The Vineyard Conservation Society is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to preserving the environment, character, and quality of life of Martha’s Vineyard through advocacy, education, and protection of the Island’s land and waters.
It’s springtime again, and volunteers and staff at the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) are sorting bundles of bags and gloves to distribute to teams working on the Earth Day Beach Cleanup scheduled for Saturday, April 16. In its 19th year, the annual cleanup has become an Island tradition. It is also a way that many people first learn about the mission of this hard-working environmental group.
VCS was formed in 1965 by a group of Islanders who saw a need for a different kind of conservation group — one that would use advocacy, activism, and education to protect the Island’s natural resources. In the early years, VCS worked with towns to pass zoning and wetlands protection rules, and with landowners to record conservation restrictions on private land.
Getting the public to participate is what VCS has done successfully for nearly 50 years. VCS helped launch the Island’s first recycling program on Earth Day 1970, and continues to advocate for comprehensive solid-waste planning. The Winter Walks Program has been connecting people to special places for 25 years, offering them a chance to learn about ecology and land use issues.
Publications like the new edition of “Walking Trails of Martha’s Vineyard,” and “Edible Wild Plants of Martha’s Vineyard” are guides for better understanding and appreciating the Island’s natural assets. Co-sponsorship of the Living Local Harvest Fest is another way to communicate the message about living more sustainably.
Others know VCS as the Island’s “Voice for Environmental Action.” Never shying from disputes in defense of open space, VCS was responsible for brokering compromises in land-use fights at places like the Lobsterville Moors in Aquinnah, opposing development at Herring Creek Farm, and challenging golf course proliferation. Together with the town and colleague groups, environmental legal defense of the globally rare habitat at Moshup Trail continues to this day.
But conservation today is about more than land protection. VCS embraces a definition that includes conservation of materials, rural character, and energy. Looking forward, here are some areas where VCS is making a difference:
The Conservation Almanac is a tremendously popular, free, biweekly community e-newsletter about local and regional environmental issues. Subscribe at the VCS website. Action Alerts and social media are harnessed to get people involved in decision-making about the future of the Island.
Clean water initiative
There’s no dispute that our waters are at risk. VCS is engaged in a multi-year public awareness campaign to advocate for clean water and a coordinated wastewater management plan to reverse the decline in health of the Vineyard’s Great Ponds. Partnering with town leaders, “Ponds in Peril” workshops held during the last two summers have kept the issue in the public eye.
Vineyard lawns campaign
Protecting the ponds requires persuading Island residents and businesses to avoid chemical lawn fertilizers and encourage use of native grasses and plantings. Native species require less maintenance and water, and prevent erosion in coastal areas. Watch for “This is a Vineyard Lawn” signs on environmentally friendly lawns. The VCS Shelf Labeling Project in local stores tries to steer consumers to less toxic choices.
Open space preservation
VCS continues to provide direction to property owners about the many ways to conserve land. In the regulatory review process, VCS advocates on behalf of saving open space, farmland, habitat, and natural resources.
Local farms define rural character, maintain a link with the past, and promise a more sustainable future. VCS has worked for decades to conserve our prime farm soils and rejuvenate local farming using Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APRs) and other tools. Building partnerships with towns and colleagues has been a formula for success at places like the new Ag Hall, Nip ‘n’ Tuck, Morning Glory, Native Earth, and Katama Farms.
Island-wide recycling initiative
Part of VCS’s broad definition of conservation involves materials conservation: promoting Island-wide coordination of solid waste disposal and enhanced recycling capabilities in all Island towns.
Climate change adaptation
Some of the greatest impacts of global climate change will be felt at the coasts. VCS is promoting community awareness about the local environmental impacts we can expect and plan for. Curtailing the worst impacts of global climate change will require not just deployment of renewable energy technologies, but also conservation and efficiency improvements that will reduce energy demand.
In the years ahead, the health of our Island and its waters will increasingly depend on an informed and mobilized public. For more information on the work of the Vineyard Conservation Society, visit www.vineyardconservation.org.
Brendan O’Neil is the executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society.