Category Archives: Land Management

Local Efforts Make the Difference for Water Conservation

by Ariel Maiorano

Remember the drought of 2016? Wells went dry, and reservoirs dropped precipitously low. The second-largest city in New England, Worcester, ran so low on water that they had to tap into additional sources (to the tune of over $1 million). Unfortunately, droughts are becoming increasingly more frequent and extreme, especially as our climate changes. Even though Massachusetts receives 15% more water annually compared to averages in the early 20th century, that precipitation now arrives in heavy bursts followed by prolonged dry spells. These dry times have enormous implications for municipal drinking water supplies. Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to protect those supplies, some of which is extremely low cost.

In a local letter to the editor published earlier this month in the Sharon Advocate , resident and town Water Conservation Estimator Paul Lauenstein shared  that the Town of Sharon reduced their annual water consumption to the lowest it’s been since 1984 thanks to public education and outreach. You can find the text of Lauenstein’s letter here.

Overall, the town of about 18,000 has reduced public well water pumping by one-third since its peak in the mid-1990s, from upwards of 600 million gallons to below 400 million gallons. Below is a figure from the town’s 2016 Water Quality Report, detailing the decrease in water usage since the 1995 spike.

Source: Water Quality Report for 2016, Town of Sharon

Lauenstein’s letter attributes Sharon’s success to adopting policies like rebates for resource-efficient appliances, and incorporating environmental education into public school curricula to shift local practices. The town Water Department also prioritized leak repairs and included reminders to reduce consumptions in water bills.  By taking low-cost and common-sense approaches to water conservation, the town successfully and significantly reduced community-wide water usage.

Water conservation offers a broad range of benefits, including improved public health, cost savings, resource availability, ecosystem value, and well-being of wildlife.  Sufficient water supplies are critical to communities throughout the Commonwealth that pump locally-sourced groundwater to meet the needs of their populations.

One of the many benefits of conservation listed by Lauenstein is the preservation of Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This rare habitat not only provides spectacular habitat for local species and recreational benefits from wildlife watching, but it also provides the service of filtering and purifying water on-site that is later pumped by local wells. By conserving water to keep this resource healthy, Sharon is letting nature work for them and allowing the ecosystems to purify water so that built infrastructure doesn’t have to.  “Green infrastructure” exists in every community and by prioritizing its protection, communities can improve their bottom line as well as enjoy co-benefits like  flood reduction and improved climate resilience.

Conserving wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwater, is one way to reap the benefits of “green infrastructure.” Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon’s Shaping the  Future of Your Community Program encourages communities across the Commonwealth to identify naturally-occurring  green infrastructure in their own towns, and to take steps to conserve it. Check out our five-part guide that introduces you to what green infrastructure is, how to protect it, and how to re-incorporate it in already-developed areas. Ready to take the next step? Learn how to update your local bylaws and regulations to encourage these types of nature-based solutions.

Whether your community is conserving landscapes like Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, or is looking for more cost-effective ways to manage local water, we can follow the Town of Sharon’s common sense approach.

Ariel Maiorano is Mass Audubon’s Assistant Coordinator for the Shaping the Future of Your Community Program

Important Conversations on Conservation

Recently, Congresswoman Katherine Clark convened an environmental round table at Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. Mass Audubon staff, including president Gary Clayton, Broadmoor director Elissa Landry, and legislative director Karen Heymann, and our partner groups shared ideas and concerns, including those involving unprecedented threats facing federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. We also discussed the need to reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) before it expires in September.  We agreed that these challenging times require strong partnerships and a greater resolve to work together to find new solutions.

Karen Heymann (left) during a roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Clark (second from left) and environmental partners at Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

For 52 years, LWCF has protected national parks and open spaces in every corner of the United States. Massachusetts alone has received more than $223 million from the LWCF to protect everything from wildlife refuges and working forests to community parks.

In support of LWCF, legislative director Karen Heymann spoke alongside Congressman Joe Kennedy and other environmental groups at an event at Fisher Hill Reservoir Park in Brookline. Hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the event focused on the importance of protecting our natural spaces for future generations.

Several environmental groups were represented on the panel of speakers that joined Congressman Kennedy (center)

Support Funding for Conservation Land Donations

Massachusetts’ Conservation Land Tax Credit (CLTC) program offers an incentive for landowners who donate land for conservation purposes. CLTC is long overdue for a funding expansion that would allow for a larger number of these credits to be offered.

Photo credit: Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

The House version of the state budget passed earlier this spring included that funding increase, proposing to raise the cap on CLTC from $2 million to $5 million over the next three years. Now, a conference committee is settling the differences between the House and Senate budget versions, and are expected to report out their own version on Wednesday for the Governor’s approval.

You can help CLTC get its funding! Please contact your legislator, and ask them to urge budget conference committee members to keep the CLTC increase in the budget.

Saving the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Update 11/26/18: Unfortunately, time ran out for Congress to renew the LWCF before it expired in September. There is still hope for the program to be renewed before the end of the 2018 session and avoid the additional loss of funding for our open spaces, but Congress needs to hear from us. Add your voice.

Massachusetts is fortunate to have spectacular seashores, wildlife refuges, and national scenic trails that contribute to a $16.2 billion outdoor recreation economy. Many of these places have been protected thanks in part to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s most important program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation.

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 $223 million to protect this sites like Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, the New England National Scenic Trail, and Cape Cod National Seashore (see the Spotlight on Massachusetts: LWCF fact sheet).

Without action by Congress, the LWCF’s authorization will expire on September 30, 2018.

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

As a member of the LWCF Coalition, this week we are spreading the #SaveLWCF message to save our natural and historic treasures in Massachusetts. If the LWCF disappears, so too will opportunities for future protection of the places we love.

Learn how you can help #SaveLWCF on the Coalition website.

Meeting with Congressman Moulton

It’s been a busy few weeks of meeting with our congressional delegation! In the latest of our series of meetings, Mass Audubon and our partners met last week with Congressman Seth Moulton at his district office in Salem.

We discussed issues like the proposed Hydro-Quebec project, and related reservoir flooding and river diversions. We also explained our concerns about the federal legislation that would alter the management of a portion of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. The bill, filed by Massachusetts Congressman William Keating on behalf of the town of Chatham, is a misguided attempt to clarify a disagreement over management of the Refuge’s western boundary, but if passed would create a dangerous precedent for future legislation by others to give away, strip or weaken federal control over protected lands. We have instead been encouraging a negotiated, collaborative solution to be arrived at in Chatham Town Hall.

For these reasons, we encouraged Congressman Moulton to oppose the federal boundary change if it comes to a vote.

A scene from Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham

Mass Audubon Visits DC

Last week, Mass Audubon traveled to Capitol Hill to discuss federal conservation priorities during the first-ever Independent Audubon Societies’ lobby day. Our Legislative Director Karen Heymann met with congressional staff for Congressman Moulton, Congressman Neal, Congressman Kennedy and Congressman McGovern and Senator Warren.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director Karen Heymann, third from right, with representatives from other independent Audubons around the country

Independent Audubon staff from 9 regions of the country participated in the lobby day. Pressing federal priorities for our coalition include passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, permanent authorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, defense of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling, and funding for environmental agencies.

The event was a great opportunity not only to speak with decision makers on Capitol Hill, but also to learn about the work of other Audubon networks across the US. Mass Audubon represented the largest membership base of all the groups.

In addition to speaking with Massachusetts legislators, Mass Audubon also met as part of a group to discuss national environmental issues with other states. Pictured here from left to right: Karen Heymann; Lisa Alexander, Executive Director, Audubon Naturalist Society; Patrick Comins, Executive Director, The Connecticut Audubon Society; and Jordan Ebert, Legislative Aide to Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). Photo credit: Audubon Naturalist Society

 

A Year in Review

The past year started out as a difficult one for those of us that advocate on behalf of the environment. The new President appointed friends of the fossil fuel industry to lead the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, pulled America out of the Paris climate accord, and began hacking away at programs that protect our air, land, and water.

But despite the topsy-turvy year we’ve had, here at Mass Audubon we are ending 2017 with renewed hope. Through collaboration with our partner groups, conversations with our elected and appointed government officials, and the support and action of our members and subscribers, we showed Capitol Hill the resilience and determination of America’s environmental movement.

And that’s just what we are – a movement. We organized, we marched, and we spoke up.

We’ve continued to focus on a three-pronged strategy:

First, we’ve fought to uphold our existing federal environmental laws. Mass Audubon and our environmental partners met with Senator Ed Markey, Congressman Jim McGovern, and aides to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Seth Moulton, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark, where we discussed strategy for environmental advocacy at the federal level. We will continue to meet with the rest of the Massachusetts delegation in 2018. We also met with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and her senior energy and environment staff to discuss our legal options. Attorney General Healey told us that she wouldn’t hesitate to take the president to court to defend the rule of law, and she has already done so more than 15 times. We stand alongside her.

From L-R: Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke

Second, we stepped up our game at the state and local levels of government. Although the President denies climate change and supports the fossil fuel industry, 95% of utility and electricity oversight is in the hands of states, not the federal government. States like Massachusetts will continue to set the tone for reducing heat-trapping emissions and requiring industry to produce and use more green energy, and several states including ours formed the US Climate Alliance. Mass Audubon has continued to advocate for strict enforcement of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, Green Communities Act, and the Ocean Management Act. Similarly, we will continue to defend the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, which protects 432 native Massachusetts plants and animals, and their habitats even if protections are relaxed or removed at the federal level. We’ve also continued advocating for a minimum of 1% of the overall $40 billion state budget devoted to protecting the nature of Massachusetts – we’re not there yet.

Piping plovers are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

And third, we continued to advance a progressive environmental agenda. This includes a clean energy economy, water resources protection, and land and species conservation at both the federal and state levels. A few highlights from 2017:

  • Our Advocacy director Jack Clarke engaged with hundreds of Mass Audubon members and partners around the state on our environmental advocacy strategy.
  • Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program reached over 1,000 people and showed citizens how they can help conserve land and incorporate more sustainable development methods in their cities and towns.
  • We helped pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 11 more municipalities, bringing the state total to 172 cities and towns. CPA has resulted in the protection of over 26,000 acres of open space in Massachusetts.
  • Our statewide Climate Adaptation Coalition continued to grow to more than 50 organizations, who are working to ensure that Massachusetts’ residents and landscapes are resilient in the face of climate change impacts. Mass Audubon staff were also trained as providers through the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which helps communities identify local vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and develop actions to increase resilience.
  • Our priority legislation that would better codify Massachusetts for climate change preparedness passed in the state Senate, and we are hopeful that it will pass in the House and be signed into law in 2018.
  • We supported communities that organized bans on single-use plastic bags – 61 cities and towns including Boston have now taken action to phase out these sources of pollution.

And we couldn’t have done any of this without support from our members and supporters. Thank you for all that you do to help Mass Audubon protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. We look forward to continuing to use our collective voice and achieving even more together in 2018.

Help Public Lands Stay Protected

Legislation that could remove federal protection from Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is on the move again, heading for a mark-up by the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow. The legislation filed by Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating, H.R.1157, was filed on behalf of the Town of Chatham, and is intended to settle a dispute over the management of nearly 4,000 acres of submerged lands and waters within Monomoy.

The Refuge is comprised of a series of dynamic barrier beaches and islands that are constantly reshaped by wind and waves. Federal and local officials have traditionally worked together to preserve this area, but last year the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a proposed management plan that implied they had authority to manage thousands of acres of water, and the fisheries within them, beyond the low tide mark into Nantucket Sound.

The Service cited a map from the Refuge’s establishment in 1944 that they said included this additional area as within the Refuge boundary. But state and local officials argued that the federally-managed portion was only intended to include any land area that might build up above the mean low tide mark (through sand accretion, for instance), not the land underneath or waters beyond it.

A scene from Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham

H.R.1157 makes the statement that the USFWS never had authority over the submerged lands in question. If passed, the bill would allow state and town to officials to continue managing the area.

As we’ve shared before, we are concerned that this bill could set a dangerous precedent for stripping federal protections for public lands and waters across the country, at a time when we are already seeing an assault on our national monuments, like the recent reductions in size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. This kind of legislation could create a dangerous opportunity for unfriendly amendments or future legislation by others to weaken federal control over protected land.

Instead of passing H.R.1157, we encourage all stakeholders to continue working towards a collaborative solution for managing this area that both serves local needs and preserves it as part of the Refuge System.

Mass Audubon is signing onto a letter to our congressional delegation urging them to reject the bill, and you can help too. Contact your congressperson and urge them not to pass H.R.1157. Let them know we can’t afford to remove federal protections from our public lands, and that we need to preserve the boundaries, protection, and integrity of our national monuments.

Action You Can Take This Week: Help Say No to Arctic Drilling

The US Senate passed a budget resolution this week to kick off the FY18 budget process. The resolution includes a provision instructing the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to take actions that could allow federal leasing for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Call your Senators to tell them you oppose this provision. You can let them know that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge makes up nearly 20 million acres of unspoiled nature that should remain wild, not exploited by oil and gas companies.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Setting a Land Protection Precedent

This past winter, Mass Audubon joined onto an amicus brief filed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in the case of Smith v. Westfield in support of open space protection under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. After hearing the case, the SJC has ruled in our favor that such lands are protected under Article 97.

The case involved proposed conversion of parkland (the John A. Sullivan Memorial Playground in Westfield) for a school construction project, and had broad implications for clarifying whether or not parcels of land that communities have dedicated to conservation or recreation purposes, but may not be explicitly limited to such uses in the registry of deeds, are actually protected under Article 97. Local citizens challenged the project and Mass Audubon joined The Trustees, who filed the amicus, and the Mass Land Trust Coalition in taking this action.

The Boston Common is a compelling example of public parkland not explicitly deeded as such. Photo credit: Abhi Suryawanshi

This week, the SJC ruled that such lands are protected under Article 97. In its opinion, the Court ruled that (emphasis in bold is our own):

Article 97 … provides that “[l]ands and easements taken or acquired” for conservation purposes “shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of” without the approval of a two-thirds roll call vote of each branch of the Legislature. The issue on appeal is whether a proposed change in use of municipal parkland may be governed by art. 97 where the land was not taken by eminent domain and where there is no restriction recorded in the registry of deeds that limits its use to conservation or recreational purposes. We conclude that there are circumstances where municipal parkland may be protected by art. 97 without any such recorded restriction, provided the land has been dedicated as a public park. A city or town dedicates land as a public park where there is a clear and unequivocal intent to dedicate the land permanently as a public park and where the public accepts such use by actually using the land as a public park. Because the municipal land at issue in this case has been dedicated as a public park, we conclude that it is protected by art. 97.

This decision re-emphasizes the importance of Article 97 and the public value of open space, and it complements the New England Forestry Foundation vs. Town of Hawley case in which Mass Audubon and The Nature Conservancy also filed an amicus (Dec. 2013) with the SJC. These decisions help establish a strong precedent for the protection of open space from both taxation and change of use without a legislative vote.