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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 >
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 supportsH.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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.