Even forests struggle in the search for eternal youth. In an effort to protect young forest and shrubland, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed setting aside more than 15,000 acres of Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to create the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. Managed by USFWS, the refuge would help preserve dwindling saplings, wetlands, and fields—habitat that is home to more than 65 species of wildlife, including cottontail rabbits, bobcats, snowshoe hares, box turtles, and monarch butterflies.
“It’s a type of habitat that has been declining over the years as young forest grows into old and pastures grow into trees,” says Charlie Vandemoer, manager of Rhode Island’s National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Animals impacted by this habitat loss include the New England cottontail, the only rabbit native to the region. According to the New England Cottontail Conservation Initiative, the species has lost more than 80 percent of its habitat since the 1960s. USFWS has also seen a population decline in 12 of the region’s 16 shrubland birds, including the American woodcock and the golden-winged warbler.
These diverse species require diverse terrain. To balance a complex set of needs, USFWS is proposing an unusual model: Rather than spanning swaths of contiguous land, Great Thicket would consist of 10 disconnected parcels. Additional conservation land, such as the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, would be managed with young forest in mind.
Where did all of our shrubland go? In part, it’s a success story. Thanks to conservation, once-young ecosystems have grown into more stable environments. Unchecked, however, forests will continue to mature, displacing more wildlife species. “To maintain a shrubland habitat requires a hands-on approach,” says Meagan Racey of USFWS. “It’s constantly growing unless there is some natural process that turns back the clock. Young forest requires regular maintenance and a management plan.” To mimic natural interventions, such as wildfires, in Great Thicket, USFWS would employ techniques including cutting and prescribed burns.
Not all areas within the refuge would need direct intervention. Wetlands, which sustain shrubland, call for a more passive approach. “In that case we would be protecting the land and letting that maintenance happen naturally,” Racey says.
Recreation access would also be determined on a site-by-site basis. “A big part of quality of life for folks is having open areas where they can hike, bird-watch, or go out with their kids,” Vandemoer says, citing Rhode Island, where more than 300,000 people visit refuges annually.
USFWS is currently reviewing public comments on the plan, collected earlier this year, and will announce next steps later in 2016. Acquiring land and easements could take 30 years or more at an estimated cost of $84 million to $129 million.
“Some people might ask why go to all this trouble for wildlife,” says Vandemoer, who answers his own question with a quote from Aldo Leopold: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
In other words, the cottontail is just one species, but it interacts with many plants and shrubs. “It’s really a community out there, so it’s very important to keep these species protected.”
This piece was originally published by AMC Outdoors.
How would you define truth? Is it an experience? A confession?
The public art piece In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) seeks to explore this question by prompting those who enter the inflatable cartoon speech bubble emblazoned with TRUTH to tell the truth from their own perspectives in a two minute recorded video.
On April 11 and 12, the project will be on display at the Verb Hotel in the heart of Fenway.
“We’ve never had anything like this here at the hotel,” said Lauren Recchia, the director of marketing for the Verb, noting the music history of the hotel itself and the culture of the neighborhood. “We’ve never had this unique, alternative-style event that is just going to pop up right in the front. I really think it’s going to be over-the-top insane.”
The booth’s exhibition at the hotel falls on opening day of Fenway Park, offering over 37,000 potential truth tellers.
“It’s in the neighborhood of [the] Fenway which is a stream of different cultures and voices itself,” said Dina Dietsch, the director of curatorial projects for GT Public, an endeavor established by art-consulting firm Goodman Taft to organize art installations within the public landscape. “It’s a neighborhood in transition, and we think it's able to capture the notion of what is Boston. After the April visit these voices of Boston will join this global archive.”
The installation of the Truth Booth began in 2011 with the collaboration of artists Hank Willis Thomas, Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, and Will Sylvester of the Cause Collective, an organization composed of artists, designers and ethnographers based in San Francisco.
Visitors to the installation enter the inflatable speech bubble and are asked to finish the statement, “The truth is…” in a two minute video.
Thomas often looks at race and identity throughout his work, and with the Truth Booth he hopes to expose mythologies of cultures by allowing individual expression. He wants to focus less on a collective identity and more on the personal experience.
“I think it’s really important as an artist that you make work that expresses your opinions and having platforms that express the outcomes,” said Thomas. “We were interested in creating a space where people who don't see themselves as art participate in a creative environment and creating the environment. It’s collaboration between us and the ever expanding group of people across the world, and time and that’s what’s really exciting for us.”
The project was first shown at the 2011 Galloway Arts Festival in Ireland. The booth has since traveled to Afghanistan, Burning Man, and other locations across the United States.
“I hope that even if they just see the booth and go inside it that they are inspired and decide to engage, because it is a sculpture,” said Thomas. “And if they see some of the videos, that they feel touched and are inspired to be more open and vulnerable with other people, because I think the project is about vulnerability. People go into the booth and have no idea who will see or hear them and are vulnerable, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
Jim Ricks, a San Francisco native who has lived in Dublin the past 10 years, hopes to see the project expand on a greater international scale.
“I see the strength of giving the people without a voice a voice,” he said, noting that the project at first was more philosophical, but has since become more confessional and anthropological. “We’re asking people to give us something as much as we’re asking them to take something. Ideally, I think people would spend some time with it and the other videos and think about how they relate to other people on other sides of the world and be a little more connected or feel a little more connected.”
With the truths already recorded, the group has produced a seven-minute video of their work but hope to create a greater online presence and archive of truths so that they can be accessible worldwide.
“To me the best videos aren’t the people who give the best truths but the ones who speak truthfully,” Ricks said. “You can see it, you can see it in their eyes and hear it from the heart. Because they’re alone, they speak to themselves almost. It’s very intimate.”
The booth arrives at the Verb through a partnership between developer Samuels & Associates, GT Public, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. After the Verb, the booth will move to the north end of the Greenway from April 13 to 15.
“We are interested in bringing art projects to the city of Boston and to the public sphere through cultural collaborations,” said Dietsch. “It’s a public art project that is both a sculpture that literally speaks to history of public art through being a light, temporary gesture, and it is completely interactive. As a public art sculpture it only operates on the interaction of people who visit it.”
For the artists as well, the project depends on interaction. When asked if they too can define “truth,” they leave it open.
“Something that is very profound to me may be obvious to someone else,” Thomas said. “I think seeing the range in diversity and beauty of people, they way they speak, is the theme to me. To me that’s the totality of people going into the booth. It’s kind of overwhelming. You see what people say, what they value, and then you see something that may really surprise you.”
This piece was originally published by The Fenway News.
In the fall of 2010, Julie Crockford was surrounded by friends, dignitaries and the mayor. The occasion? The opening of the Shattuck Visitor Center by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
One of the speakers was a member of the Conservancy’s youth program, which helps to foster environmentalism and education.
“One young man who asked to speak had been working that morning on a Conservancy project planting trees,” Crockford remembers, “And he said ‘You know—I never knew you had to plant a tree.’” This was her ah-ha moment. “It was his moment as much as mine,” she said.
“This is the kind of hands-on learning that takes place, that the Conservancy is leading, and for me that means we got him [involved] now.”
Crockford, a Jamaica Plain resident, served as president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy for almost eight and a half years before leaving last December.
“I’m an avid park user,” she said, noting her continued use throughout her life—from playing in the woods as a girl to walking her dog through nearby Franklin Park. “I’m very much geared to the outdoors and I really can’t imagine living in a city that doesn’t have generous and welcoming open space.”
When she speaks of the Emerald Necklace, one of the last intact linear parks designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, her enthusiasm is obvious.
“He wanted people to experience a real connection to nature. [The parks are] all man-made, but designed to look natural.” She notes that the Conservancy is the lucky beneficiary of his work, posing the question of how difficult it would be to set aside the 11,000 acres that compose the Emerald Necklace today.
“Olmsted was absolutely a visionary,” she said. “This was a man who really connected the dots between public health and the need for fresh air.”
During Crockford’s tenure, the Conservancy worked with the cities of Boston and Brookline as well as the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation to preserve some of the historic trees dotted throughout the park through a comprehensive survey and evaluation of every single tree.
Before arriving at the Conservancy, Crockford was director of external affairs at the Museum of African American History, deputy director of the Boston History Collaborative, and executive director of the Boston Institute for the Arts.
Crockford will continue her nonprofit work and connection with the Conservancy as the executive director of Executive Service Corps (ESC) of New England, a consulting firm for nonprofits.
“ESC works in a collaborative approach with a real action plan, not just a plan that sits on the shelf. It provides a blueprint, not just a vision,” she said.
ESC is composed of the internal staff and supported by leaders in various fields who volunteer their time to give back to the nonprofit community, whether it be through helping to form a management plan or work on a marketing campaign. The Conservancy has worked with ESC on four separate projects.
“Over this career I have developed relationships with the leaders of many nonprofit organizations and I’ve had the ability to collaborate with these leaders on various projects and use each others as resources,” she said. “I feel in coming to ESC I can now pay it forward to those organizations.”
Despite entering a new chapter in her life, Crockford notes the importance of continuing and communicating the Conservancy’s mission to “maintain, restore and protect the parks…for all to explore and use,” calling the Necklace and the parks of Boston the common thread for all of Boston’s communities.
“Parks allow those rich and poor, young and old, to take value in the park’s benefits and nature,” she said. “We need young people to understand that these places need to be preserved. The tragedy would be if young people today don’t see the value of this land and build upon it. It’s not available space, it’s parks.”
This piece was originally published by The Fenway News.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Boston Housing Authority more than $17 million in its annual capital investments campaign this year, HUD announced on Feb. 11.
According to the BHA, it is the largest public housing authority in New England and the sixth largest in the nation.
“Our capital funding has allowed us to provide improvements to the federally funded public housing developments,” said Lydia Argo, the chief of staff of the Boston Housing Authority. “It provides a very needed resource for women, children, elderly and low income families across the city. It provides a needed affordable housing resource.”
Over all, HUD announced the allocation of $52.9 million to public housing authorities across the state. The grants are provided through HUD’s Capital Fund Program, which allows public housing authorities to build, repair and renovate public housing.
One of Boston’s most recent projects is the renovation of the Charlestown public housing community. Corcoran Jennison Associates, a Boston-based development company, was tapped for the project, which will demolish and rebuild the 1,100-unit community.
“HUD has a responsibility to provide public housing residents with a quality and safe roof over their heads,” said HUD Secretary Julian Castro in the press release from Feb. 11. “This funding, in addition to assistance from the private sector through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration Program, will help housing authorities address longstanding capital improvements and preserve and enhance America’s affordable housing.”
Despite the funding, overall grants for capital improvements have declined nationally and within Massachusetts. According to the BHA’s 2015-2019 Five-Year Agency Plan, reduced congressional appropriations have provided public housing authorities with 80 to 95 percent of an authority’s annual eligible funding. In 2015, public housing authorities, including BHA, expected to receive only 87 to 89 percent of their eligible funding.
“BHA now faces an unprecedented lack of support at the federal level,” the report says. “This reduced funding is expected to continue. The funding shortfalls threaten to severely impact the public housing program and will constrain the BHA’s ability to continue on the positive trajectory it has established in the past 20 years.”
This means that for 2015, the BHA estimated that it would not receive $6.8 million of operating subsidy, which is needed to operate properties. A 2011 third party report by Cambridge Abt Associates Inc., found the nation’s 1.1 million public housing units are facing an estimated $25.6 billion in large-scale repairs.
“It’s definitely useful funding and we appreciate that we receive that capital funding,” Argo said. “It allows us to provide capital improvement but it’s largely infrastructural projects. We need to address them if we want to preserve housing for future generations.”
This piece was originally published by Spare Change News.
After pleading guilty the day before, Jaquan Hill and Shakeem Johnson were sentenced on Feb. 18 for the 2012 murder of Roxbury resident Nicholas Martinez.
Martinez was killed on Oct. 17 while he was in his car on Southampton Street. Raymond Concepcion, who was 15 at the time, allegedly fired into Martinez’s car. The volley of shots killed Martinez.
Both Hill and Johnson admitted to knowing about the plan to kill Martinez, and helped Concepcion flee after the shooting. The 22 year-old was killed one day after he testified in a murder trial, incriminating an alleged Mission Hill gang member.
Hill and Johnson, 22 and 25 years old, respectively, were both sentenced 12 to 14 years in prison for manslaughter and up to five years for possession of a firearm without a license.
A member of the the Commonwealth’s prosecution read a victim impact statement aloud to the court after one of Martinez’s family members spoke on the stand.
“I feel like my life has been on pause since that night and my happiness has been robbed from me,” the letter read.
Before announcing the sentences, Judge Elizabeth Fahey made a statement of her own in regard to the case.
“This is the only way this sorrow, that is so real, is going to end,” she said, referring to the gang connection.
This piece was originally published by Homicide Watch Boston.
Chronicling my journalistic endeavors.
All ocean conservation/biodiversity posts are my own original thoughts. All other posts are my work for other publications.