Category Archives: Land Management

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.

Add Your Voice to Protection of our National Monuments

Add your input to help protect the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Let the US Department of the Interior know that you fully support this extraordinary place’s designation as a National Monument, and ask Secretary Zinke not to modify its boundaries, management, or allowed uses. The comment deadline is today, July 10. 

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is home to our region’s most dramatic ocean features. The area encompasses the only seamounts (extinct underwater volcanoes) in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean as well as canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. Scientists have shown it is a hot-spot for wide range and a high number of sensitive species, including 1,000 year old deep-sea coral communities and endangered whales and sea turtles. Mass Audubon also signed onto a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation expressing our concern about the Trump Administration’s Executive Order calling for the review of this and two dozen other National Monuments.

Action You Can Take This Week: CPA Trust Fund

Last month, the state Senate approved an amendment to the FY18 state budget that would increase the state match for Community Preservation Act (CPA) communities. Without immediate action to adjust the recording fees at the state’s Registries of Deeds, the CPA Trust Fund distribution for the 172 participating communities will plunge to an all-time low of approximately 11% of locally-raised revenues in 2018.

When CPA was signed into law by Governor Cellucci in 2000, it was heralded as a true partnership between the Commonwealth and local communities. Today however, a large gap has developed between the approximately $150 million invested annually by the 172 CPA cities and towns and the $26 million contributed by the state.  A nominal $25 adjustment in recording fees would increase the base CPA state match to approximately 32%, which is the historic average distribution over the last eight years.

A conference committee is now reconciling the House and Senate versions of the budget. Because the CPA amendment was only included in the Senate’s version of the budget, the House side of the conference committee must agree to keep it in the final version. We need to make sure this happens, and you can help!

Please call your state Representative and ask him/her to contact the offices of Speaker Robert DeLeo, Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, and the rest of the budget conference committee and encourage them to include the CPA Trust Fund increase in the final FY18 budget. You can let them know that increasing the Trust Fund will help advance land protection and sustainable development for communities across the Commonwealth.

Learn more about CPA and our Community Preservation Coalition.

Protecting Our Pollinators Statewide

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources recently released their Pollinator Protection Plan to address to some of the threats facing species like bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Pollinator populations have been on the decline due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change.

The Plan released by the state incorporates many suggestions Mass Audubon made during the draft Plan’s public review process, including an increased focus on wild pollinators (vs. only managed hives used in agriculture) and habitat management.

Photo credit: Albert Herring

It also includes Best Management Practices for groups from beekeepers to farmers to homeowners and gardeners, all of whom can take steps to minimize impacts to pollinators and encourage their populations to thrive.

In addition to the Pollinator Protection Plan, Mass Audubon supports proposed legislation that investigates methods for protecting and promoting pollinators’ health. Our goal now is to merge any legislative protection efforts with ensuring that the Plan guidelines are put into place effectively.

For more on protecting pollinators, see our previous blog post.

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.