Mass Audubon Visits DC

Last week, Mass Audubon traveled to Capitol Hill to discuss federal conservation priorities during the first-ever Independent Audubon Societies’ lobby day. Our Legislative Director Karen Heymann met with congressional staff for Congressman Moulton, Congressman Neal, Congressman Kennedy and Congressman McGovern and Senator Warren.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director Karen Heymann, third from right, with representatives from other independent Audubons around the country

Independent Audubon staff from 9 regions of the country participated in the lobby day. Pressing federal priorities for our coalition include passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, permanent authorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, defense of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling, and funding for environmental agencies.

The event was a great opportunity not only to speak with decision makers on Capitol Hill, but also to learn about the work of other Audubon networks across the US. Mass Audubon represented the largest membership base of all the groups.

In addition to speaking with Massachusetts legislators, Mass Audubon also met as part of a group to discuss national environmental issues with other states. Pictured here from left to right: Karen Heymann; Lisa Alexander, Executive Director, Audubon Naturalist Society; Patrick Comins, Executive Director, The Connecticut Audubon Society; and Jordan Ebert, Legislative Aide to Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). Photo credit: Audubon Naturalist Society


Congressman Kennedy Comes to Oak Knoll

Mass Audubon and several of our environmental partner groups met recently with Congressman Joe Kennedy, III at our Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary in Attleboro, where we discussed the role of activism in Washington in these challenging times.

Representing Mass Audubon at the meeting were president Gary Clayton, advocacy director Jack Clarke, honorary board member and volunteer Teri Henderson, and our Oak Knoll team. The group provided some background for the Congressman on our federal environmental priorities, like protecting our coasts from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Mass Audubon’s Jack Clarke with Congressman Kennedy

Congressman Kennedy reminded the group that while there is much activity on Capitol Hill these days that gives cause for alarm, it has also sparked a resurgence in public engagement in the political process. He is seeing more people getting involved through activism, especially locally. This kind of engagement is critical for a healthy democracy.

He also noted that it’s not enough to just speak out against what’s happening in Washington; we must actively work to create a viable alternative. We’ll be keeping up that proactive approach as we continue engaging our leaders on making the best environmental policy decisions they can, both at the federal and local levels.

Supporting Bird-safe Buildings

When we hear about the impacts of development on birds, we probably think about habitat loss: cutting down trees to make room for new structures, or filling in wetlands. But did you know that the buildings themselves can also pose a serious risk to our feathered friends?

In the U.S., window strikes are estimated to kill up to 1 billion birds annually, and window strikes are one of the leading causes of death for migratory birds. During the day, birds see the natural habitat mirrored in the glass and fly directly into the window, causing injury, and, in 50 % or more of the cases, death.  At night, especially during spring and fall migration, lights in and around buildings can confuse birds, leading to collisions or exhaustion as the birds circle the structure.

This imprint of a bird was left on a window after a collision. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user StuartB4.

To reduce this threat, several cities in North America, including Boston, Chicago, and Toronto, have taken steps to reduce light from tall buildings during migratory bird season. In Boston’s case, this effort comes through the Lights Out Boston! program, on which we partnered with Mayor Tom Menino’s administration. We are hoping to revive our partnership with the City to expand the program. Though programs like Lights Out Boston! are an important step in protecting birds, they are voluntary.

As such, we’ve endorsed the Federal Bird-safe Buildings Act of 2017 (S.1920/H.R.2542, filed by Senator Booker [D-NJ] and Representative Quigley [D-IL]). This proposed legislation would require all new federal renovations or construction to incorporate bird-safe characteristics like reduced glass surfaces and shielding of outdoor lights. Under this bill, any glass that is used would have to be fritted, screened, shaded, or UV-reflective, qualities proven to reduce bird collisions. Other conditions include regularly surveying for stunned or dead birds.

Application of anti-bird strike film is one option for reducing collisions. Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

We reached out to our congressional delegation to request their support for this bill. You can help too, by asking your own US representative and senators for their support.

More locally, we submitted comments to the City of Boston on the planned renovation project at One Post Office Square. Boston is located along a major migratory bird pathway, and these migrants utilize small urban parks, including Post Office Square, as ‘stopover’ or resting habitat during migration. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird Project, 91 bird species have been observed at the site. A glass-clad building in such close proximity to a well-known bird habitat presents a clear hazard to birds. On top of this, it is important to avoid large, uninterrupted areas of reflective glass in close proximity to landscape features, since birds may be attracted to the plantings and unable to distinguish the glass reflections. We encouraged the Boston Planning and Development Agency to consider building façade and landscaping designs that minimize bird collision hazards.

In the future, we hope to see bird safety become more commonplace in development, through both regulations and incentives, like the LEED credit awarded for Bird Collision Deterrence.  The choice should be clear – but the buildings shouldn’t.

Sensitive Offshore Areas at Risk

On January 8, 2018, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) released a draft plan to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass around 90% of US coastlines. The decision came when DOI released its Notice of Availability of the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The draft includes plans for two oil and gas lease sales in in the North Atlantic.

The exploration, development, and production of oil and gas off the Massachusetts Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and geological resources. According to our friends at the Conservation Law Foundation, oil and gas drilling in this region would threaten the $17.5 billion contributed annually to the region’s economy from coastal and ocean-based industries including recreation, tourism, and fisheries.

Endangered humpback whales are among the many species whose habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: Bill Thompson, USFWS

In response to this decision, Senator Ed Markey and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the New England Coastal Protection Act, which would bar offshore drilling along the New England coast and protect our ocean resources. Senator Elizabeth Warren and all of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation have co-sponsored the bill.

Mass Audubon agrees that a permanent moratorium is needed on oil and gas exploration and production off Massachusetts. It would be a grave mistake to place our valuable natural resources at risk, especially when so much progress and economic growth is occurring through energy efficiency and development of clean, renewable energy.

This infographic gives a sense of the damage that offshore drilling could cause our region. To make matters worse, this graphic doesn’t account for currents or other variables. For instance, the combination of the Labrador Current coming down from the north and Gulf Stream coming from the south creates a clockwise gyre on George’s Bank. If there was a spill there, oil or gas would likely become entrapped in the gyre, repeating the damage to fish and other marine resources over and over. Photo credit: Center for American Progress

There are four areas in particular that we are especially concerned could be impacted:

Nearshore areas within 100 miles of the Massachusetts coast – the 1,500-mile coastline of the Bay State constitutes an environmentally sensitive and fragile marine environment that contributes substantially to the tourism and recreational economies of Massachusetts.

Georges Bank – this shallow, sediment-covered underwater plateau was once one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds for Atlantic cod, haddock, and flounder. Much of the Bank is currently closed to fishing in order to allow the area to recover from bottom-trawl fishing, and any disruption caused by drilling will severely disrupt long-term restoration efforts and jeopardize future sustainability.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary –  located between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, this area provides feeding and nursery grounds for more than a dozen cetacean species including the endangered humpback, northern right, and fin whales; supports foraging activity by diverse seabird species, including loons, shearwaters, alcids, and terns; Leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (both endangered species) use the area for feeding, and seasonal fish and invertebrate populations include bluefin tuna, herring, cod, lobster, and scallops.

Atlantic cod in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: Matthew Lawrence, NOAA

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument – 4,913 square miles of rich and diverse marine ecosystem, which includes three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains (extinct volcanoes) known as “seamounts” that are biodiversity hotspots and home to many rare and endangered species.  These include thousand-year-old deep sea corals found nowhere else on Earth and other rare fish and invertebrates.

The proposed expansion would also be inconsistent with the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, which Mass Audubon helped develop.

In addition to the Massachusetts congressional delegation’s action via proposed legislation, Governor Baker has said he does not support areas adjacent to Massachusetts being included in the expansion, and Attorney General Healey opposes opening up any new ocean areas to oil and gas leasing.

Mass Audubon will be attending the Boston listening session on the expansion plan, and we will be submitting comments voicing our opposition to the DOI decision.

We also reached out to our delegation to thank them for supporting the coastal protection bill, and you can too. Give a call or send a quick message to your US Senators’ and Congressperson’s offices (don’t know yours? Look them up here), and let them know that their commitment to protecting Massachusetts’ natural resources hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Update: Migratory Birds at Risk Once Again

Last month, the US Department of the Interior made a decision to cripple the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In a legal memorandum, the Department states that “incidental,” as opposed to “intentional,” bird deaths resulting from energy industry activities will no longer result in prosecution, effectively removing accountability over such deaths – for example, birds killed in oil spills.

The MBTA is one of the country’s oldest and most effective protections for birds, which Mass Audubon helped get passed in Congress, making it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.

Snowy owls are among the hundreds of bird species protected by the MBTA.  Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

This decision strips away that incentive at a time when migratory birds are already stressed by habitat loss and climate change. Mass Audubon has also opposed an amendment to federal legislation that would have effectively made the same change; the energy bill to which that amendment was attached is still awaiting debate in Congress.

Mass Audubon reached out to the Trump Administration in opposition to this change in implementation of the MBTA, and you can too.

A Year in Review

The past year started out as a difficult one for those of us that advocate on behalf of the environment. The new President appointed friends of the fossil fuel industry to lead the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, pulled America out of the Paris climate accord, and began hacking away at programs that protect our air, land, and water.

But despite the topsy-turvy year we’ve had, here at Mass Audubon we are ending 2017 with renewed hope. Through collaboration with our partner groups, conversations with our elected and appointed government officials, and the support and action of our members and subscribers, we showed Capitol Hill the resilience and determination of America’s environmental movement.

And that’s just what we are – a movement. We organized, we marched, and we spoke up.

We’ve continued to focus on a three-pronged strategy:

First, we’ve fought to uphold our existing federal environmental laws. Mass Audubon and our environmental partners met with Senator Ed Markey, Congressman Jim McGovern, and aides to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Seth Moulton, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark, where we discussed strategy for environmental advocacy at the federal level. We will continue to meet with the rest of the Massachusetts delegation in 2018. We also met with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and her senior energy and environment staff to discuss our legal options. Attorney General Healey told us that she wouldn’t hesitate to take the president to court to defend the rule of law, and she has already done so more than 15 times. We stand alongside her.

From L-R: Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke

Second, we stepped up our game at the state and local levels of government. Although the President denies climate change and supports the fossil fuel industry, 95% of utility and electricity oversight is in the hands of states, not the federal government. States like Massachusetts will continue to set the tone for reducing heat-trapping emissions and requiring industry to produce and use more green energy, and several states including ours formed the US Climate Alliance. Mass Audubon has continued to advocate for strict enforcement of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, Green Communities Act, and the Ocean Management Act. Similarly, we will continue to defend the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, which protects 432 native Massachusetts plants and animals, and their habitats even if protections are relaxed or removed at the federal level. We’ve also continued advocating for a minimum of 1% of the overall $40 billion state budget devoted to protecting the nature of Massachusetts – we’re not there yet.

Piping plovers are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

And third, we continued to advance a progressive environmental agenda. This includes a clean energy economy, water resources protection, and land and species conservation at both the federal and state levels. A few highlights from 2017:

  • Our Advocacy director Jack Clarke engaged with hundreds of Mass Audubon members and partners around the state on our environmental advocacy strategy.
  • Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program reached over 1,000 people and showed citizens how they can help conserve land and incorporate more sustainable development methods in their cities and towns.
  • We helped pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 11 more municipalities, bringing the state total to 172 cities and towns. CPA has resulted in the protection of over 26,000 acres of open space in Massachusetts.
  • Our statewide Climate Adaptation Coalition continued to grow to more than 50 organizations, who are working to ensure that Massachusetts’ residents and landscapes are resilient in the face of climate change impacts. Mass Audubon staff were also trained as providers through the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which helps communities identify local vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and develop actions to increase resilience.
  • Our priority legislation that would better codify Massachusetts for climate change preparedness passed in the state Senate, and we are hopeful that it will pass in the House and be signed into law in 2018.
  • We supported communities that organized bans on single-use plastic bags – 61 cities and towns including Boston have now taken action to phase out these sources of pollution.

And we couldn’t have done any of this without support from our members and supporters. Thank you for all that you do to help Mass Audubon protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. We look forward to continuing to use our collective voice and achieving even more together in 2018.

Help Public Lands Stay Protected

Legislation that could remove federal protection from Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is on the move again, heading for a mark-up by the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow. The legislation filed by Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating, H.R.1157, was filed on behalf of the Town of Chatham, and is intended to settle a dispute over the management of nearly 4,000 acres of submerged lands and waters within Monomoy.

The Refuge is comprised of a series of dynamic barrier beaches and islands that are constantly reshaped by wind and waves. Federal and local officials have traditionally worked together to preserve this area, but last year the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a proposed management plan that implied they had authority to manage thousands of acres of water, and the fisheries within them, beyond the low tide mark into Nantucket Sound.

The Service cited a map from the Refuge’s establishment in 1944 that they said included this additional area as within the Refuge boundary. But state and local officials argued that the federally-managed portion was only intended to include any land area that might build up above the mean low tide mark (through sand accretion, for instance), not the land underneath or waters beyond it.

A scene from Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham

H.R.1157 makes the statement that the USFWS never had authority over the submerged lands in question. If passed, the bill would allow state and town to officials to continue managing the area.

As we’ve shared before, we are concerned that this bill could set a dangerous precedent for stripping federal protections for public lands and waters across the country, at a time when we are already seeing an assault on our national monuments, like the recent reductions in size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. This kind of legislation could create a dangerous opportunity for unfriendly amendments or future legislation by others to weaken federal control over protected land.

Instead of passing H.R.1157, we encourage all stakeholders to continue working towards a collaborative solution for managing this area that both serves local needs and preserves it as part of the Refuge System.

Mass Audubon is signing onto a letter to our congressional delegation urging them to reject the bill, and you can help too. Contact your congressperson and urge them not to pass H.R.1157. Let them know we can’t afford to remove federal protections from our public lands, and that we need to preserve the boundaries, protection, and integrity of our national monuments.

Help Migratory Birds Remain Protected

We’ve learned from our friends at the National Audubon Society that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is at risk. The US House Committee on Natural Resources recently approved energy legislation to which an amendment was added that would significantly weaken this important bird protection.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

The MBTA is one of the country’s oldest and most effective protections for birds, making it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.

The amendment filed by US Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) strips away this incentive. If the bill as amended becomes law, industries would no longer be held accountable for bird deaths, such as birds killed in oil spills.

A full vote is expected in the House soon. Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge them to vote NO on this harmful amendment.

Building Resilient Communities

Helping Massachusetts prepare for the impacts of climate change is among Mass Audubon’s top advocacy priorities. At the local level, our Shaping the Future of Your Community program is working with partners in the Resilient Taunton Watershed Network to help cities and towns make smart and cost-effective adaptation choices.

Thanks to an EPA Healthy Communities Grant, Mass Audubon and our partners have been working in the Taunton River watershed to provide resources to communities as they plan for climate change impacts.  This low-lying watershed was a critical pilot study for this work, as it is particularly vulnerable to flooding, is the fastest developing watershed in the Commonwealth, and nearly a third of the land is undeveloped, unprotected, and of high ecological value and critical for climate resilience.

Healthy natural systems provide many benefits to the challenges posed by climate change, from forests that sequester and store carbon dioxide to wetlands that act as natural flood absorbers. Nature-based approaches, also known as green infrastructure, to climate change adaptation can provide significant cost savings compared to to manmade engineering solutions. We focused our efforts on providing effective nature-based solutions into local land use management, development, and restoration efforts.

The Taunton River and its watershed are vulnerable to flooding. Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Marcbela

We held interactive workshops in Dighton, Halifax, Middleboro, Norton, and Taunton where we heard from local decision makers from more than 25 communities on the climate change vulnerabilities their cities and towns face. We discussed how to identify high priority lands for conservation with our Mapping And Prioritizing Parcels for Resilience tool, and provided a green infrastructure map for the watershed, developed by Manomet.  The project also offered case studies on successful examples of green infrastructure projects that already exist in the region. We listened to the unique challenges of each community and tailored these resources to their needs. We are also continuing our partnership with RTWN to help communities in the Taunton watershed implement their green infrastructure projects.

The training program left local communities within the watershed equipped to make choices that will make them more resilient to future impacts of climate change.  Now we are taking what we’ve learned and bringing it to communities statewide and beyond.  We are working with the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program to train hundreds of people working in 71 communities on MVP plans; and are sharing the training materials and lessons learned with many other groups including the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative and Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition.

Participants in our workshops discussed how to identify high priority lands for conservation and incorporate green infrastructure into adaptation planning.

The Healthy Communities Project was a partnership among the Southeast Region Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Manomet, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

You can learn more about the project, and view the presentations and case studies, here.

Climate Adaptation Bill Passes in the Senate

Great news! Our priority climate change adaptation legislation passed in the Senate! The vote to engross the bill, which would create a first-in-the-nation comprehensive adaptation management plan for Massachusetts to prepare for the impacts of climate change, was unanimous.

Thanks to Senator Marc Pacheco, the lead sponsor of the bill, along with Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and Senators Karen Spilka and Bruce Tarr for their leadership on getting the bill passed, and to all Senators for voting in favor of the bill’s passage.

Next up, Mass Audubon and our Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Coalition will be advocating for the House to pass the bill.

Massachusetts State House