land lover

A Lawyer for the Land

Preserving parcels as a land conservation specialist
by Elizabeth Redden ’05
katherine buttolph ’74
Land Conservationist
Katherine Buttolph '74
courtesy of katherine buttolph ’74
“Working in this field makes me feel as if I can make a difference somehow,” says Katherine Buttolph ’74, a land conservationist for the Massachusetts Audubon Society. “Connected preserved land helps wildlife adapt to climate change and provides safe corridors for their movement.”
For her second act in her legal career, Katherine Buttolph ’74 found a niche in conservation.

“I’m considered the project manager — that’s a good term for what a land-protection specialist does,” says Buttolph, who’s worked for the Massachusetts Audubon Society since 2016.

Buttolph talks to the experts — surveyors, appraisers, and title attorneys — who are part of the process of a real estate transaction for land conservation. “That also includes the scientists who know the nitty-gritty about a particular parcel, the wetlands, the soils, and plants, and why that property is worthy of conservation,” she says. “It’s basically herding a lot of cats and trying to put together all the facts about a property.”

Buttolph typically works on eight to 12 properties at once, at all different stages in the (potential) protection process.

In one project in Sheffield, in the southwest corner of Massachusetts, she worked with multiple landowners, one of whom represented 16 different heirs of the original landowners.

“That made it interesting and challenging,” she says. “It’s also a rich parcel with unusual geology and soils. That particular sanctuary has more than 50 species of butterflies in the spring.”

Another project, the Greater Gales Brook Conservation Project, preserved 12 different parcels, more than 700 total acres, in Warwick, Mass.

“It’s a beautiful town with many streams and big boulders, an interesting, varied landscape,” she says. “There’s a lot of state forest and protected land in Warwick and we were able to fill in some of the gaps.”

Buttolph’s office is located in the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, a wildflower-rich preserve in Easthampton, Mass., with a nature preschool on-site. Her grandchildren, who live near Boston, attend day camp there in the summer.

Before moving into land preservation, Buttolph was a lawyer in Princeton University’s general counsel office for 14 years.

“Why would I leave a job at Princeton to do this work? Mainly because it seems really important and it has tangible results,” says Buttolph, who studied Russian language and literature at Swarthmore.

“It can be very depressing, the whole idea of climate change, but so many people are doing positive things, and working in this field makes me feel as if I can make a difference somehow.”

Plus, it comes with some obvious perks.

“Part of my job is to go out and walk in the woods and look at property,” she says. “It’s nice to have that as one of your job duties.”