Category: Stewardship

Eternally Green: Reintroducing the Wolves of the Forest Floor to Mount Auburn Cemetery

April 3, 2018

This article was written by ecologist, Brooks Mathewson

This spring my daughters and I tapped our Sugar Maple in the back yard. While standing over the boiling sap it occurred to me that just as forty ounces of maple sap is reduced to one ounce of maple syrup, the dozens of proposed solutions to climate change can be similarly reduced to three major strategies. The first two usually garner the most attention – consume less and produce energy in a cleaner way. However, there is a third critical part of the equation, although often overlooked, that must also be addressed. This is to sequester the excess carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere.

More carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere now than at any point in the last two to four million years. The last time carbon dioxide levels were above 400 parts per million, as they are today, sea levels were 100 feet higher and crocodiles lived in Greenland. Even if we were to completely end all carbon emissions tomorrow, we will still be left with a major problem.

Carbon can be drawn out of the atmosphere through the conservation of healthy forests. Fifteen percent of the carbon emitted by humans in the United States is absorbed by forests. Two-thirds of this carbon is stored in the soil. If we are to have healthy, carbon absorbing forests, soil health is essential. Looking down at our feet may not be such a bad idea after all.

Healthy ecosystems need top-level predators, and in this region the most important top-level predator of the forest floor is the diminutive eastern red-backed salamander. These small, slender amphibians are fully terrestrial, breeding in moist locations under rocks and logs. Liberation from the stereotypical amphibian life cycle constraints has enabled red-backs to be widely distributed throughout the forest as opposed to within a narrow range of territory in close proximity to a wetland. In fact, red-backs are the most abundant vertebrate in the forest, with a biomass equivalent to twice that of all the breeding birds. By preying on soil invertebrates that shred leaves, red-backs slow down the rate at which leaf litter decomposes, immobilizing more carbon to be stored in the soil.

Surprisingly, extensive searches at Mount Auburn from 2013 to 2015 did not produce any observations of red-backed salamanders. One reason for their absence may be that the species was unable to survive through the period in the early 1900s when the Cemetery was more open with less extensive tree cover. Today, however, major ecological restoration efforts in the forest at Consecration Dell make this area of Mount Auburn an ideal spot to reintroduce a species that undoubtedly was present in the past.After receiving permission from the State of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Watertown Conservation Commission, thirty-one eastern red-backed salamanders were reintroduced in the fall of 2017 to the upland woods in Consecration Dell. This spring another fifty red-backs will join them. Rough-cut, untreated, boards have been set out as habitat around the paths surrounding the Dell Pond. Over the course of year I will monitor these cover boards to assess the status of the reintroduced population of salamanders. It is our hope that red-backs will begin to successfully breed and join the other species of amphibians successfully reintroduced to Mount Auburn Cemetery by Dr. Joe Martinez in past years including American Toad, Spring Peepers, and Gray Tree Frog.

Sweet Auburn Magazine

January 16, 2018

Published biannually, Sweet Auburn is an exploration and celebration of the many facets of Mount Auburn Cemetery. Topics covered in the magazine include art, architecture, biography, burial and commemoration, conservation, design, ecology, education, history, horticulture , genealogy, preservation, and wildlife. (more…)

Eternally Green: Mount Auburn Security Team Wins the 2017 Mount Auburn Cemetery Green Teamwork Prize

January 9, 2018

The Green Teamwork Prize recognizes sustainability in collaborative work at Mount Auburn.  The basic premise for the prize is to acknowledge our staff who are working together on short-term special projects, or long-term tasks, that incorporate sustainability into the creation and implementation of their work.

In 2016, the Mount Auburn IT department won for their tremendous job coordinating, staffing, and promoting our annual electronic recycling event.  This year eight teams of staff were nominated, including groups as small as four staff and as large as fifteen.  The Education & Engagement Working Group reviewed every nomination on December 7th and voted for this year’s winner.  The winning team was announced at our annual Service Awards event on December 12, 2017.  The winners will receive a free lunch with Mount Auburn President Dave Barnett at a restaurant of their choosing.

Willie Torres, Alberto Parker, Andrew Rotch, and Jim Hynes make up the Mount Auburn Security team.  They are all hard working, dependable, and courteous.  The following reasons sum up why the security team was chosen for the 2017 Green Teamwork Prize:

Turf Protection Police – The security team politely enforces vehicle parking rules to protect new and existing turf areas.

Grounds Safety Team – Visitors and staff can depend on the security team to quickly respond to health and safety issues, as well as to conduct regular observational rounds to protect monuments, structures, floral tributes, garden spaces, waterbodies, and wildlife.

Trash and Recycling Agents – The security team never fails to stop and pickup waste anywhere on the grounds and deposit it in proper trash or recycling receptacles.

Nuisance Wildlife Defense Squad – The security team will operate remote control boats in our waterbodies and set out coyote replicas to ward off Canada Geese.  They also communicate with our Superintendent and staff from Taking Flight Goose Control to coordinate wild turkey control through the harassment and hazing of border collies.

Wildlife Photographers – Photographs by the security team have been incorporated into presentations by staff from many departments of Mount Auburn, including the iconic American toad photo by Andrew Rotch that visitors adore.

Educational Tour Guides – Alberto Parker leads bird walks and answers wildlife questions every year.

Biodiversity Research Assistants – The security team assists researchers with their gear, and also provides valuable insights regarding wildlife and the landscape of Mount Auburn that are important in the implementation of projects every year.

Stewardship Ambassadors – The security team answers visitor and lot owner questions and concerns and promotes our efforts to protect wildlife and habitat.  They are true ambassadors of Mount Auburn.

Thank you for all the great nominations this year and for all the hard work by staff to make Mount Auburn a safer, healthier, and more sustainable environment for all of our staff and visitors.  Congratulations to Willie, Alberto, Andrew, and Jim.  You are a great team!

Climate-Adaptive Emergent Zone Planting Project to Improve Aquatic Habitat Resiliency

November 28, 2017

Mount Auburn has three ponds and a vernal pool within its 175 acre, urban footprint. Each water body provides habitat important for wildlife health and success. Halcyon Lake provides breeding ground for the American Toad (Bufo americanus), which after being absent from the cemetery for more than three decades, has been successfully reintroduced. A healthy, breeding population of this native amphibian now exists at Mount Auburn. Auburn Lake supports a healthy population of the native Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina). Willow Pond provides excellent fishing ground for the native Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Lastly, the vernal pool at Consecration Dell provides breeding habitat for another native species, the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). Of course, habitat at each water body supports significantly more wildlife as well. Protection of habitat is an important piece of the cemetery’s institutional mission to be good stewards of the environment. (more…)