Grazing livestock can enhance natural landscape, forest director says

Sheep graze peacefully on the Allen Farm in Chilmark. — Photo courtesy of Sheriff's Meadow Foundation

David Foster, a Harvard University biologist and director of the Harvard Forest, will speak next week about the benefits of using livestock for land management as a viable alternative to mowing and controlled burns as part of a continuing education speaker’s program sponsored by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s (SMF).

Mr. Foster will present his views in a program titled “History, Farms and Biodiversity: A Conservation Argument for Increased Agriculture on the Vineyard” at 7:30 pm, Wednesday, July 24, at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. The program is free and open to the public.

“We hope that anyone with an interest in farming, conservation, and historic landscapes will come out and listen to Mr. Foster’s talk,” SMF’s executive director Adam Moore said. “He is arguing for the value of using grazing livestock — sheep, goats, cows — in maintaining landscapes on conservation land.”

In a conversation with the Times Tuesday, Mr. Foster said his group at the Harvard Forest has been doing ecological and conservation research on the Vineyard for about 20 years. “We see the emergence of really viable agricultural activity and we have a great opportunity to bring together, even more than in the past, the farming and agricultural communities,” he said.

Most of the major conservation lands on the Island with the exception of the State Forest have a long history of agriculture, he said, and there is an interest in keeping much of this land open. He said he will pull together lots of pieces from lots of different ideas that have been advanced by farmers, conservationists, and ecologists, information that suggests using historical ecological and historical agricultural methods can help the Island be more sustainable.

Mr. Foster is an ecologist and author of several books, including, “Wildland and Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape,” and the forthcoming “Hemlock – A Forest Giant on the Edge.” He has been a faculty member in biology at Harvard since 1983 and director of the Harvard Forest, the University’s 3750-acre ecological laboratory and classroom since 1990.

Mr. Foster and his wife own a house in West Tisbury. He is an associate at the Polly Hill Arboretum and a board member of The Trustees of Reservations.

For more information, call 508-693-5207.