Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Saving the largest open space in Newton with science and education

Posted by Richard B. Primack

Webster Woods is the largest open space in Newton, occupying most of the land between Chestnut Hill and Newton Center, and part of it is now under threat from development by Boston College. Recently I have highlighted the educational and scientific value of Webster Woods in an article in the Newton Tab and in public walks, one of which included Newton’s mayor Setti Warren.

Richard Primack explains the value of the woods to Newton Mayor Setti Warren, city officials, and the public

Webster Woods represents an important regional educational resource that is readily accessible by public transportation. Each year, hundreds of students from Boston College and Boston University come here to learn basic ecological principles and bird- and plant-identification skills. Conservation students around the world read about Webster Woods, which I use to illustrate key principles in my conservation textbooks, such as how habit fragmentation by roads affects animal populations.

The pink lady's slipper orchid is a beautiful wildflower found in the Woods

Webster Woods has also inspired and hosted scientific research. For example, during the 1980s we investigated pink lady’s slipper orchids, a favorite flower of many New Englanders, to determine if there is a cost to reproduction. In the 1990s we tested methods to restore native wildflower populations, involving hundreds of volunteers, including children and teachers, planting wildflowers. The project was covered in The New York Times and continues to inform plant restoration ecology. My students and I have recently been investigating how global climate change is affecting trees and shrubs in these woods.

In the coming decades, I hope we will continue to protect Webster Woods as a place to do science and to encourage budding biologists and scientists, and as a place to simply walk and enjoy nature. I think the next generation deserves that same privilege— we owe it to them.

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