I have considered, and analyzed, the public input received at the most recent Town Advisory Board (TAB) meeting regarding the Trade Wind fence. I shared my analysis with the Land Bank Commission; commissioners have asked me to share it with you.
My top duty as Land Bank ecologist is to focus on the protection of the more extraordinary habitats found on the various Land Bank lands. While I believe that all habitats deserve due attention and care, rare habitats call for special measures to safeguard them.
The sandplain grassland at Trade Wind is an endangered habitat found only on North Atlantic islands, peninsulas, and coastal areas, and is itself rare in those locations. It is particularly sensitive to public use, and therefore controlled use is necessary to guarantee its long-term viability.
I have grappled for many years with the Trade Wind dilemma. Initially I tried to support a protocol where dogs, but not their owners, could use the grassland. I have come to think that even that use threatens the health of the fields. It is simply not a resource that we should take chances with.
While the Land Bank may have recently seen some improvement in users’ treatment of the preserve, it still remains that use of the so-called “cross-over” trails occurs, as does hiking in the grassy areas themselves.
I have concluded that the only responsible way to protect this habitat is to cordon it off, via a perimeter fence. Hikers and dog walkers will still have complete liberty to use the trail system, and I must point out that, Island-wide, the Land Bank has always made one single request of its visitors: that they confine themselves to designated trails. Making an exception would make Trade Wind an outlier.
I expect that, once fenced, the habitat will flourish, and the Land Bank will meet its obligations
not just to the commonwealth under its endangered species law but also to itself. The Land Bank’s mission statement, printed now for more than 20 years on its public map, declares environmental protection to be the institution’s highest goal. Public access is important, but subservient to the larger goal.
I believe that half-measures, for instance, enhanced signage or partial fencing, cannot substitute for placing the habitat in isolation. Isolation gives it the only meaningful opportunity to regenerate and thrive.
I therefore recommended to the commission that it continue its commitment to a circumferential fence. The commission voted to accept my recommendation and to ask that I send it along to you. I should add that the particular fence style, a multi-strand wire agricultural fence, has been used elsewhere many times on Land Bank lands, and has been found unremarkable by users. It has not interfered with visitors’ enjoyment of the scenic qualities of those conservation properties.
My recommendation to the commission had nothing to do with aviation. If the Land Bank were ever to discontinue the airport use at Trade Wind, I would still recommend that the grassland be contiguous and not be fragmented by trails.
Julie Russell is an ecologist with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission.