New Wildlife Sanctuary at Religious Shrine
A new wildlife sanctuary was recently created in southeastern Massachusetts thanks to the generosity of the La Salette community and a strong collaboration among local officials and conservation leaders. 117 acres of forest, wetlands and field at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette are now permanently dedicated to conservation.
The partners - the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, Massachusetts Audubon, the Attleboro Land Trust, and the City of Attleboro - began meeting in 2006 to explore protecting the property. They created a plan that would both legally protect the land and provide for its long-term stewardship. The property is now permanently protected by a conservation restriction held by the Attleboro Land Trust and the City of Attleboro. Mass Audubon will manage this diverse landscape as a publicly accessible wildlife sanctuary to be known as Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary at La Salette.
The property contains upland oak woods, red maple swamps, streams, vernal pools, a field and a pond, and was ranked high by the state as a conservation priority.
"Once it’s gone, we don’t get it back"
The La Salette community, part of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, a Catholic order, was moved to protect this land as an extension of their faith and as a tangible expression of their commitment, in the words of their Provincial Chapter, “to conserve the planet’s resources and protect the integrity of creation.”
Father Roger Plante, M.S., a leader of the effort, believes that preserving the natural beauty of the land will keep the space sacred and enhance the ministry of the Shrine. “Nature can be a transformative experience through a contemplative walk,” he says. “People like to have a bold vision of the Almighty speaking to them, but the tiniest grain of sand, flower or insect can put you in touch with God.”
Father Ron Beauchemin, M.S., Superior of the Attleboro La Salette Shrine, goes on to note that “we in the U.S. are particularly blessed with enormous areas of woodland that other countries can only dream about. Greenery is needed for our own health and wellbeing. When we reconcile with nature, we respect and protect it, leading to a better quality of life that we hope to enjoy. We bemoan that our Amazon rainforests are being destroyed and yet we have forests here that need protection. Once it’s gone, we don’t get it back. It’s important to have the wisdom to preserve it before we lose it.”
For Mass Audubon, the opportunity to protect such important habitat and make it accessible to the public for passive recreation and nature education, in concert with such diverse but like-minded partners, was irresistible. “This is a great example of how organizations with a common vision can work together to create something of lasting public and environmental benefit,” says Mass Audubon President Laura Johnson.
The partners were introduced to each other by the Religious Lands Conservancy, a joint program of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition and the Crystal Spring Center for Earth Learning (a project of the Dominican Sisters of Peace). The Conservancy works to bring together religious communities and land conservationists to preserve properties that both groups value for their natural, scenic and ecological value.
Mass Audubon is working with other religious communities on conservation projects of mutual interest. This includes a major partnership with the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center, the Wareham Land Trust and the Town of Wareham. When finalized, that project will protect 115 acres of the Center’s property on Great Neck in Wareham, which includes extensive frontage on Buzzards Bay.
“In recent years, religious environmental ethics, eco-theology, and eco-justice have won increasingly broad acceptance in religious communities,” notes Mass Audubon’s Director of Land Protection Bob Wilber. “Increasingly, land conservationists seeking to ‘protect land’ are discovering extensive shared values with religious communities seeking to ‘preserve God’s creation.’ The recognition of these common values provides important new opportunities for communication and partnership.”
Photo courtesy of Mass Audubon