Great News for our Great Outdoors

The Cape Cod National Seashore, protected in part thanks to LWCF funding, is visited by over 4 million people annually.
Photo credit: Karen Regan, National Park Service

The Great American Outdoors Act has been signed into law! The law includes long-awaited permanent funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to protect our public lands.

LWCF helps protect invaluable wild spaces across Massachusetts and the United States. Although LWCF was permanently reauthorized last year, its annual funding still wasn’t guaranteed until now.

For 52 years, the LWCF has protected national parks and open spaces in every corner of the United States. In Massachusetts, LWCF has invested more than $220 million to protect sites like Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, the New England National Scenic Trail, and Cape Cod National Seashore. Now thanks to this law, $900 million per year will go to LWCF to ensure the continued protection of places like these.

Passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Trump, the Great American Great Outdoors Act is one of the most significant conservation bills in decades, and also provides $9.5 billion to support the maintenance backlog at federal lands like national parks and forests.

This is a huge win for the protection of wild spaces across the US, and for the wildlife and communities that rely on and benefit from them. Thanks to everyone who took action to help it succeed!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – July 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here.

Actions You Can Take

It’s hot outside, which means we’re using more energy to keep cool. During peak hours, the state’s energy grid operators have to tap into additional dirty fossil fuels, but we can Shave the Peak.

Summer is the season for Firefly Watch. Mass Audubon has teamed up with researchers from Tufts University to track the presence of these amazing insects, and you can help!

Beautiful coastlines, sparkling beaches, and local seafood are part of what makes Massachusetts special. From food to carbon absorption, oceans provide us with so much, and they need our help. Let’s take an oath for our oceans.

Humpback whale. Photo credit: Bill Thompson, USFWS

Mass Audubon Weighs In

In this Boston Globe article, we help explain why expanding solar energy resources is important for reducing emissions, but clear-cutting forests to do so is counterproductive.

With conservation partners, we made recommendations on Massachusetts’ 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan, focusing on how to include natural and working lands in plans to decarbonize the state.

We voiced support for state legislation providing economic investments in climate-smart housing, community development, and workforce training. We also suggested steering those investments to environmental justice populations and incorporating nature-based solutions.

Our Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions wrote to House leadership action on net-zero emissions and environmental justice legislation before the session runs out.

Otis State Forest

Updates from the State

Great news – Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will permanently fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is a big win for the protection of wild spaces across the US.

State legislation addressing mosquito borne disease has now been signed into law. We’ll be following its implementation and advocating for statewide mosquito control reform.

Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program joined partners and state leaders, including Governor Baker, at an event highlighting the Assawompset Pond region. We’re collaborating there to reduce flooding, increase climate resilience, and restore habitat.

The federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act, which would require many new or renovated public buildings to incorporate bird-safe design features to reduce collisions, passed the House. Now it heads to the Senate.

MassDEP is seeking public input on their new Solid Waste Master Plan, with a particular focus on issues of environmental justice, climate change, and COVID-19 impacts. The Plan will determine how waste is managed over the next decade.

Governor Baker speaking at the Assawompset Pond project event.

Climate Central

→ Democrats in Congress have a new climate plan.
→ A floating island in the Charles River will mimic natural systems to reduce algae blooms.
→ How climate action benefits our health.
→ This toolkit offers resources for launching a coastal restoration project in your community.
→ The island of Dominica is on track to become the world’s first “hurricane-proof” country.
New study calls Boston’s sunny-day flood risk high
→ New York announces largest combined clean energy solicitation ever issued in the US
Planting tiny urban forests to boost biodiversity and fight climate change
→ NEPA rollbacks have been finalized, but lawsuits fighting them are expected

Measuring The Value of Nature

Did you know New England’s forests provide health benefits valuing hundreds of millions of dollars per year?

Or that wetlands play a pivotal role in storing carbon?

Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program has created a new set of resources on the many benefits that natural areas provide to people, also known as ecosystem services.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: USFWS

Our five “Value of Nature” fact sheets—which highlight Forests, Coastal Areas, Wetlands & Waterways, Grasslands & Farmland, and Urban Green Space—take a deeper look at the importance of our ecosystems for human health and the economy.

Based on a literature review of over 100 technical papers, they provide easy access to facts and figures on the importance of protecting natural spaces.

They also demonstrate why nature-based solutions are often the best choice when addressing problems like flooding and poor air quality within communities—problems that are increasingly pressing in the face of climate change.

These five fact sheets are part of a larger project focused on the Narragansett Bay Watershed that includes information on the economic valuation of 13 key industry sectors compiled by the University of Rhode Island, and a water quality modeling study in the Bay by Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project.

Explore all five fact sheets and work by our project partners at massaudubon.org/valueofnature!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – June 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here.

Actions You Can Take

Birds in the US are in trouble due to factors like climate change and habitat loss, and now the Trump administration has taken another step toward rolling back Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections. We’re fighting these changes, and you can help >

Good news – the US Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will permanently fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Next the bill heads to the House, where we’ll continue to advocate for its swift passage – you can too.

Mass Audubon supports legislation that lays out a roadmap for Massachusetts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Learn more about its goals in this recently recorded webinar, and help it pass by taking action here.

Eastern bluebird (photo credit: Cheryl Rose)

Mass Audubon Weighs In

Mass Audubon spoke to the Cape Cod Times about a damaging proposed state mosquito control bill. That bill has now been updated, though more changes are still needed.

Mass Audubon supports state legislation that would help nonprofits cope with the financial strains of the global pandemic. The bill would provide $75 million of public investment back into these community-based organizations.

With our coalition of wildlife protection groups, Mass Audubon submitted comments on the latest phase of federal review of the Mayflower Wind Energy project. Our comments focused on ensuring site surveys are done in a way that mitigates harm to marine mammals.

Photo credit: MA Department of Public Health

Updates from the State

Massachusetts and a coalition of 30 other states, cities, and counties are suing the Trump Administration over changes to Clean Car Standards.

After a pause due to COVID-19, the state has resumed enforcement of beverage container redemption requirements – a win for recycling.

Healthy forests are critical for public health, and the state has released updates to its Forest Action Plan to ensure the health of Massachusetts trees and forests into the future. We provided input on the updates.

Massachusetts could be on the way to removing natural gas from our energy portfolio. The state will investigate the future of the industry as we transition toward renewables.

Each year, Massachusetts celebrates its Commonwealth Heroines, women making outstanding contributions to their communities. This year’s class includes Deb Cary, Mass Audubon’s Director of Central Sanctuaries.

Climate Central

→ Hurricane season is here, and NOAA predicts an above-normal year
→ Racism derails our efforts to save the planet
→ The best protections from natural disasters could come from nature itself
→ Northeast states hit snag on offshore wind – we weigh in
→ To save the climate, look to the oceans
→ A large, bipartisan majority of Americans support bolder action on climate

Celebrating an Advocacy Legacy

This week we look back on the inspiring environmental career of Jack Clarke, our director of advocacy. Jack is retiring after 25 years in his role with Mass Audubon, where he has been an instrumental leader to staff, colleagues, and partners.

During his time at Mass Audubon, Jack helped draft and pass many of Massachusetts’ most important environmental laws, including the first-in-the-nation comprehensive ocean management law, the Massachusetts Rivers Protection Act, Community Preservation Act, and Global Warming Solutions Act, among others.

He has helped pass four environmental bonds, the latest of which was $2.2 billion and ushered in comprehensive adaptation management planning to prepare for climate change in Massachusetts.

Jack has been a champion for the protection of people and nature across Massachusetts’ land, water, and ocean resources, and has spent his career building broad, effective partnerships. Most recently, this included the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Coalition, comprised of more than 50 engineers, architects, planners, and conservation and environmental organizations.

Prior to his position at Mass Audubon, Jack worked for the US Department of the Interior/National Park Service at Cape Cod National Seashore for almost a decade. He continued to keep his ranger hat proudly displayed in his office, a reminder of the benefits of getting outside and into nature that he carried each day into his work at Mass Audubon.

Following that, he served thirteen years and three governors first in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, then as Assistant Director for Coastal Zone Management. He has also received awards from the US Department of the Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, and the City of Boston, among others.

Born in Chelsea, Jack now lives in Gloucester with his wife Fara. We hope his retirement will afford him more time for some of his favorite hobbies: surfing, sailing, SCUBA diving, and spending time with his grandchildren.

We’ll miss you Jack, but we know you’ll continue to speak up, serve on local and state committees, and mentor the next generation of climate leaders. On our end, we will carry on your legacy of fighting for environmental protections through polite, persistent, persuasion!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 26, 2020

(wetland photo credit: Julie Archibald)

Get the Facts About Ecosystem Services

Beyond its intrinsic value, nature provides measurable benefits to people by offering solutions to some of our biggest environmental problems. Our new set of five fact sheets takes a deeper look at the financial and health benefits of ecosystems like forests, wetlands, and urban green spaces.

Climate Central

→ Gulf of Maine lobstermen turn to kelp farming in the face of climate crisis
→ Clean energy job losses are mounting – Mass Audubon and others weigh in

Mosquito Spraying Bill Update

Good news: the mosquito control bill that posed damaging changes to natural lands and public health has been redrafted. Thanks to everyone that submitted testimony or contacted committee members – advocacy around this bill made a big difference.

Learn About Net Zero Planning

Mass Audubon supports H.3983, state legislation that lays out a road map for Massachusetts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our climate change program director is moderating a virtual conversation on the bill next Thursday – sign up today!

Supporting Stimulus Funds for Public Lands

Mass Audubon joined partners in urging Congress to fund programs that benefit wildlife and restore public lands in future COVID-19 stimulus bills. We advocated for conservation programs that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide benefits to people, communities, and the environment.

MVP Toolkit: Public Health and the Healthcare Sector

As Massachusetts’ Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program grows, so do the range of needs of participating cities and towns. The state has created guidance for understanding the intersections between public health, the healthcare sector, and climate change, and for developing projects with health-related co-benefits.

SMART-er Solar Regulations

Update 6/1/2020: Today is the last day to submit comments to the state on better solar siting. You can submit yours using our easy new system here!

What’s better for the planet – a field full of solar panels shining in the sun, or that same number of panels placed over a parking lot? If you said parking lot, you’re right – but it’s complicated.

Responding as a global community to the threat of climate change means increasing and improving access to renewable energy sources. And here in Massachusetts, adding more clean energy to our electricity supply will be key to reaching our net-zero emissions goal by 2050. But it’s important to make sure this expanded access doesn’t come at the expense of our natural lands and resources. That’s why Mass Audubon has been participating in the public review process for Massachusetts solar energy regulations.

Installing solar canopies over existing developed areas, like this parking lot at the Cincinnati Zoo, can expand clean energy access without disturbing natural lands. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Quaddell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Last month, the state officially released updates to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program to double statewide solar capacity. The changes also include carving out part of the program to ensure access for low-income projects.

Siting Matters

From 2012-2017, one-quarter of all land development in Massachusetts was the result of ground-mounted solar arrays – covering about 6,000 acres of what used to be forest or farmland. Expanding solar is crucial for climate action by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, but the siting of these projects makes a difference. For instance, it’s counterproductive to clear-cut forests and convert them to industrial scale solar arrays. Forests are vital to our resiliency from the impacts of climate change, and they help absorb carbon emissions. If current trends continue, up to 150,000 acres of forest could be lost in order to meet the green energy targets.

Mass Audubon and our conservation partners urged the state to direct more SMART financial incentives to projects on rooftops, parking lots, and other areas already altered by development.  This also has the benefit of locating the green energy supply closer to electrical demand – learn more about the benefits of “getting solar off the ground” in our new Losing Ground report

Importantly, the new regulations address some of these recommendations by steering new projects away from irreplaceable natural lands. The state will end eligibility for new, large-scale, private solar projects in the most ecologically sensitive areas – habitat for state-listed rare species, core areas with large blocks of forest, and “Critical Natural Landscapes”. This is good news! However, many projects already planned before the update will still proceed in these areas under the old rules, and certain new publicly sponsored projects can still be located in these sensitive areas.

The town of Scituate decided to turn an old landfill into a solar photovoltaic installation – a good example of siting done right. Photo credit: US EPA courtesy of Google Earth

What comes next?

We look forward to seeing how these changes will improve the solar landscape in Massachusetts. We are also pressing for even more progress, like increasing funding for parking lot canopies, which cost more to build than arrays on open land but have far fewer development impacts. Co-location within farms is another potentially promising approach that may support the business’s financial viability and energy efficiency, while maintaining the land’s agricultural productivity. We are also urging the state to provide more planning assistance to small communities to help direct projects to the right locations. 

Mass Audubon will be offering our feedback on the new updates, and you can too. The Department of Energy Resources is holding a virtual public hearing on Friday, May 22, and is also accepting written public comments through June 1. You can sign up to join the hearing online here, or submit written comments to doer.smart@mass.gov.  Please include “SMART Public Comment” in the subject line. 

It’s exciting to see clean energy taking off in Massachusetts and around the world. With careful planning now, we can ensure solar’s expansion is a success for consumers, the climate, and conservation.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 18, 2020

Magnolia warbler photo credit: Joe Howell

Attend a Mass Audubon Program from Home

Did you know Mass Audubon is offering online programs and classes during COVID-19 related closures? From birding resources to nature photography tips, you can pick up a new skill or learn about our natural world from home.

Climate Central

→ Germany is leading the world toward a green recovery
→ A new national campaign on climate politics launched this month, and includes Massachusetts leaders like John Kerry and Gina McCarthy

Waters Under Watch

The latest Op Ed from our advocacy director takes a closer look at what’s at stake in recent Waters of the US protection rollbacks, which threaten half our country’s wetlands and many of our smaller streams. Learn more about our lawsuit to fight the changes here.

Getting SMART About Solar

Responding as a global community to the threat of climate change means expanding access to renewable energy, but this expansion shouldn’t come at the expense of our natural lands and resources. Learn more about recent state solar updates in our blog post.

Addressing Environmental Injustice in Massachusetts

A new brief from Attorney General Healy’s office highlights the longstanding impacts of environmental injustice on families in Massachusetts. Read their ideas to address these impacts — like investing in clean energy jobs and strengthening regulations to protect vulnerable communities — and our statement of support.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 11, 2020

Join Bird-a-thon from Home

Bird-a-thon brings together supporters from across the state to raise essential funds for nature conservation, education, and advocacy—and to compete in an exciting team birding competition. This year’s event has gone virtual: join today!

Climate Central

Electric pickup trucks could mean the arrival of a new era
→ Big banks are pulling out from financing Arctic oil drilling

Fighting to Uphold Water Protections

For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes. Now it’s under threat, but Mass Audubon and our partners are fighting back. Learn more >

CPA Trust Fund: Planning Ahead

Since the ongoing pandemic has made it difficult to predict how much qualifying communities will receive from the CPA Trust Fund in November, the state has issued preliminary guidance to help with FY21 budget planning.

Fighting for US Water Protections

For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes. These resources provide wildlife habitat, swimming and fishing opportunities, and drinking water for millions of Americans.

But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have finalized a rule to remove critical protections for more than half of the country’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of streams.

What’s at Stake

The repeal focuses on the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS), which defined wetlands and waterways protected nationwide under the Clean Water Act, and was developed following extensive scientific and public input. 

Repealing WOTUS means removing protections from many wetlands, as well as streams that flow in response to rain or snowfall – all of which can significantly impact the health of larger water bodies by filtering out pollutants.

Denying these protections blatantly ignores the science that went into WOTUS in the first place, which showed that in order to protect our nation’s rivers and streams, smaller bodies of water and tributaries must be protected as well. Wetlands are also among our most biologically productive ecosystems, and act as both carbon sinks and floodwater absorbers – two more major reasons to strengthen, not weaken, their protections as we face the climate crisis.

We’re Fighting Back

Mass Audubon has joined the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other partners in filing a lawsuit in federal court that challenges the Trump administration’s rollbacks. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 18 other states are also filing their own lawsuit.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has protected wetlands and streams across the United States. Now it’s our turn to protect it.