Protecting Our Pollinators Statewide

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources recently released their Pollinator Protection Plan to address to some of the threats facing species like bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Pollinator populations have been on the decline due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change.

The Plan released by the state incorporates many suggestions Mass Audubon made during the draft Plan’s public review process, including an increased focus on wild pollinators (vs. only managed hives used in agriculture) and habitat management.

Photo credit: Albert Herring

It also includes Best Management Practices for groups from beekeepers to farmers to homeowners and gardeners, all of whom can take steps to minimize impacts to pollinators and encourage their populations to thrive.

In addition to the Pollinator Protection Plan, Mass Audubon supports proposed legislation that investigates methods for protecting and promoting pollinators’ health. Our goal now is to merge any legislative protection efforts with ensuring that the Plan guidelines are put into place effectively.

For more on protecting pollinators, see our previous blog post.

Speak Up in Support of Offshore Wind!

Last year, Mass Audubon joined forces with National Wildlife Federation and other environmental organizations to ensure that a major new state energy law included a provision requiring the Commonwealth to purchase 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind over the next decade – enough energy to power over half a million homes.

This week, the state’s utilities sent a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to state energy regulators, asking them to approve a bid process for companies vying for offshore wind contracts off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Mass Audubon is currently preparing comments to send to the Baker Administration in support of this historic process. We also participated in the review process for the offshore wind leasing area, in addition to serving on the state’s Offshore Wind Habitat Working Group. You can read our detailed comments on each step (Request for Interest; Call for Information; Environmental Assessment; and Proposed Sale Notice) in the federal offshore wind lease sale.

Photo credit: Kim Hansen

We need offshore wind to combat climate change, which remains the single largest threat to people and wildlife both in Massachusetts and worldwide. It’s time to turn Massachusetts’ commitment into a reality. The Baker Administration needs to hear from thousands of Commonwealth residents calling for large-scale, responsibly-sited offshore wind power to replace fossil fuel-fired power plants and put Massachusetts on track toward a clean energy future. Please let them know that you support offshore wind for Massachusetts by adding your name to this message from our environmental partners!

Update on CPA Trust Fund Distribution

When Massachusetts cities and towns vote to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA), they become eligible for state matching grants that help fund CPA projects. 172 cities and towns – nearly half of all the cities and towns in Massachusetts – have adopted CPA and collectively raised $1.75 billion dollars for community preservation. Over 9,000 CPA projects have been completed to date, including the protection of 26,000 acres of open space and preservation of 4,400 historic resources.

The Department of Revenue released its annual budget memo to municipalities last week, and it includes an estimate of a 15% funding match (based on what communities levy through surcharges on property taxes) for the first round of FY2018 CPA Trust Fund distribution. Cities and towns that adopted a surcharge of 3% will receive additional funding in rounds two and three.

Unfortunately, this 15% estimate does not include Boston Springfield, Holyoke, Pittsfield and all other cities and towns that recently adopted CPA, as they won’t receive their first match until the fall of 2018. So, unless the legislature acts to support the CPA Trust Fund, the match will take another big drop next year. Mass Audubon continues to advocate in support of An Act to Sustain Community Preservation Revenue, which would adjust the recording fees at the Registries of Deeds to provide a higher match to all 172 CPA communities.

Center Hill Preserve, a 78-acre property in Plymouth, was Massachusetts’ top preservation priority in 2006 when it came on the market. CPA funds helped protect it.

Getting the Lead Out of the Great Outdoors

Lead Bullet Ban Overturned

Newly appointed Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently overturned a ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle in all national parks and wildlife refuges. The ban had been implemented on the Obama administration’s last full day in office as part of a nearly decade-long effort, but was delayed due to strong opposition by gun and sportsmen’s organizations.

Despite widespread acceptance of a nationwide restriction on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl in 1991, federal efforts to curb the use of lead ammunition for hunting have been largely opposed.

Opponents of the ban cite the added expense of lead bullet alternatives as one of the main rationales for opposing the ban, and claim that evidence of significant effects on wildlife populations from the use of lead bullets is lacking.

Those in favor of the ban argue that inexpensive alternatives are available and affordable, and that their use has long been justified by extensive documentation of lead poisoning from ammunition sources as a well-established cause of mortality in many birds of prey both domestically and globally.

This x-ray of a condor that died from lead poisoning shows lead fragments in its digestive tract.
Photo credit: National Park Service

Lead Risks on the Rise

Lead is a toxic metal, an environmental contaminant, and a nerve poison; even trace amounts are harmful to both wildlife and humans, especially to children Lead is also ubiquitous, found in peeling window paint, leaching from corroded pipes, and embedded in the soils of suburban backyards and rural forests. Although its use has been largely discontinued in paints, pesticides, and gasoline, it is still used to manufacture lead bullets, fishing sinkers, and tackle.

Concerns about lead contamination in wildlife cannot be easily dismissed. Scavenging and predatory birds and mammals typically ingest lead shot or bullets by consuming either the remnants of carcasses left behind by hunters, or prey animals which have themselves ingested gunshot or carry stray lead pellets in their flesh. According to one USGS scientist, “the magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons is daunting.”

Lead from hunting and fishing creates a hazard for humans as well. Over time, spent or lost lead ammunition and fishing tackle can dissolve into water bodies or leach into soils, creating a toxic source of non-point pollution for surface and groundwater. Studies have also found direct lead exposure risk from the consumption of lead metal fragments in contaminated meat at levels with implications for those regularly consuming venison or other wild game.

This x-ray of a mule deer shows hundreds of lead bullet fragments that were spread through the neck after it was shot with a lead rifle bullet.

According to medical experts, no amount of lead is safe, particularly in children; even small amounts are associated with increased risk of heart failure in adults and with loss of cognitive function in children. No environmental toxin has been as extensively studies as lead, and skepticism of its effects as part of the highly polarized lead ammunition ban debate compelled scientists to publish a consensus statement of scientists on associated health risks. This should raise alarm bells not only for those who enjoy hunting or fishing, but for those committed to the stewardship of nature protecting and public health.

State Bans

With concerns over lead on the rise, states are starting to limit the use of lead bullets or subsidize alternatives. California’s lead bullet ban stems from the well-established impacts of lead-contaminated prey on the condor, an endangered species native to the state. Massachusetts recently prohibited the use of lead bullets at the Mass Military Reservation on Cape Cod to protect a local water resource, and prohibited statewide the use of lead sinkers for fishing. Arizona has taken a less regulatory approach by offering lead-free alternatives to hunters at no cost.

Events like the recent water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan often cast a brief spotlight on the issue of lead exposure in the U.S., but the problem is far more systemic and widespread than is generally known, often spanning generations and correlating closely with poverty rates. One recent investigation found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates 2-4 times higher than those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. Decisive and immediate action is needed to remediate risk exposure in the U.S., and steps must be taken to protect both wildlife and humans.

All Roads Lead to Rome, Again?

Lead poisoning was documented as far back as ancient Roman times, where it was used to make water pipes, household goods, and to sweeten food and wine. Some historians hypothesized that chronic lead toxicity eventually led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, arguably one of the most powerful in human history. Today, health experts agree on the urgency of ending what is now known to be a major source of lead for animals and humans: spent lead bullets and shotgun pellets.

The Center for Disease Control and various states have taken steps to warn the public about the risks posed by spent lead ammunition, but few regulations actually restrict or ban its use. A 2013 peer-reviewed study on the availability, price, and effectiveness of lead-free hunting rifle ammunition found that there is no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead –free and lead-core ammunition.

Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine is an example of a federally-owned land where hunting is allowed in certain areas. Photo credit: Department of the Interior

It is unlikely that lead will have such catastrophic effects on human populations today as compared with the people of Ancient Rome, but lead does reap significant chronic health impacts on those individuals exposed to it. Switching to lead-free ammunition and fishing gear would have immediate benefits to both wildlife and the ten million hunters and their families who enjoy the outdoors. State and federal policy makers should more aggressively pursue this issue in the interest of protecting the health of people and wildlife through both legislation and education.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director.

March for Science a Success!

The March for Science on Boston Common this past Saturday was a huge success! Mass Audubon staff and members joined thousands of other attendees in support of science at this event that featured speakers, informational tables, and activities for kids.

The Boston rally was one of more than 600 held around the world on Saturday, according to The Boston Globe. Its purpose was to gather citizens and organizations together to send a message about the importance science plays in our lives. As a nonprofit that is dedicated to protecting the nature of Massachusetts, Mass Audubon values the role of science in guiding conservation action and driving environmental policy.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director Karen Heymann at the rally with her son.

The tone of the event was focused on motivating the crowd to engage in advocacy, with lots of pro-science, pro-environment, pro-EPA signs popping up throughout the crowd. Several speakers rallied the crowd, including former US EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

Thanks to all those who came to the event and spoke up for science!

A few more photos from the rally:

Some of the Mass Audubon staff and members that attended the event

Congressman McGovern Visits Broad Meadow Brook

Congressman James McGovern joined Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton and representatives of the Massachusetts conservation community this past weekend at our Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester. The event, organized by Broad Meadow Brook staff, was an opportunity for attendees to hear from the congressman about what’s been going on in Washington on the environmental front and what actions they can take at the federal, state, and local level.

Congressman McGovern speaks to a full house and answers constituent questions.

Congressman McGovern stressed that environmental policy should be a bi-partisan issue since we all have shared goals of clean water, clean air, and healthy communities with appealing green spaces. He encouraged attendees to stay engaged and participate in grassroots advocacy, as well as the importance of challenging “fake news” that discredits science. He also noted that Congress was not immune to public persuasion and reassured constituents that their calls, letters, and emails help to shape what happens both in Washington and in Worcester. Learn more about the Congressman’s visit in this Worcester Telegram and Gazette article about the event.

From L-R: Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke, Congressman McGovern, Broad Meadow Brook Sanctuary Director Deb Cary, Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton

A Cleaner Housatonic River

Mass Audubon has submitted two court documents in support of the responsible cleanup of the Housatonic River.

For several decades through the 1970s, General Electric (GE) manufactured and serviced electrical transformers containing toxic and persistent PCB chemicals. During those years, GE polluted the Housatonic River and surrounding lands over several decades with hundreds of tons of PCBs, which pose threats to human health and wildlife. Efforts to mitigate this environmental disaster have been ongoing since the 1980s, and the “Rest of River” (an administrative term designating the river below Pittsfield) cleanup under this permit will take an estimated 13 years.  Even after the cleanup is completed, PCBs will remain present throughout extensive lands along and near the river. The chemicals will persist for many decades, likely even hundreds of years.

Mass Audubon’s Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

The Housatonic River Valley features tremendous ecological, scenic, tourism, and community values and it is vital that these be protected and restored. As a directly impacted landowner—our Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the river in Pittsfield—Mass Audubon has been closely engaged in the planning process for the cleanup for many years. Canoe Meadows is located at the head of the “Rest of River,” where the methods for the cleanup will first be applied, and this sanctuary contains habitat that supports numerous rare and common species of plants and animals.

Mass Audubon submitted two Amicus Briefs – one of our own, and one in partnership with the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee – supporting a strong Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit governing the implementation of this crucial environmental cleanup project. This includes a requirement for off-site disposal of PCBs at a licensed, hazardous waste facility, and the dredging of Woods Pond in Lenox, where PCBs have settled for generations behind a dam on the river. We also support the permit requirements for compliance with the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, as cleanup activities will impact habitats of several state-listed rare plants and animals.

Housatonic River. Photo credit: mass.gov

We’ve urged that the final EPA permit make it clear that GE will be responsible in perpetuity for managing the persistent environmental contamination that will remain even after the cleanup, and that affected communities and landowners have input into the cleanup plan.

Read our full position statement on the Housatonic PCB cleanup.

A Chilling Effect on Climate Change Policies

Yesterday, President Trump passed an Executive Order that essentially overturns the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which set standards for reducing US greenhouse gas emissions. The CPP would have closed hundreds of emissions-heavy, coal-fired power plants and frozen construction of new plants, instead supporting cleaner and lower-polluting renewable energy sources. It also was a key strategy for reaching former President Obama’s goal to cut US emissions by about 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

While this Executive Order dealt a big blow to federal climate change policy, it cannot undo the progress made by the renewable energy industry over the past decade. According to ABC News, fewer than 75,000 coal mining jobs remain in the US. By comparison, there are more than 650,000 renewable energy jobs, a sign of the market-driven trend toward domestic energy that is clean, affordable, and reliable.

These favorable trends, however, are not enough. Continued reduction of emissions, and enforcement of these reductions by the Environmental Protection Agency, are crucial to our partnership in the Paris climate agreement and our responsibility to serve as a leader internationally on climate action.

Coal-fired power plants release carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

President Trump claims that his environmental interests lie in ensuring “clean air” and “crystal clean water” for the US. Increasing our coal production and the pollution that comes with it is in absolute opposition to that goal.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has spoken out against the decision, saying her office will be opposing President Trump’s latest action in court. Mass Audubon will stand with her.

You can add your support too.

Call Attorney General Healey’s office at (617) 727-2200 and say: I support the Attorney General’s pledge to oppose President Trump’s actions against the Clean Power Plan in court. Thank you for your leadership and commitment to environmental protection.

Note: You can just say “Maura Healey” or “Attorney General” if you’re prompted to say the name or extension of the party you’d like to speak with.

Read more about President Trump’s decision, including quotes from AG Healey and Mass Audubon’s Jack Clarke, in this Boston Globe article.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Is That a Bee in Your Beer?

Let’s raise a pint to the honeybee, without which early man would not have discovered the first fermented honey beverages, leading to the development of the modern beers we enjoy today. In fact, alcoholic drinks made from honey were likely enjoyed long before the discovery of beer and wine, as the natural fermentation of a simple mixture of honey and water produces enough alcohol to generate good cheer.

Civilization has enjoyed honey’s many uses for thousands of years, but at no time in history have honeybee populations been as endangered as they are today. Multiple threats including pesticide exposure, loss of habitat, and the presence of pests known as varroa mites, are resulting in the loss of entire colonies of honeybees, a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Fortunately, scientists have uncovered a potential solution for warding off mites; it turns out that one of the main ingredients in beer, known as hops beta acids (HBA) excels at killing mites without harming bees or humans. In 2015 the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of potassium salts of HBA for repelling varroa mites. Because humans have long consumed HBAs in beer and in preserved meat, they are considered to be safe for use in beehives.

Besides continuing to drink beer in the hopes of supporting new and important scientific discoveries, there are other actions you can take to help protect bees, such as promoting bee habitat and reducing the use of a toxic pesticide known to be harmful to bees.

Call your state legislators today (you can look yours up here) and ask them to support our priority pollinator protection bill! You can let them know that pollinators like bees, as well as bats, birds, and butterflies, are experiencing rapid population declines, and this bill (SB451 and HD3461) would establish a commission to investigate solutions to protect and promote pollinators’ health and habitat. You can also let them know you support bill HB2113, which would regulate the spraying of pesticides containing pollinator-harming neonicotinoids on certain agricultural land.

Thank you for your advocacy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director

2015-2016 Legislative Report Card Released

This week we released the twenty-eighth edition of our Legislative Report Card, in which we score state legislators based on their environmental roll call votes.  These roll calls are an objective way to evaluate Massachusetts legislators based on how they vote on Mass Audubon’s priority bills and funding line items.

During the 2015-2016 legislative session, the House voted on 14 of our priority environmental roll calls (out of a total 559 roll calls). The Senate voted on 11 of our priority environmental roll calls (out of a total 681 roll calls). A legislator’s score does not represent an endorsement, or lack thereof, by Mass Audubon.

Mass Audubon’s 2015-2016 Legislative Report Card scores state legislators based on their environmental roll call votes. Photo credit: Tim Lenz

The votes we scored included a landmark energy bill requiring the procurement of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power, and our Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (CAMP) for climate change resilience, though the latter was ultimately stalled.

It remains one of Mass Audubon’s goals to encourage the legislature to engage in more floor debate on environmental legislation. Crucial decisions on environmental and energy policy should not be made during back-room meetings, but through open discussion on the House and Senate floors. This is particularly important in the House, where hardly any roll calls on our priority legislation besides budget amendments and overrides took place.

We will continue to advocate for bolder, more progressive environmental bills during the current legislative session. Massachusetts must remain a committed leader on issues like climate change and clean energy now more than ever

You can see the latest Legislative Report Cards, along with archives going back to 2000,  at:  www.massaudubon.org/advocacy/reportcard.