In a recent analysis of the environmental threats facing Martha’s Vineyard, The Nature Conservancy concluded, unsurprisingly, that development – the conversion of natural areas into places used mainly by humans – remains the Island’s biggest ecological threat. It isn’t just that development results in loss of habitat: houses and businesses, however necessary they are to the Vineyard’s human community, make most other ecological threats even worse. Roads associated with development exposes small animals to the risk of being run over (while other critters, like salamanders, avoid crossing pavement at all and so can be cut off by roads from resources they need). Subdivisions can introduce invasive plants into formerly pristine natural habitat. Lawn fertilizers and residential septic systems degrade Island water quality.

But houses aren’t going to go away. And hey, we live here too: humans always have been, and should be, among the inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard. So we reasoned like this: if development is the problem, and you can’t make it go away, then you need to change what development looks like. What if we started to think of residential areas not as a threat, but rather as part of the solution?

And so the Vineyard Habitat Network was born. By combining The Nature Conservancy's expertise in wildlife science and ecology with the good intentions of scores, or hundreds or even thousands of Vineyard property owners, we’ll work to reduce the negative impacts of development. And we’ll go even further: we’ll guide interested landowners in creating new resources for wildlife and creating new populations of plants and animals.

Thanks in part to generous support by an anonymous donor, participation in the Vineyard Habitat Network is free. And it comes with no obligations. All we’re asking for is a chance to talk with you about your landscaping and wildlife interests, visit and assess your property and its surroundings, and offer some suggestions for property management, plantings, or other measures you can take to make your yard more friendly to wildlife. You can implement any, all, or none of our suggestions, and you can do so at your own pace. And if you have questions about what we suggest, or about Vineyard wildlife or ecology in general, we’re here to try to answer them.

Nobody wants to harm the environment. Most practices that do ecological harm result from habit, not malice. The Vineyard Habitat Network exists to support and inspire Islanders who are willing to think about the choices they make, and to seek ways to live more lightly on the land. To learn more, visit our website or call the program’s manager, Brian Lawlor, at (508) 693-6287, extension 10.

More artciles are available on the Habitat Network page.