Author Archives: kheymann

Executive Order Puts Coastal Areas at Risk

Last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) aimed at streamlining environmental permitting regulations for major infrastructure projects such as highways and utility corridors. The EO included a revocation of a national standard requiring that federally-funded projects built in floodplains take into consideration future flood risk.

Environmental review is a major component of transportation and other infrastructure projects, which require multiple federal and state permits and reviews. These environmental reviews were borne out of public concern over destructive highway projects across the nation that damaged environmental and cultural resources. Over the past decades, federal agencies have been tasked with making the environmental review process efficient and timely (see here and here).  It is unclear the extent to which President Trump’s EO will clash with existing laws, policies, and regulations; however, it is clear that it prioritizes industry over the health and safety of citizens.

Photo credit: Aislinn Dewey

The now-repealed federal standard – known as the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, or FFRMS – ensured that federally-funded projects built in floodplains would live out their intended lifespan while protecting public health and safety. The FFRMS encouraged the use of nature-based approaches to addressing flood risks by promoting green infrastructure (systems and features engineered to mimic natural processes) as a viable tool in mitigating flood risk and building resilience. It gave flexibility to project proponents, allowing them to choose from a suite of options in order to meet the requirements of the new standard.

For many coastal cities grappling with the impacts of coastal flooding this action ignores the reality of climate change and leaves millions – including Massachusetts residents — at risk. This backslide at the federal level makes it more important than ever for the Massachusetts legislature to pass our comprehensive adaptation management plan bill.

We Won’t Always Have Paris

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

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

Photo credit: Arthurguo

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

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

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

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

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director

Getting the Lead Out of the Great Outdoors

Lead Bullet Ban Overturned

Newly appointed Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently overturned a ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle in all national parks and wildlife refuges. The ban had been implemented on the Obama administration’s last full day in office as part of a nearly decade-long effort, but was delayed due to strong opposition by gun and sportsmen’s organizations.

Despite widespread acceptance of a nationwide restriction on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl in 1991, federal efforts to curb the use of lead ammunition for hunting have been largely opposed.

Opponents of the ban cite the added expense of lead bullet alternatives as one of the main rationales for opposing the ban, and claim that evidence of significant effects on wildlife populations from the use of lead bullets is lacking.

Those in favor of the ban argue that inexpensive alternatives are available and affordable, and that their use has long been justified by extensive documentation of lead poisoning from ammunition sources as a well-established cause of mortality in many birds of prey both domestically and globally.

This x-ray of a condor that died from lead poisoning shows lead fragments in its digestive tract.
Photo credit: National Park Service

Lead Risks on the Rise

Lead is a toxic metal, an environmental contaminant, and a nerve poison; even trace amounts are harmful to both wildlife and humans, especially to children Lead is also ubiquitous, found in peeling window paint, leaching from corroded pipes, and embedded in the soils of suburban backyards and rural forests. Although its use has been largely discontinued in paints, pesticides, and gasoline, it is still used to manufacture lead bullets, fishing sinkers, and tackle.

Concerns about lead contamination in wildlife cannot be easily dismissed. Scavenging and predatory birds and mammals typically ingest lead shot or bullets by consuming either the remnants of carcasses left behind by hunters, or prey animals which have themselves ingested gunshot or carry stray lead pellets in their flesh. According to one USGS scientist, “the magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons is daunting.”

Lead from hunting and fishing creates a hazard for humans as well. Over time, spent or lost lead ammunition and fishing tackle can dissolve into water bodies or leach into soils, creating a toxic source of non-point pollution for surface and groundwater. Studies have also found direct lead exposure risk from the consumption of lead metal fragments in contaminated meat at levels with implications for those regularly consuming venison or other wild game.

This x-ray of a mule deer shows hundreds of lead bullet fragments that were spread through the neck after it was shot with a lead rifle bullet.

According to medical experts, no amount of lead is safe, particularly in children; even small amounts are associated with increased risk of heart failure in adults and with loss of cognitive function in children. No environmental toxin has been as extensively studies as lead, and skepticism of its effects as part of the highly polarized lead ammunition ban debate compelled scientists to publish a consensus statement of scientists on associated health risks. This should raise alarm bells not only for those who enjoy hunting or fishing, but for those committed to the stewardship of nature protecting and public health.

State Bans

With concerns over lead on the rise, states are starting to limit the use of lead bullets or subsidize alternatives. California’s lead bullet ban stems from the well-established impacts of lead-contaminated prey on the condor, an endangered species native to the state. Massachusetts recently prohibited the use of lead bullets at the Mass Military Reservation on Cape Cod to protect a local water resource, and prohibited statewide the use of lead sinkers for fishing. Arizona has taken a less regulatory approach by offering lead-free alternatives to hunters at no cost.

Events like the recent water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan often cast a brief spotlight on the issue of lead exposure in the U.S., but the problem is far more systemic and widespread than is generally known, often spanning generations and correlating closely with poverty rates. One recent investigation found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates 2-4 times higher than those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. Decisive and immediate action is needed to remediate risk exposure in the U.S., and steps must be taken to protect both wildlife and humans.

All Roads Lead to Rome, Again?

Lead poisoning was documented as far back as ancient Roman times, where it was used to make water pipes, household goods, and to sweeten food and wine. Some historians hypothesized that chronic lead toxicity eventually led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, arguably one of the most powerful in human history. Today, health experts agree on the urgency of ending what is now known to be a major source of lead for animals and humans: spent lead bullets and shotgun pellets.

The Center for Disease Control and various states have taken steps to warn the public about the risks posed by spent lead ammunition, but few regulations actually restrict or ban its use. A 2013 peer-reviewed study on the availability, price, and effectiveness of lead-free hunting rifle ammunition found that there is no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead –free and lead-core ammunition.

Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine is an example of a federally-owned land where hunting is allowed in certain areas. Photo credit: Department of the Interior

It is unlikely that lead will have such catastrophic effects on human populations today as compared with the people of Ancient Rome, but lead does reap significant chronic health impacts on those individuals exposed to it. Switching to lead-free ammunition and fishing gear would have immediate benefits to both wildlife and the ten million hunters and their families who enjoy the outdoors. State and federal policy makers should more aggressively pursue this issue in the interest of protecting the health of people and wildlife through both legislation and education.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Is That a Bee in Your Beer?

Let’s raise a pint to the honeybee, without which early man would not have discovered the first fermented honey beverages, leading to the development of the modern beers we enjoy today. In fact, alcoholic drinks made from honey were likely enjoyed long before the discovery of beer and wine, as the natural fermentation of a simple mixture of honey and water produces enough alcohol to generate good cheer.

Civilization has enjoyed honey’s many uses for thousands of years, but at no time in history have honeybee populations been as endangered as they are today. Multiple threats including pesticide exposure, loss of habitat, and the presence of pests known as varroa mites, are resulting in the loss of entire colonies of honeybees, a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Fortunately, scientists have uncovered a potential solution for warding off mites; it turns out that one of the main ingredients in beer, known as hops beta acids (HBA) excels at killing mites without harming bees or humans. In 2015 the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of potassium salts of HBA for repelling varroa mites. Because humans have long consumed HBAs in beer and in preserved meat, they are considered to be safe for use in beehives.

Besides continuing to drink beer in the hopes of supporting new and important scientific discoveries, there are other actions you can take to help protect bees, such as promoting bee habitat and reducing the use of a toxic pesticide known to be harmful to bees.

Call your state legislators today (you can look yours up here) and ask them to support our priority pollinator protection bill! You can let them know that pollinators like bees, as well as bats, birds, and butterflies, are experiencing rapid population declines, and this bill (SB451 and HD3461) would establish a commission to investigate solutions to protect and promote pollinators’ health and habitat. You can also let them know you support bill HB2113, which would regulate the spraying of pesticides containing pollinator-harming neonicotinoids on certain agricultural land.

Thank you for your advocacy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director