Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation launches educational component

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation launches educational component

The film, "Green Fire, Aldo Leopold and a land ethic for our time," details the contributions of one of the country's conservation giants.

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (SMF), one of the oldest land-conservation organizations on the Vineyard, will broaden its public outreach with a new education initiative, launching this Saturday with the film “Green Fire” at the new Martha’s Vineyard Film Society (MVFS) building at the Tisbury Marketplace.

Presented in collaboration with the MVFS, “Green Fire” is a documentary about the life and legacy of Aldo Leopold, conservationist, forester, and wilderness advocate. Mr. Leopold graduated from the Yale School of Forestry in 1909 and joined the then-new U.S. Forest Service. Rising quickly through the ranks, at age 24 he became supervisor of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. In 1922 he advocated that the Gila National Forest be managed as a wilderness area, and in 1924 it became the first area in the U.S. to receive an official wilderness designation. In 1933, he published the first textbook on wildlife management and was hired by the University of Wisconsin as the nation’s first professor of wildlife management and ecology. Aldo Leopold’s call for a “land ethic” still resonates in conservation issues today.

Although Mr. Leopold is known as an advocate of keeping land “forever wild,” SMF executive director Adam Moore, a 1995 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry, reports that Mr. Leopold held a balanced approach to conservation, designating areas for forestry, agriculture, and public access, as well as wildlife sanctuaries. Today, SMF seeks to use many of the properties it manages for public recreation and education, along with wildlife refuges not usually open to the public. The new Sanctuary Guide (distributed in the Jan. 3 issue of The Times) lists 18 sites with public hiking trails, some of which adjoin and connect with trails maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and The Trustees of Reservation.

In its most recent strategic plan, the SMF board decided that an educational program is needed to get the word out about the many and varied SMF properties that are open to the public. According to Mr. Moore, SMF plans to offer educational programs and resources to “all people, from school children up to adults.” For adults there will be guided walks on many SMF properties, as well as films and lectures by conservationists. For now, lectures will be stand-alone programs, but Mr. Moore hopes to establish a regular speakers’ series in future years.

For children, SMF will offer an educational curriculum for the Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary in West Tisbury. The program is being written by West Tisbury School teacher Rebecca Solway, under a $5,000 grant from the Edey Foundation. The curriculum, which will conform to Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education frameworks for science education, will be available in the fall. “The Cedar Tree Neck curriculum will be there for schools, at no charge, should they want to use it,” Mr. Moore said.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Moore stressed that the SMF educational programs are not intended to duplicate or compete with programs offered by other conservation groups, such as The Trustees of Reservations or the Vineyard Conservation Society. “We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” he said. He pointed to the well-established programs at Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, which use the fields and woods along the shores of Sengekontacket Pond. “That’s a terrific resource,” he said, “but Cedar Tree Neck is a different environment with different plants and wildlife. The Island is so varied that there is room for many educational programs.” He cited a recent program on bog ecology offered by SMF personnel through the Polly Hill Arboretum. SMF will offer future programs in collaboration with other conservation groups.

Jennifer Blum, SMF board member and chairman of the new education committee, told The Times much the same thing. “We have been in touch with all the other conservation organizations in order to collaborate about educational uses for the unique SMF properties. We asked them if there were subjects that they would like us to explore that they did not. We certainly don’t want to replicate any one else’s programs.”

Henry Beetle Hough and his wife, Elizabeth Bowie Hough, former editors of the Vineyard Gazette, founded SMF to conserve land in 1958, a time when there were almost no other organizations on the Vineyard working to conserve the natural, beautiful landscape and character of Martha’s Vineyard. According to the SMF website, from their house on Pierce Lane in Edgartown, the Houghs overlooked a field known as the sheriff’s meadow and a small pond used to cut ice in the days before refrigeration.

The website quotes Mr. Hough, “I had $7,500 from magazine rights from the Women’s Home Companion for a book. It was the only time I ever had $7,500 at one time, so we decided to preserve the ice pond and its surroundings.” Because no nonprofit organization would accept the land, the Houghs created a conservation organization to hold it in perpetuity. SMF was chartered in 1959. The Houghs worked with other donors to expand the acres of protected land on the Vineyard, even borrowing money to do so, and today SMF is the largest private owner of protected land on the Vineyard, according to Ms. Blum. It owns over 2,000 acres of conservation land and holds conservation restrictions on almost 600 acres more. Overseen by a board of directors, SMF now employs six year-round and two seasonal staff.

The film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time will be screened at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center at the Tisbury Marketplace on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven at 4 pm Saturday, January 12. The cost of the film is $7 for members of either the Vineyard Conservation Society or the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, and $10 for non-members.