The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup digest – December 2020

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

Action You Can Take

New England’s energy system is more polluting and expensive than it should be. Mass Audubon supports the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office’s efforts to improve energy market rules that promote affordable clean energy, healthy communities, and climate protection, and you can too.

Mass Audubon Weighs In

Five years in, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan is undergoing review to assess progress to date. We helped pass the legislation creating the Plan, and we’re weighing in again now, encouraging interconnected offshore wind planning that minimizes development impacts.

We joined partners in urging President-elect Biden to restore vital protections stripped this summer from the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument – the first marine national monument in the US Atlantic Ocean and home to critical and vulnerable ocean ecosystems.

Our Allens Pond and Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuaries have been awarded an EPA Southeast New England Program Watershed Grant to promote resilient ecosystems in that region. We’ll be supporting local outreach about the role habitat restoration plays in protecting communities from climate impacts.

We submitted comments during the state’s review of the Alternative Portfolio Standard, which provides financial incentives for energy efficiency and technologies to reduce emissions. We recommended more incentives for, and access to, zero-emission renewable heating technologies.

We also commented on a federal study of offshore wind construction methods. Environmentally responsible offshore wind development means avoiding impacts to marine mammals and other species, and the use of updated construction technology is critical.

Climate Central

→ This video explores Mass Audubon’s work helping restore floodplain forest along the Connecticut River
→ Sea level rise and coastal flooding threaten affordable housing
→ On bug boxes, climate grief, and human health

Celebrating 2020 Advocacy Wins

As we close out a challenging year, we are also taking a moment to be thankful for the many strides we made toward advancing environmental protections, which ranged from federal laws to local community action. These 2020 wins included:  

  • Advocating for the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed into law. The new law includes $900 million annually in long-awaited permanent funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect our public lands, water resources, and cultural heritage.  
  • Filing a lawsuit with partners in federal court that challenges rollbacks to the Clean Water Act, which has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes for nearly 50 years.  
  • Advancing state climate legislation, An Act to Create a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean & Thriving Commonwealth, which passed the House along with a related bill in the Senate. We are continuing to advocate for its final passage into law, and continued inclusion of strong environmental justice language and prioritization of natural climate solutions, before the session ends.
  • Producing the sixth edition of our statewide land use analysis, Losing Ground: Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate, highlighting the value of forests, farmlands, and wetlands for climate resilience. The rate of development has remained steady at around 13 acres/day, while the rate of conservation has increased 37% to 55 acres per day, reflecting success based on our state and local advocacy work.  
  • Securing revisions to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program, which provides financial incentives for solar energy projects. Our input centered on support for solar sited away from ecologically- and socially-valuable open space. We are continuing to push for more progress to reduce the loss of forests and farmlands while increasing the pace of solar projects on rooftops, parking lots, and other altered lands.  
  • Opposing state mosquito spraying legislation that would have been damaging to wetlands and wildlife.  We achieved major improvements, including a comprehensive review under the newly formed state Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force, of which we are a member. As a warmer, wetter climate is enhancing mosquito breeding and increasing the frequency of outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease, we have an opportunity to overhaul our antiquated mosquito control system, which relies on widespread spraying of pesticides. We are pushing instead for ecologically-based approaches that will benefit human health and wildlife habitat while increasing climate resilience.   
  • Working with cities and towns on smart land use and resiliency planning through our Shaping Climate Resilient Communities Program, and reaching over 900 participants through our workshops. The program also produced new resources on the economic and health benefits our forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems provide us, and collaborated with partners to advance climate resilience in parts of Southeastern Massachusetts.   
  • Celebrating wins for the Community Preservation Act in nine more Massachusetts cities and towns. CPA is a smart growth tool that helps communities preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities. Nearly 32,000 acres of open space have been protected through CPA to date.  

Now we’re looking forward to 2021, when we’ll push the new administration to reverse recent environmental rollbacks, employ nature-based solutions, and continue advancing toward equitable climate action. Thanks to everyone that has taken action along the way by contacting elected officials, speaking up against damaging policy rollbacks, or working to improve resilience in your community. We’ll see you in the New Year!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup digest – November 2020

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

Action You Can Take

The state has completed a technical review of pesticides containing neonicotinoids, which confirms that these chemicals are harmful to pollinators. Mass Audubon and our partners are submitting testimony urging restrictions on these pesticides, and others can too.

Mass Audubon Weighs In

Mass Audubon contributed to this WBUR piece on how solar arrays and farms could coexist if done right. Farmland and forests are being lost to solar development at increasing rates, so dual-use solar farms should be piloted and studied before scaling up. This comes at a time when the state has drafted a proposal to expand solar siting on farmland – we submitted comments noting that while we need to quickly increase solar capacity and access, safeguards are needed to avoid impacts to land and farmers.

In other solar news, this Boston Globe poll asks readers their thoughts on whether Massachusetts was right to adopt new rules that limit financial incentives for solar projects on sensitive lands. Mass Audubon provided the “Yes” perspective – take a look.

We also submitted public comments noting concerns over the City of Boston’s proposed removal of 124 trees along Melnea Cass Boulevard. Development that removes older trees and replants new, smaller trees is unsustainable, given the greater cooling and carbon-absorbing benefits of mature trees – benefits especially needed in cities.

Policy News

In better news for urban trees, the state has announced the expansion of the Greening the Gateway Cities Program. This program works with 18 Gateway Cities throughout the state to increase tree canopy cover in urban residential areas, especially Environmental Justice neighborhoods.

Massachusetts’ Department of Public Utilities has opened an investigation to assess the future of natural gas in our state, in light of the goal of achieving net zero by 2050. We supported the petition requesting this investigation, and will be following its progress.

All nine communities with the Community Preservation Act on their ballots this election voted to adopt it, bringing the total number of CPA communities to 186. CPA helps cities and towns preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and improve outdoor recreation. And after state legislation passed last year to permanently increase revenue for the CPA Trust Fund, those benefits are now being realized, with the state announcing a 28.6% match on the first round this year – up 5% from last year.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – October 2020

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

Actions You Can Take

The state is working to expand siting of solar installations on farmland, and while we need to quickly increase solar capacity and access, safeguards are also needed to avoid impacts to land and farmers. Today is the deadline to submit comments – we’ll be weighing in, and you can too.

Mass Audubon Weighs In

After delays related to COVID-19, state legislators are picking up again on FY21 budget planning. With our Green Budget Coalition, we are advocating for funding for state environmental agencies that protect our public land, water, and endangered species.

Mass Audubon and partners provided guidance to federal officials on their obligations for bird monitoring and mitigation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This guidance focused on the construction and operation plan for Vineyard Wind, but should serve as an outline for all offshore wind projects.

We asked the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt an ecosystem-based catch limit for menhaden, a small fish that serves as an important food source for larger fish, like striped bass, and other wildlife, from humpback whales to osprey. The Commission ultimately voted to reduce the quota by 10%, improving sustainability.

Osprey nesting at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

Climate Central

→ Officials turning to Indigenous communities for guidance on wildfire management
→ This new tool provides neighborhood-level information on potential climate change vulnerabilities for every US community and county
→ Our changing climate: the message in our forecasts
→ Massachusetts has lost some ground in our latest state emissions inventory
→ The latest World Energy Outlook report looks at global energy use and emission trends for 2020
→ Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s office has released a new report on their efforts to fight environmental regulatory rollbacks

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – September 2020

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

Actions You Can Take

Help keep up the pressure to get state climate legislation passed into law this session – ask your legislators to keep pushing for progress on emission reduction targets, equitable decision-making, and natural climate solutions.

Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, yet the federal government is rolling back methane pollution regulations. We can still act to collectively reduce these emissions.

Mass Audubon supports new federal legislation protecting communities and wildlife from harmful pesticides – you can help by asking your elected officials to sign on as cosponsors.

Pesticides pose a threat to grassland species like the Eastern Meadowlark. Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon Weighs In

We opposed changes to the US Endangered Species Act that would narrow the definition of habitat and how it’s protected, and joined partners in opposing legislation weakening the Act.

Our Shaping the Future program is partnering with our conservation science staff and Allens Pond and Great Neck wildlife sanctuaries to enhance salt marsh resilience on the South Coast.

We provided input on the state’s Climate Resilience Design Standards and Guidelines, which will incorporate climate resilience into certain state projects.

Mass Audubon signed on as a member of the THRIVE Agenda, an economic renewal plan tackling the overlapping crises of racial injustice, climate change, unemployment, and public health.

We support responsibly developed offshore wind energy, but stronger protections are needed. We joined partners in expressing concern over failures to protect endangered marine mammals during offshore wind site surveys.

Horseshoe crab blood is used in vaccine and medication development, but this process is unsustainable for horseshoe crabs and species that depend on their eggs for food. We joined partners in calling for a synthetic alternative to be recognized for biomedical use.

Assawompset Pond, Lakeville, MA. Photo credit: Kevin Ham

Policy News

Communities have been awarded $11.1 million through the latest round of Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grants. Mass Audubon will be assisting the towns of Lakeville and Plympton with projects improving watershed management and targeted land protection.

The state has released a new report about safety and environmental challenges posed by over 25,000 road stream crossings across the state, and community needs for addressing these issues.

Climate Central

→ Assessing climate vulnerability in Mass Audubon salt marshes 
→ Looking to land for climate solutions 
→ Massachusetts fire season: not so normal
→ Climate change could be fueling an “acceleration of pandemics”
→ Views That Matter: race and opinions on climate change of Boston area residents

Standing Up for Forests

Clean air. Safe drinking water. Social connection. Climate protection. 

What do these things have in common? They’re all benefits provided by forests. 

Photo credit: Eagle Eye Institute

Forests purify our air and water, and capture carbon from the atmosphere, helping to reduce the impacts of climate change (see our fact sheet on forest ecosystem services for more benefits). These services aren’t just good for the planet – they are vital to our health. For instance, thanks to their air filtration function, New England’s forests provide health benefits like reductions in respiratory illness, asthma, and hospitalization valuing $550 million per year. The current pandemic has further increased our dependence on forests as more people flock to the outdoors for recreation, relaxation, and restoration. 

The majority of New England’s forest land is unprotected, and given our area’s increasing population and high rates of development, forests are likely to continue to face threats in the future. Many cities across the U.S. are also experiencing declines in urban forest cover over time – a troubling trend since communities of color, low-income communities, and other vulnerable groups already face barriers to spending time in the outdoors, and are often more negatively impacted by air pollution and the urban heat island effect. These problems are compounded in urban areas that lack outdoor space. 

Whether you live in a city or the middle of the woods, our forests, parks, and green spaces provide an abundance of community services. Now more than ever we must care for, protect, and stand up for the forests that can keep us all healthy. 

Taking a Stand 

Mass Audubon is a member of the Northeast Forest Network, which has just launched a new Stand Up for Forests campaign that shines a light on the ways forests connect and sustain us. Check out and share the new messaging toolkit, Forests Make Us Healthier, to raise awareness about the value of trees, parks, and forests to community well-being and the need to invest in their protection and stewardship. 

Join us in amplifying the message that protecting forests from development and managing them well are among the most important things we can do to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the Northeast. To reach our goals, we’ll need policies that encourage smart, responsible land development, and that value and consider the most historically excluded neighborhoods when making land conservation and land use decisions. 

Get involved by taking the pledge to Stand Up for Forests today! 

Mass Audubon is working to protect forests every day. Here are a few of those ways: 

Help Keep the Endangered Species Act Strong

Leatherback turtles (photo credit: NOAA)

Changes to the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been proposed that would significantly weaken how habitat is protected under the law, but we can still help prevent them.

The changes would narrow the definition of habitat under the ESA, limiting the ability of federal agencies to conserve and restore areas important for the survival of ESA-listed species.

The proposed definition does not incorporate habitat areas in need of restoration, or account for shifts in habitat ranges expected to come with climate change, both of which are essential to the recovery of threatened and endangered species. At a time when habitat destruction and climate change are threatening so many species, we should be improving, not weakening, the way we protect them under the ESA.

You Can Help Stop These Changes

Take action today by asking your Congressperson to oppose the changes and uphold protections for our most vulnerable species.

Thank you for taking this action to protect our most vulnerable species!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – August 2020

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

Actions You Can Take

Feeling sweaty? You’re not the only one. Higher temperatures also mean increased air pollution – which impacts people of color and of lower socioeconomic status most – and climate change is making matters worse. Learn how you can help >

Good news – the Massachusetts House passed A 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth, a Mass Audubon priority and a win for climate action, natural lands, and frontline communities. Thank your representative!

Photo credit: Rishi Jain

Mass Audubon Weighs In

We supported a goal of No Net Loss of Nature’s Services within the state’s draft Resilient Lands Initiative Vision, since protecting, restoring and stewarding natural lands is critically important in responding to climate change.

We urged Governor Baker to support the continued expansion of responsibly developed offshore wind, encouraging him to raise the state’s offshore wind energy targets and to include racial equity, labor, and environmental protection provisions. We also submitted comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for Vineyard Wind – as the first commercial-scale offshore wind facility in the US, the 800MW project will set important precedents for the industry.

Policy News

A federal court has ruled that the legal basis for Migratory Bird Treaty Act rollbacks is inconsistent with the law. The fight isn’t over, but this is a win.

Sherborn is the latest Massachusetts community to prioritize open space protection when adding to housing supply – the Town voted to adopt a zoning bylaw making Open Space Zoning the preferred method of residential development over sprawling subdivisions. Mass Audubon provided guidance on the process.

Mass Audubon is a member of the state’s Mosquito Control Task Force, which will be posting updates on the state’s website. We’ll be continuing to advocate for statewide reform.

Great Blue Heron (photo credit: John Yurka)

Climate Central

→ Our climate team answers questions about climate change in cities
→ The importance of local climate lessons
→ Perennial vegetables – a solution in the fight against hunger and climate change 
→ Home-buying website Realtor.com will now include flood risks in online US listings
→ Federal investments in energy efficiency could help create 660,000 jobs through 2023
→ Can flour show the US economy a way forward?
→ Massachusetts is part of the largest-ever multi-state collaboration to clean up transportation pollution
→ Boston is moving forward with its Community Choice Electricity program
→ Northeast US climate initiative has a major side benefit — healthier kids

Planning for Climate Resilience in Southeastern Massachusetts

This summer, Mass Audubon’s Shaping the Future of Your Community program collaborated with partners and communities to advance nature-based floodwater management and increase climate resilience in southeastern Massachusetts. 

Through this project, the communities of Freetown, Lakeville, Middleborough, New Bedford, Rochester, and Taunton took action around an area of interconnected lands and ponds known as the Assawompset Ponds Complex. 

Photo credit: Kevin Ham, SRPEDD

About Assawompset Ponds Complex

The Assawompset Ponds Complex serves as an important regional resource for public water supply, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Assawompset Pond is the largest natural freshwater lake in Massachusetts and serves as the headwaters of the Nemasket River, which contains the largest herring run in the state.  

Flooding around the Complex and the Nemasket River has been an ongoing issue in recent years, and is only expected to worsen as precipitation trends shift due to climate change. Past flooding has caused evacuations, property damage, and interruption of critical utility and road infrastructure. While several studies of the area and its flooding trends had been performed over the years, it was time to take those findings and turn them into priority actions, with an emphasis on holistic watershed-scale planning efforts that prioritize nature-based solutions.

Seeking Solutions

Nature, of course, has intrinsic value, but it also provides measurable benefits to people, like air and water filtration and carbon absorption. These services can in turn benefit local economies and help us adapt to climate change. Nature-based solutions to problems like flooding and storm damage are often cheaper, simpler, and more effective than built solutions. 

Our team, which included both technical experts and local stakeholders, studied and prioritized the most promising methods – both nature-based, like wetland restoration, and built, like culvert replacements – for reducing local flooding issues. Hearing about local experiences, not only with flooding but with the resulting impacts to water quality, habitat, and recreation, was a vital step in the planning process.

The project team then selected the top six priority projects and mapped out an action plan for the watershed. Those projects include: 

  • Wetland restoration for improved floodwater storage  
  • Developing a long-term hydrologic model to support water supply and fish passage  
  • Replacing undersized culverts to improve streamflow 
  • Plus more – learn about all the priority projects in the team’s final report  

What’s Next?

Now that priority actions have been identified, the project team is turning planning into action, holding site visits and securing grant funding to start implementing solutions. We joined state leaders, including Governor Baker, at an event highlighting the project’s successful partnership at the regional, state, and local levels. 

With funding secured from a SNEP Network Technical Assistance Grant and the Taunton River Stewardship Council, the project team is moving forward with further assessment of current conditions in the upper Nemasket River, and exploring potential management actions and their associated outcomes with the Ponds communities. These studies will inform the next steps local managers take to begin implementing solutions. 

As Massachusetts communities continue to experience and plan for the impacts of climate change, proactive management of the Assawompset Ponds Complex can serve as an example in valuing local stakeholder engagement, a regional approach to planning, and nature’s role in our resilience. 

Partners on this project included Mass Audubon, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, Manomet, and the Horsley Witten Group, Inc., with support of The Nature Conservancy and other Resilient Taunton Watershed Network partners. It was made possible through funding secured in the FY2020 state budget and managed by the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration.

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!