Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Devens arrival seeks to save older one

New Devens arrival seeks to save older one
By Kate Augusto
Globe Correspondent / July 20, 2008

In a green version of good corporate citizenship, employees of the yet-to-be opened Bristol-Myers Squibb plant in Devens are donating their time to protecting and restoring the habitat of the Blanding's turtle, a threatened species in the area.

The pharmaceutical company's efforts to preserve wildlife, which have included restoring a fence to keep the turtles safe from traffic, are somewhat uncommon in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Fish and Game, which is partnering with Bristol-Myers Squibb on the project. However, some say the concept of businesses giving back to the community is well established.

"I don't think it's unique that companies are doing good things," said Robert Rio, a senior vice president at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a Boston-based business lobbying group. "Andrew Carnegie built libraries and halls. It's kind of the same thing as that, but environmental stuff got bigger, so you're seeing the switchover."

Dan Noberini, Bristol-Myers Squibb's associate director of environment, health and safety at the Devens facility, said he set the partnership in motion before the company broke ground in 2007. Bristol-Myers Squibb is based in New York City, with locations internationally.

Noberini said he reached out to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Fish and Game to see what the need was in the area, as part of a global Bristol-Myers Squibb commitment to help endangered and threatened species.

They decided to focus on the Blanding's turtle, a medium-sized, semiaquatic species distinguished by its bright yellow chin and throat, dark olive color with irregular yellow spots, and a highly domed and smooth carapace.

The species travels long distances during its active season, does not reproduce until late in life, and has low nest survival - all of which contribute to it being a threatened species. Its habitat in Devens was divided by a main road, Noberini said. This left the turtles susceptible to getting hit by traffic when they crossed the street, said Lori Erb, a turtle conservation biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

"People told me about some Blanding's turtles that were being hit in upwards of eight per year, which is a lot, by cars on this one particular stretch of road," said Erb, who would not disclose the exact location because of poachers potentially targeting the creature.

The state Highway Department and the Department of Fish and Game then teamed up to build a chain-link fence to keep the turtles in, but holes in the bottoms still allowed them to escape. Patching these holes with chicken wire became the first task that about 15 Bristol-Myers Squibb employees, along with their partners and other volunteers, completed in early April, Noberini said.

The fence has since proven successful. Four turtles were hit by cars this year, none of which were Blanding's, compared with 43 turtles last year, five of which were Blanding's, Erb said.

Erb said the well-being of this species is important, as it's a good indicator of the well-being of the environment. "They're a top predator in the system. It's important to keep them in because you never know what sort of trickle-down effects might occur in the system if you take out a keystone species," she said. Blanding's turtles eat plants, such as coontail and duckweed, as well as animals, such as crayfish and earthworms.

Noberini said even though the Devens facility won't open until late 2009, Bristol-Myers Squibb employees have also engaged in other environmentally focused activities in the area, including a celebration on Earth Day to educate other company employees. In May, volunteers from the company also helped remove trees and brush to help create a better nesting habitat for the turtles.

In September, they will help restore nesting areas at a local hiking trail. Company officials also will meet twice a year with interested parties to make sure their resources go to the right place, Noberini said.

He said he believes these types of public-private partnerships may become more and more common.

"I think it's a wave of the future," he said. "A lot of people are getting into the environmental sustainability and green movement, and this is really an extension of that."

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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