BLT Celebrates 50 Years of Land Preservation

Bill Horne PhotoIt’s been a busy year for the Branford Land Trust (BLT) as they continue to focus on their 50th anniversary. One unwanted gift was the number of trees felled on trust property due to the four March nor’easters.

“Those were the some of the biggest events we’ve had for knocking down trees in a decade,” said board president Peter Raymond at the annual meeting last week. Raymond said thanks to BLT volunteers, the trees and branches have been safely cleared.

And it’s that spirit of volunteerism and stewardship of the land that has marked the existence of the Land Trust over the last half-century. 

The annual meeting was held at the Canoe Brook Senior Center, with about 60 people in attendance. The keynote speaker was James O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at the University of Connecticut.

Diana Stricker PhotoO’Donnell, who discussed research on sea level rise, said organizations like the Land Trust are the ones who help carry out the work recommended by researchers. He said research is the easy part, but that efforts by volunteers who work to preserve the land and marshes are the hard part.

“Actual work that leads to change occurs in groups like this,” O’Donnell said.

Open Space Equals Healthier Community

Bill Horne PhotoThe BLT now owns more than 1,000 acres of open space, and has property easements on another 400 acres, and also helps preserve town-owned open space property.

The number of volunteers over the years has increased to the current 500 members, whose mission is to preserve and protect the land.

Bill Horne Photo“More open spaces lead to a healthier community,” Raymond said, adding that the success of the Land Trust is indicative of the community’s passion for protecting open space.

Raymond said the goal for coming years is to “manage and steward the property for future generations.”

Bill Horne PhotoAs part of the stewardship program, Raymond said the volunteers made a “boots on the ground” effort in the past year and “walked the perimeter of all our properties to look for issues.”

David Andrews is the new head steward, who was appointed in the past few months. The trial maintenance crew is headed by Matt Reed and Budd Dannheim.

Red Hill Woods

Bill Horne PhotoOne project completed in the past year was the construction of 1,200 foot wooden bog walk on the recently acquired Red Hill Woods property.  The 29-acre site, which was purchased in 2016, features coastal forests, floodplains, streams, vernal ponds. It is located at the end of Red Hill Road on the eastern end of town, south of I-95.

Raymond said the Land Trust is in the final stages of acquiring a small parcel of land at the end of Orchard Avenue, not far from the Sybil Creek Preserve. He said the new site has a sensitive ecosystem and a small pond.

There are also ongoing efforts by local organizations and businesses to assist the Land Trust’s mission. “Partnerships are sprouting up,” Raymond said. Some of the partnerships include Eagle Scouts, Walmart, Denali/Trailblazer, Quinnipiac College, Forma Therapeutics and Branford High School.

Officers for the coming term are Raymond as president, Mike McGuinness at vice-president, Lauren Brown as secretary, Robert Olejarczyk as treasurer, and Chris Cheney as correspondence secretary.

Prepare for 2 feet of Sea Level Rise by 2050

O’Donnell, the keynote speaker,  is a professional oceanographer who has been on the faculty of the University of Connecticut since 1987. As executive director of CIRCA, he is conducting research on sea level rise and global warming. The organization’s goal is to increase resilience and sustainability of coastal Connecticut towns.

“New England is going to face one of the highest mean sea level increases around the world because of our location in the Northwest Atlantic,” O’Donnell said. Other factors include New England’s geology, weather and oceanography.

“And it’s also the hardest place to predict because the variability in the Gulf Stream is difficult for models to agree upon what’s going to happen,” he said.

He said another factor is that no one knows how effective efforts to decrease CO2 emissions will be.

O’Donnell talked about the importance of preserving marshes, which help prevent tidal flooding from reaching homes and roads.

After discussing the recent research, O’Donnell said he has two recommendations.

With PermissionFirst of all, he wants communities and states to start planning for sea level rise, if they haven’t already.

The chart above shows four different predictions of sea level rise for Connecticut, based on a variety of factors including local measurements, and model simulations near Long island Sound.

Meters of sea level rise are on the left, and measurements in feet are on the right. The research shows there could be as much as 2 feet (or 50 centimeters) of sea level rise by the year 2050; and as much as nearly 7 feet by the year 2100.

“I’m not predicting that it’s going to be 50 cm, but I’m saying we should plan for up to 50 centimeters,” O’Donnell said.

His second recommendation is that scientists should re-access the data and predictions every 10 years.



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