SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
While I appreciate restoration ecologist Dick Johnson’s forthright manner in stepping up to accept responsibility, I find that I am not at all reassured by the comments made by Sheriff’s Meadow board members in the Gazette May 23 edition in response to recent incidents of large-scale plant removal from two of their preserves.
There was talk of determining the “real value of those trees” and arrangements that have allowed contractors to take unidentified species of “marketable value” in their business in return for mowing and clearing. It strikes me as simply wrong headed to apply such terms as “determining value” and “marketability” of plants and trees in relation to protected conservation land. Remarks such as these missed the point that it is not a matter of keeping better track of what and how much plant material leaves sanctuary property, or whether or not Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation through barter or cash has been properly compensated, but whether it is right and proper that any amount of plants or habitat should leave the preserves at all. Certainly the bottom line is that none of this work should have happened in priority habitat without a permit and approved management plan by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and no one else should walk away from this situation and ever be able to say again: “Oh. I didn’t know this was wrong, or even illegal.”
Having sat on a number of sandplain restoration meetings over the years, I understand the importance of sandplain grassland ecosystems, but the discussion was always about protecting and managing the landscape where it occurred, not to put it on trailers and truck it up to the north shore terminal moraine where it does not grow. Additionally, the Gazette article reported that the Ziff property itself falls within the priority habitat map but did not specify what priority habitat or species were displaced at the Ziff property for the transplanted sandplain.
Initially, I was very angry when I heard about what was being allowed to occur on these preserves, but when I went out to Priscilla Hancock Meadow on an evening last week, I realized that most of what I was feeling was sadness that the same greed, the same “I want it right now” attitude that has infected most aspects of Island life has now managed to insert itself into the equation of land management of our nature preserves.
DISREGARD FOR THE LAND
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Had I not seen the decimation of the Caroline Tuthill Preserve with my own eyes, I would not have believed it could have happened. Never in my educational and conservation career have I seen such a total ignorance and disregard for how a natural ecosystem works.
I can only hope that the tone of this letter will help to insure that such a folly will never again happen on public conservation land.
August Ben David 2nd
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
This spring a small group of people destroyed a protected conservation area, yet no one has been held accountable. Someone hijacked the beauty from the Caroline Tuthill Preserve, a place the Tuthill family had left in trust for the use and enjoyment of the public. The hijackers ripped the beauty out of the preserve. They dug it up, wrapped it up, hoisted it onto giant trucks and drove it away, to another place where the public can no longer see it. In place of beauty, the despoilers left patches of dirt.
What was the Tuthill Preserve like? An online guide book (Trails.com) said the preserve was “The perfect answer to the question, ‘Why preserve open space?’ ” Located in Edgartown, “sandwiched between busy highways and housing developments the . . . preserve offers a tranquil, relaxing place to enjoy nature.”
Gus Ben David, a man who holds nature in his heart, simply said, in the past tense: “It was beautiful. It was just so beautiful.”
What happened at the Caroline Tuthill preserve is not a private matter. It was a public wrong which needs to be addressed by the law. The perpetrators violated a web of trust running from the Tuthill family, to the public, through the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. They trampled the legally binding intentions of the Tuthill family. No one had the right to give, or barter, or sell the landscape that the Tuthills had preserved through their gift. Surely no one could have thought it lawful to drive earth moving equipment and heavy trucks onto this preserve to take the beauty the Tuthills had given to the public. It is inconceivable to those looking at what these people left behind that they did not know they were doing wrong.
Who will protect this Tuthill gift? Who will protect the generosity and thoughtfulness of an earlier generation? Who will protect the public? Who will investigate this obvious wrong and find out who did what? If Steve Crampton, president of Sheriff’s Meadow, a fine and honorable man, wants, as he said in his published letter, to avoid “unwarranted implications” about the staff of Sheriff’s Meadow, then he needs to help us learn exactly what happened and who is responsible. For the sake of his organization and to fulfill his duty to the donors and the public, Mr. Crampton should ask the appropriate legal authorities to conduct a thorough investigation. Someone is responsible. Someone should be held accountable.
The Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, like all nonprofits, operates solely for the benefit of the public. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office is responsible for protecting the public’s interest in the assets of nonprofit organizations. The board of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation should promptly request an investigation by the attorney general. If they do not, the attorney general has the power and the duty to initiate an investigation and she should do so.
A wise man said, “Without law, everything becomes a matter of arbitrary power . . .”
If the law is not invoked then we are left with only a patch of dirt and a mess of suspicion, speculation, anger and empty rhetoric. We need to know what happened.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I am angry beyond words at what is happening to our Island. And by what God-given right does Dirk Ziff have to come here and destroy it? And where is the integrity of the Island and Cape contractors and the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation to allow this to happen. I’ll tell you why it was allowed to happen: the almighty buck. Mr. Ziff is reportedly a billionaire and what difference does it make to him that he may be forced to restore these properties to their original condition, which will take years — and in the meantime because of his impatience to have an instantly landscaped piece of property, the beautiful areas that he has destroyed will never be the same. It makes me sick.
When are the organizations that we have voted for and entrusted to take care of our Island going to have the backbone to say no to money and power?
What follow is an edited collection of reader feedbacks from the Gazette Web site.
The Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation is above any meaningful criticism given their long-term approach and consistent and thoughtful management.
This situation is mostly an oversight that will be remedied. Without exception most Vineyard landscapers do the right thing and are able to remedy most errors. Within five years I have no doubt that there will be a net gain — especially for native species.
Flowery Branch, Ga.
To build near wetlands requires painstaking permitting. To produce renewable energy by windmills between the Vineyard and the Cape has, so far, required five years of permitting, public hearings and public comment. But for private benefit, to strip a protected meadow requires only a “whenever you are ready”?
How is it “saving plants” (Mr. Hoff’s words) to uproot them from their habitats and put them through the trauma of transplant shock? The billionaire barons should instead buy seeds to landscape their properties and exercise the patience required to watch them grow. Strip-mining the sanctuaries is not the solution.
I just checked the Sheriff’s Meadow Web site and learned that it is up to the donors of properties whether or not the public is granted access to the properties. Were the donors consulted about this stripping? And if, as the article implies, Mr. Ziff should make a large donation to Sherriff’s Meadow will he be able to deduct it on his taxes? Because if so, I would like to trade tax-deductible donations for my local native landscaping materials. It will also help bypass all those overhead costs that the garden centers and landscapers have such as rent and ferry freight.