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Massachusetts' Top Nature Comebacks

Reasons for thanks:
Massachusetts' lands and waters are once again supporting the fish and wildlife that rely on those habitats.

By Misty Edgecomb

Decades ago, few would have predicted that bald eagles would be a common sight in the Connecticut River Valley and along the shore of Cape Ann. But as The Nature Conservancy celebrates its 60th anniversary, eagles are among the great success stories of modern conservation.

Here in Massachusetts, once-industrial rivers like the Taunton again support spring fish runs and summer paddlers. Species like the beaver, wild turkey, Northern red-bellied turtle, alewife and striped bass have rebounded − some from populations so low that they were no longer considered resident species in Massachusetts.

And our forests have regrown across the state to cover an acreage that hasn’t been seen in generations, from coastal pine and oak woods, to the forested wetlands of the Southeast, to the maple, birch and beech groves of the Berkshires.

“These comeback stories are really inspiring,” said Andy Finton, science and conservation director of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. “It’s amazing how resilient nature can be with a little help from conservationists.”

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5. Beavers: Due to an insatiable demand for beaver pelts and a rush to clear New England’s forests for farmland, beavers -- important “ecosystem engineers” -- disappeared from our rivers and wetlands by the 18th Century. As forests regrew, beavers moved in from neighboring states and a sighting in 1928 in West Stockbridge (the first in more than 150 years!) prompted a state reintroduction effort so successful that in 1952, wildlife officials created a trapping season.

4. Wild Turkey: Despite its historic role in keeping early Massachusetts colonists fed, this native bird disappeared from our state by the Civil War, a victim of development and habitat loss. But since reintroductions and habitat improvements began in the 1970s, the population has grown to more than 28,000, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

3. Taunton River: Like many of our river systems in New England, the Taunton benefited from the Clean Water Act’s amazing success at reducing industrial pollution, so much so that the river was declared “wild and scenic” by federal officials in 2009. And an ongoing restoration effort on the Mill River, an important tributary, will soon restore more than 40 miles of habitat for migratory fish like alewife.

2. Bald eagles: By the early 1900s, bald eagles were no longer breeding in Massachusetts, and in the latter part of the century, DDT took a toll on eagles nationwide, harming egg development and decimating the number of healthy chicks. But thanks to a 1972 ban on DDT and the Commonwealth’s reintroduction effort in the 1980s, we now have at least 26 resident breeding pairs. In fact, a Massachusetts Department of Wildlife study in 2011 counted 102 eagles, with 33 in the Quabbin Reservoir area alone!

1. Forests: From the fire dependent ecosystems of our coasts, to the vast woodlands of the Berkshires, our forests are coming back. In 1850, just 30 percent of Massachusetts was forested. Today, forests cover 60 percent of our landscape and support myriad species, from song birds and salamanders to bear, moose and bobcat. In recent decades, we’ve seen the impact of  roads and development that fragment our forests, and the recent State of Nature report reveals a lack of old growth habitats. But with careful decisions and time, our forests can continue their amazing recovery, providing habitat, clean water and recreational opportunities for generations to come.

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