Action You Can Take This Week: CPA Trust Fund

Last month, the state Senate approved an amendment to the FY18 state budget that would increase the state match for Community Preservation Act (CPA) communities. Without immediate action to adjust the recording fees at the state’s Registries of Deeds, the CPA Trust Fund distribution for the 172 participating communities will plunge to an all-time low of approximately 11% of locally-raised revenues in 2018.

When CPA was signed into law by Governor Cellucci in 2000, it was heralded as a true partnership between the Commonwealth and local communities. Today however, a large gap has developed between the approximately $150 million invested annually by the 172 CPA cities and towns and the $26 million contributed by the state.  A nominal $25 adjustment in recording fees would increase the base CPA state match to approximately 32%, which is the historic average distribution over the last eight years.

A conference committee is now reconciling the House and Senate versions of the budget. Because the CPA amendment was only included in the Senate’s version of the budget, the House side of the conference committee must agree to keep it in the final version. We need to make sure this happens, and you can help!

Please call your state Representative and ask him/her to contact the offices of Speaker Robert DeLeo, Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, and the rest of the budget conference committee and encourage them to include the CPA Trust Fund increase in the final FY18 budget. You can let them know that increasing the Trust Fund will help advance land protection and sustainable development for communities across the Commonwealth.

Learn more about CPA and our Community Preservation Coalition.

The Intern Intel Report #1: Summer 2017 Edition

Hello, my name is Yaelle Sarid-Segal and I’m a new Conservation Policy Intern at Mass Audubon. I study Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Conservation with a minor in Sociology and Marine Science at Boston University. I’m particularly interested in the intersection between conservation and human rights along with poverty-driven poaching, so I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to learn more about the process of advocacy work and governmental affairs.

Prior to starting school, I interned at MASSPIRG while they advocated for the Bottle Bill, which unfortunately failed due to industry pressure. At university, I worked as a volunteer in a lab that studied carbon cycling and climate change’s effect on Eastern forests. I have volunteered in West Virginia in building affordable housing that aims to be sustainable while controlling costs. Trying to gain a greater understanding of human rights, I’ve worked for the past four years at AIDS Action Committee in Cambridge. This experience has exposed me to the inequities in healthcare experience by those living in poverty, particularly with a chronic illness; I’ve also learned about the complexities of the system related to affordable housing — the lack of availability, the high costs, and the resistance of legislators and communities in assuring that all people have a roof over their head. Seeing the work Mass Audubon does with the Community Preservation Coalition to utilize spaces to create affordable houses and parks that benefit the community is an important reminder that environmental preservation is directly related to poverty and health.

Yaelle Sarid-Segal

I look forward to the fall, where I will be part of a Marine Program through BU; not only will I be engaged in Coral Reef Restoration in Belize, but I will also take part in field studies that measure population statistics of threatened species off the Gulf of Maine, the physical evolution of the shoreline at Plum Island (part of the national Long Term Ecological Network), how nutrient loading from human activity impacts the biogeochemistry of the marine environment, and how urban development effects marine ecology.

After graduation, I hope to begin working on the relationship between modern slavery and environmental degradation, combining what I’ve learned to advocate for human rights in biodiversity hot spots. Over the course of this internship, I will write several blogs to document Mass Audubon’s work to strengthen environmental laws. I look forward to this experience, and I hope you too will learn about conservation legislation.

Yaelle Sarid-Segal is Mass Audubon’s Summer 2017 Conservation Policy intern.

Action You Can Take This Week: Regional Climate Centers

In the FY 2018 budget submitted to Congress, program funding for Regional Climate Centers (RCC) was reduced by 82%. This reduction would mean RCCs would be unable to collect weather and climate data or maintain an active website. Unless contract funding is restored by Congressional action, the RCCs will be forced to close all service operations on March 6, 2018.

Please contact your congressperson and urge them to help restore RCC funding! You can let them know that many organizations, including Mass Audubon, and municipalities rely heavily on RCCs’ data for climate change programming as well as mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Our closest RCC, the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University, helps determine how precipitation thresholds are changing in our region and provides monthly temperature maps.

These “Actions You Can Take This Week” are taken from our Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup e-newsletter. Sign up here!

The Intern Intel Report #2: Spring 2017 Edition

Hello again! This is Paige, Mass Audubon’s Conservation Policy Intern, writing to update you about all the exciting work I’ve been involved with here on Beacon Hill.

Pollinator Protection

One in every three bites of food we eat depends on pollinators, who contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy. Over the past few months, I compiled compiled research(pdf) on the policy actions of other states to protect pollinators such as butterflies, bees, beetles, and moths, which are suffering from global declines. Pollinator protection policies have been enacted in 18 states covering pollinator research, pesticides, habitat protection, awareness, or beekeeping; at least 26 states also have pollinator protection plans in place. Massachusetts has recently released its own pollinator protection plan, for which Mass Audubon submitted comments. Despite this positive development, there is still work to be done. Mass Audubon is supporting state legislationAn Act to protect pollinator habitat (S.451/H.2926), establishing a commission to improve pollinator health by increasing and enhancing native pollinator habitat, as well as other legislation to reduce pesticide use and establish official guidance for pollinator forage.

Wild lupine is native to Massachusetts and helps attract bees and butterflies. Photo credit: Aaron Carlson

Climate Change Adaptation

In April, I attended a meeting to discuss the Commonwealth’s newly launched Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program. Scientists estimate that Boston could experience 26 inches of sea level rise by 2050, resulting in $463 billion worth of property damage and serious harm to residents. The MVP program will help cities and towns become more resilient by identifying climate-related hazards, creating an action plan to reduce vulnerabilities, and capacity building.

Hurricane Sandy hitting the coast of Hull, MA. Photo credit: Aislinn Dewey

Mass Audubon co-chairs the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Coalition which is comprised of engineers, architects, planners, and environmental organizations, all concerned about the impacts of climate change on the Commonwealth. The coalition has also been focusing on passage of An Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change (S.472/H.2147), which would establish a planning process to address the impacts of climate change, and expand the technical assistance programs available to cities and towns. Given President Trump’s recent announcement that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, state efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change are more important now than ever.

Farewell for Now

This spring I attended meetings at the State House to advocate for increased funding for environmental agencies in the state budget, and land conservation programs such as the Community Preservation Act and the Conservation Land Tax Credit. I have learned so much over the past few months and thank Mass Audubon’s Advocacy Department for being so welcoming and inclusive and for guiding me through this wonderful experience! I will continue to help out in the office this summer, researching climate adaptation efforts across the U.S., among other assignments. I am currently exploring opportunities to work full-time in the field of environmental conservation and climate change.

Paige Dolci is Mass Audubon’s spring 2017 conservation policy intern.

 

Action You Can Take This Week: NOAA Funding

As we head into the first week of hurricane season, contact your Congressperson and tell them not to cut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Service budget.

Let them know that the proposed federal budget cuts would impact climate change and ocean research that helps prepare communities for sea level rise and more intense storms. These cuts would also impact NOAA’s Sea Grant program, which works with universities in 33 states and funds coastal and marine research locally at MIT and Woods Hole.

These “Actions You Can Take This Week” are taken from our Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup e-newsletter. Sign up here!

We Won’t Always Have Paris

Today, the Trump Administration announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. While withdrawing fulfills one of Trump’s campaign promises, the reality that the Administration has made such a feckless and self-destructive move comes as a shock. This decision will have potentially irreversible geo-political and environmental ramifications for generations to come.

The Paris climate accord, or “Paris agreement” is an international agreement reached in 2015 with the goal of reducing carbon emissions, slowing rising global temperatures and helping countries manage the impacts of climate change. All 194 other countries in the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change have signed on, and 146 have ratified the agreement. The culmination of over two decades of negotiations, the Paris agreement was finalized through our participation in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), as authorized under President George H. W. Bush.

Photo credit: Arthurguo

As a major global economy and the second largest emitter of carbon emissions, the United States’ leadership in drafting the Paris agreement was viewed as a milestone in making meaningful progress fighting global climate change. As a result of our participation, the Paris agreement includes meaningful provisions requiring robust and transparent oversight of how emissions are monitored, verified and reported. Previous climate agreements such as the Kyoto protocol lacked success in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions largely due to the failure of the United States to take on a leadership role. The loss of our leadership and advocacy could represent a devastating setback for the agreement, and will have a ripple effect on emerging economies that are just getting serious about climate change such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Withdrawal could also undermine our ability to negotiate under other international agreements that protect wildlife and the environment, such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Progress in working with other nations to protect the diversity of species could also be curtailed.

Climate change remains the greatest threat to the nature of Massachusetts and requires the bold and innovative leadership our nation has demonstrated in the face of other serious environmental challenges. Regardless of decisions at the federal level we will continue to fight for meaningful actions at the state and local level, and urge you to join with us.

See Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton’s statement about Trump’s expected decision here.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director

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.