicated core of people, spear headed by a few who deserve halos, shed blood, sweat, and tears to make sure every one of those bullet points was answered. And if there were any omissions or deficiencies, plans were made and policies enacted to make sure, going forward, that we would be compliant every step of the way.
Preserve space for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Again a comparison: it was like taking a well-loved but somewhat over grown and over stuffed house, tossing everything on the floor and bit by bit examining, sorting, and reorganizing within a new and efficient structure that will help us forward. By last fall, the giant binder with all the organizational proof and plans was turned over to the LTA judges. They poured over it, bit by bit, called with questions, clarified and verified.
The reward was ever so sweet: By mid-February the verdict was in; the call came to our BOD first and announced to all on Feb 22. Avalonia Land Conservancy had achieved Accreditation by the very strict standards of the Land Trust Alliance.
Stewardship is at the heart of our mission. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Our members, donors, and supporters will know that we are on a solid footing, and in a very good place, as we plan for our next 50 years and beyond.
Thank you to the leaders and every individual who helped get us to this point. It takes a village to protect our precious land.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.