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Published July 1, 2022

The Path to Protection

By Dr. Scott Ruhren, Senior Director of Conservation

Have you wondered about the land conservation process? Do you have property that you are considering for land protection? Can Audubon help?

As a longtime steward of wildlife habitat, Audubon protects a mosaic of wildlife habitat across Rhode Island and one wildlife refuge in Seekonk, MA. Much of the land was donated by generous landowners, a smaller number were purchased. Our goal is to strategically increase the size, protection, and effectiveness of existing habitat, always looking to add to an area already protected by Audubon.

Years of practice and research worldwide reveal that larger preserves are best for saving biodiversity for many reasons. Audubon applies this conservation knowledge to our design of wildlife refuges. Larger tracts—versus smaller fragments of habitat—resist many natural and man-made challenges such as invasive plant and animal species, excess warming and exposure to wind and storms. Larger preserves are favored by forest interior species that will not live in small tracts of forest. Our goal is reducing and preventing a fragmented landscape, a global challenge for land managers.

Audubon follows detailed, methodical procedures when considering land for protection. The evaluation process considers a series of questions:

  • How many acres does the land encompass? Large habitats protect more species and provide a more predictable environment for the plants and animals that live there.
  • Is the land connected to other wildlife habitat or conservation properties? Large or small parcels that are next to conservation land are valuable. Land that adjoins Audubon’s many wildlife refuges is ideal for conservation.
  • Does the property enhance the protection of wildlife, wetlands and water quality, animal communities or animal species, special plant communities or plant species? Though Audubon does not focus on any one species, the more the better when deciding on protection strategies.
  • Does the land contain valuable yet vulnerable coastal habitat? Intact coastal habitat resists sea level rise and coastal storms; these are critical areas to protect due to climate change.
  • Does the protection establish or improve a buffer between a high value open space and less desirable areas? Buffer habitats are parcels of land between wildlife preserves and human landscapes. Buffers add an extra layer of protection.

Audubon is strategic in its acquisitions and land protection. Due to limited resources and staff, our choices must be made carefully. Though it would be ideal to protect all available habitat in Rhode Island, certain situations are best handled in other ways. For example, Audubon typically does not protect active farmland. State and Federal agricultural agencies have successful protection programs that offer financial incentives for farmland preservation.
Finally, the landowner decision and intent are important. Is the landowner considering a donation or sale? Could a conservation easement agreement be an alternative? An easement allows individuals or families to maintain property ownership, but protection of wildlife habitat is ensured. 

Ultimately, Audubon’s priorities are perpetual protection of habitat and species and maintaining New England’s natural diversity. For close to 100 years, we have been actively working with landowners and their families to protect valuable properties across the state.

If you would like to discuss working with Audubon to protect your property for birds, wildlife, and their habitats, please contact Senior Director of Conservation Scott Ruhren at sruhren@asri.org or 401-949-5454 (x3004).

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