Category Archives: Climate Change

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.

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

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.