Category Archives: Land Management

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: 

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!

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!

SMART-er Solar Regulations

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 4, 2020

Help Stop Mosquito Spraying from Going Too Far

New legislation that could be damaging to Massachusetts wetlands and wildlife is on the move at the State House. Learn more about why this bill is the wrong choice for mosquito control, and how you can help.

Climate Central

→ How much food could urban green spaces produce? More than you think.
→ Response to COVID-19 has driven global carbon emissions to levels last seen 10 years ago.
→ Massachusetts announces ecological restoration program for former cranberry bogs.
→ Are we witnessing the death of the car?

A Legacy of Leadership

This week Mass Audubon president Gary Clayton is retiring after more than 30 years with our organization. We’ll miss his warmth, passion for nature, and the strong example he set as a leader. Thank you, Gary, for all your years of service!

(Roseate tern photo credit: USFWS)

Climate Action on the Cape

Mass Audubon signed on to support a Cape Cod Climate Emergency Declaration, coordinated by local groups in the region mobilizing to address the climate crisis. To date 1,300 governments around the world have declared climate emergencies, including municipalities like Amherst, Boston, and Worcester.

New MVP Funding Available

The state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program has opened its next funding round for Planning and Action grants. Mass Audubon is a certified provider for the program, which helps communities plan for climate change and improve their resilience.

Small Fish, Big Role in our Ecosystems

Good news for seabirds and other species that feed on small fish known as sand lances – a new state regulation will reduce their overfishing. Thanks to the Division of Marine Fisheries for making this change! Mass Audubon also consulted on a recent paper on sand lances’ importance for Atlantic Ocean ecosystems.

Poll of the Week

A new Yale poll finds that a majority of American voters support financial relief for renewable energy companies, rather than bailouts for oil and gas companies, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Stop Mosquito Spraying from Going Too Far

Update 7/23/2020: The revised bill has been signed into law by the Governor.

We’ll now be following its implementation closely through the state’s Mosquito Control for a 21st Century Task Force, which will include advocating for statewide reform of Massachusetts’ approach to mosquito control to improve environmental and public health practices.

Update 6/8/2020: The Joint Committee on Public Health has approved a completely redrafted version of the bill by a unanimous, bipartisan vote.

The revised bill no longer allows the Reclamation Board to override all state laws, and creates a task force to review and propose updates to the state’s mosquito control system, based on science.  It also includes notification and reporting requirements for aerial or other wide-scale pesticide applications. Mass Audubon supports these proposed revisions, and now the new bill is headed to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing for further approval.

Thanks to everyone that submitted testimony or contacted committee members – advocacy around this bill by conservation groups and others made a big difference. While this redraft marks progress, we are also still hoping to see additional changes.

Loosening regulations around mosquito spraying could have impacts on our wetlands and water supplies

Original post: A bill is moving through the state’s Joint Committee on Public Health that could be damaging to Massachusetts wetlands and wildlife, and counterproductive to public health concerns.

An Act to Mitigate Arbovirus in the Commonwealth (H.4650), proposed by Governor Baker, aims to address mosquito borne disease, but it goes much too far. The bill would exempt the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board from all state laws and allow them to conduct mosquito eradication measures anywhere in the Commonwealth.  This proposed change is based on a determination by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) that there may be a threat of mosquito borne disease somewhere in the state in the next year, but this is too vague a standard to result in such drastic measures.

The way the bill is written, there is no minimum threshold for these actions to kick in, no opportunity for input from affected communities or landowners, and no expiration date.  The Reclamation Board would be exempt from all state laws, including Massachusetts’ Open Meeting Law, Public Records Act, and environmental laws like the Endangered Species and Wetlands Protection Acts.

Mass Audubon supports the recommendations of the national Centers for Disease Control  and US Environmental Protection Agency calling for a science-based mosquito-borne disease management program, with the goal of protecting public health while minimizing environmental and human health risks associated with some types of mosquito control. Spraying of pesticides to control adult mosquitoes is the least effective, and most environmentally damaging, method.

Reform is needed for mosquito control in Massachusetts, since our existing systems are antiquated and fragmented. But this bill won’t achieve those reforms, instead giving more clout to the existing broken systems.

The proposed legislation is of particular concern at a time when many people are seeking to reduce their exposures to chemicals. More and more people are growing their own food and managing their yards and gardens with minimal or no pesticides, both to protect their own health and for the benefit of wild pollinators, which are in serious decline.  This bill would eliminate landowner’s rights to be excluded from routine pesticide spraying.

Monarch butterfly (Photo: USFWS)

Mass Audubon is opposing this bill at the State House and encouraging the Public Health Committee to reject it.

You can help by opposing the bill too.

Contact the Joint Committee on Public Health and let them know that this bill is too broad, putting wildlife and water supplies at risk, and that it lacks transparency by not providing a role for local boards of health or environmental groups.

All testimony must be submitted by email to Jay.Newsome@mahouse.gov and Brian.Rosman@masenate.gov no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, May 11.

Please include “PUBLIC HEALTH TESTIMONY” in the subject line of the email, and include the name, title and organization (if applicable), address, and telephone number of the person submitting testimony.

Thank you for speaking up!

Saying No to NEPA Rollbacks

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of projects like highway construction and federal land management applications before deciding whether to approve them. In other words, NEPA provides necessary checks and balances as project proposals move forward, and can help block the most environmentally-damaging among them.

Recently, the Trump administration announced plans to “modernize” NEPA in ways that would significantly limit the law’s ability to incorporate public input into project reviews and to avoid climate impacts. If the changes are enacted, they will loosen requirements to consider longer-range, cumulative impacts of a project – like those contributing to, and stemming from, climate change.

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon will be opposing this change with our environmental partners.  A group of more than 140 members of congress, including most of Massachusetts’ delegation, has also voiced their opposition.

You can too.

The federal Council on Environmental Quality is accepting public comments through March 10. You can submit your own comments to oppose weakening NEPA.  

Let the Council know we need to be doing everything we can right now to tighten greenhouse gas emission limits, not weaken them, and that effectively removing climate impacts from the approval process is a short-sighted and dangerous decision for our climate.

Thank you for speaking up!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – February 18, 2020

New Losing Ground Report Out Now!

Losing Ground: Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate is the sixth edition in our series analyzing land use patterns in Massachusetts. It highlights the value of forests, farmlands, and wetlands for climate resilience and includes targeted local data. Explore the report >

Settlement Reached for Housatonic Cleanup

A recent settlement agreement with GE will enhance and expedite the removal of PCBs from the Housatonic River, a cleanup effort that dates back to the 1980s. Mass Audubon’s Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the river. Full story >

New Environmental Appointments Announced

Mass Audubon congratulates three new state environmental leaders—Patrick Woodcock, Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources; Jim Montgomery, Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation; and Shaun Santos, Colonel of the Environmental Police.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – January 27, 2020

Another Look at Cars and Carbon

This Op Ed from Mass Audubon’s advocacy director takes a deeper look at the Transportation and Climate Initiative. You can still support this regional effort to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks.

Climate Central

→ Governor Baker commits to making Massachusetts net-zero by 2050
→ The state has updated its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, and is on track to meet its 2025 goal
→ New Yale report finds climate change will be a voting issue

Climate Bills up for State House Debate

This week, a package of new climate change bills will be debated in the state Senate, an effort that also aligns with the state’s net-zero by 2050 goal. We support these proposals, and encourage the inclusion of offshore wind to achieve their goals.

Protecting US Waters

Last week, the Trump administration finalized a rule to remove federal protections for a large percentage of US streams and wetlands. We opposed this environmentally-damaging change when it was first proposed, and several states including Massachusetts are expected to file lawsuits.

Share Your Thoughts on Mosquito Spraying

Last year, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) occurred across a record portion of Massachusetts, resulting in a high volume of aerial pesticide spraying by the state. Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance are collecting input from watershed and environmental groups to share with the Department of Public Health.