Category Archives: Wildlife Protection

Action You Can Take This Week: Support Pollinator Habitat Protection

One of our top legislative priorities this session is a bill related to pollinator health: S.2460resolve to protect pollinator habitat, filed by Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Representative Mary Keefe (D-Worcester). It was recently reported to the Senate Committee on Rules, the last stop before consideration before the full Senate.

We need your help to get this bill passed before the end of the session! Please call your state Senator today and ask them to support this bill, which is critical to protecting both wild and native bees, as well as a whole range of pollinators including butterflies.

Photo credit: Zeynel Cebeci

The Intern Intel Report #1: Summer 2018 Edition

Hi! I’m Jetta Cook and I’m a new Conservation Policy Intern here at Mass Audubon. I’m an incoming senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I’m double majoring in Natural Resource Conservation and Legal Studies. For as long as I can remember, I have had a love for the outdoors, and the creatures that call it home. I hope to enter the field of environmental law and policy to help in the fight to preserve our natural world.

Growing up on Cape Cod, it was hard not to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Being surrounded by such large areas of protected land allowed me great opportunities that I would like to help ensure for the next generation. I became acquainted with Mass Audubon and the great work they do through my time spent at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where I explored both with my family and through their summer camp sessions, which I both attended and volunteered for. I also helped volunteer at Cape Cod National Seashore for both their Interpretive and Natural Resource divisions, protecting the land and helping to show visitors what makes that park so special. Through these opportunities, it has become clear to me that through the hard work and dedication of these organizations, crucial land and habitat can be protected, along with the wildlife species that depend on them.

Going forward, I hope to continue more into the field of environmental law and policy to help ensure the conservation of our natural world. I am hoping to go to law school to give me more tools to assist in my passion for conservation. Over the course of the summer, I will be gaining experience to help me on my way. I will be writing more blog posts about this journey, and I hope you will all come along for the ride!

Conservation Policy intern Jetta Cook

 

Help Trailside Secure Needed Funding

Update 5/29/18: Good news – the version of the Senate FY19 budget that ultimately passed included $300,000 for Trailside! Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator in support of Trailside funding. A conference committee will now have to reconcile the House and Senate budget versions, and we’ll be advocating for the highest funding levels for our priority programs.

As the FY19 state budget continues its progress through the State House, we’re at a crucial point for Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum funding.

Trailside is the interpretive center for the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation and features a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of rescued wildlife. Mass Audubon operates the museum in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which means we receive a crucial component of Trailside’s funding through the state budget each fiscal year. Trailside welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year and is home to the Snowy Owl Project.

Trailside director Norman Smith before releasing a Snowy Owl to safety. Photo: Raymond MacDonald

Although the Governor’s original FY19 budget did not include funding for Trailside, the House version included $50,000 thanks to an amendment filed by Representative William Driscoll.

Now the Senate is gearing up to debate their version of the budget on May 22, and Senator Walter Timilty has filed an amendment requesting $1 million for Trailside.

Over the past few years, Trailside has faced a continuing revenue shortfall and received only a fraction of the state funding needed to sustain its operation and public programs. Senator Timilty’s amendment is a chance to reclaim that much-needed funding.

You can help! Please contact your state Senator and ask them to support Senator Timilty’s Amendment #935 for Trailside. A quick call or email can make a big difference. Thank you for your advocacy!

The Word on Offshore Wind

Mass Audubon submitted comments to the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the latest stage of review for the proposed 800 MW Vineyard Wind project. The offshore wind facility would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod.

To meet Massachusetts’ long term renewable energy goals, the state is seeking bids to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy. Vineyard Wind is currently one of the three offshore wind energy projects competing for a contract in Massachusetts, and is the first to initiate a long and complicated state, federal, local, and regional permitting process.

Offshore wind is on the horizon for Massachusetts

Mass Audubon supports the responsible development of clean, renewable energy that reduces the worst effects of climate change. But, we also urge BOEM and project developers to operate under appropriate conditions to protect important habitats and the marine and bird species that utilize these areas. Read the letter here.

We also signed onto a group comment letter with partners including the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and others

Vineyard Wind has also continued to move forward with state-level permitting, filing their draft Environmental Impact Report with the Commonwealth for the wind farm’s transmission cable to the land-based grid. We’ll be commenting on that process as well. The DEIR is available now on the project website, though the official comment period is not yet open.

We’ll be continuing to follow the development of this project and others proposed off the Massachusetts coast.

Proposed offshore wind leased areas off Massachusetts

Update: Migratory Birds at Risk Once Again

Update 5/31/2018:

A group of national conservation organizations are suing the Department of Interior over changes to the law.

Original post:

This year marks the 100th anniversary of enactment of the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of America’s first environmental statutes. Despite its longstanding, effective protections for birds, the MBTA is currently under attack by the Trump Administration. Mass Audubon and our federal leaders are speaking out against those attempts to weaken the law.

The MBTA makes it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.

Snowy owls are among the hundreds of bird species protected by the MBTA.  Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

In December 2017, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) made a decision to cripple the MBTA. In a legal memorandum, the Department stated that “incidental,” as opposed to “intentional,” bird deaths resulting from energy industry activities will no longer result in prosecution. This definition would effectively remove accountability over such deaths – for example, birds killed in oil spills. This decision comes at a time when migratory birds are already stressed by habitat loss and climate change.

Mass Audubon helped get the MBTA passed in Congress, and we’re speaking up again on its behalf today. See what Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton and Advocacy Director Jack Clarke had to say about “The White House War on Birds” in their Op Ed running in regional newspapers statewide.

Mass Audubon also reached out to the DOI in opposition to this change. You can too.

American goldfinch are also protected by the MBTA. Photo credit: USFWS

Also weighing in are Senator Ed Markey and his colleagues, who wrote to DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting that he fully implement the MBTA and continue holding industries accountable for preventable bird deaths. These Senators are joined by many of their House colleagues, including members of the Massachusetts delegation, who also wrote to Secretary Zinke defending the Act. We encouraged those Massachusetts members who hadn’t yet signed on to add their names.

It’s going to take strong collaboration and continued outreach to ensure that our country’s most important bird protection law itself remains protected.

Speak up for Marine Monuments

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monument, one of our country’s most special places, remains at risk of cuts to its protections. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump alter the way several national monuments are managed, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the New England coast – the only marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The recommendation to reduce the size or protections of ten monuments nationwide was made despite a public comment period during which, according to Secretary Zinke’s report, “comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments.”

The mytilus seamount, part of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, is home to a diverse array of corals. Photo credit: NOAA

Please remind our US Senators and Representatives to voice their opposition to this decision. Ask them to tell President Trump that cutting protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is unacceptable. Changes in the monument’s protections could put endangered whales, deep-sea corals, and other rare marine life at risk.

These proposed changes also come at a time when our offshore areas are already threatened by a recent federal proposal to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.

 

Supporting Bird-safe Buildings

Update 2/11/19: The Bird-Safe Buildings Act was refiled for the 2019 session – learn how you can help support it.

Original post: 

When we hear about the impacts of development on birds, we probably think about habitat loss: cutting down trees to make room for new structures, or filling in wetlands. But did you know that the buildings themselves can also pose a serious risk to our feathered friends?

In the U.S., window strikes are estimated to kill up to 1 billion birds annually, and window strikes are one of the leading causes of death for migratory birds. During the day, the problem occurs when birds see their natural habitat mirrored in windows and fly directly into the glass, causing injury, and, in 50 % or more of the cases, death.  At night, especially during spring and fall migration, lights in and around buildings can confuse birds, leading to collisions or exhaustion as the birds circle the structure.

This imprint of a bird was left on a window after a collision. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user StuartB4.

To reduce this threat, several cities in North America, including Boston, Chicago, and Toronto, have taken steps to reduce light from tall buildings during migratory bird season. In Boston’s case, this effort comes through the Lights Out Boston! program, on which we partnered with Mayor Tom Menino’s administration. We are hoping to revive our partnership with the City to expand the program. Though programs like Lights Out Boston! are an important step in protecting birds, they are voluntary.

As such, we’ve endorsed the Federal Bird-safe Buildings Act of 2017 (S.1920/H.R.2542, filed by Senator Booker [D-NJ] and Representative Quigley [D-IL]). This proposed legislation would require all new federal renovations or construction to incorporate bird-safe characteristics like reduced glass surfaces and shielding of outdoor lights. Under this bill, any glass that is used would have to be fritted, screened, shaded, or UV-reflective, qualities proven to reduce bird collisions. Other conditions include regularly surveying for stunned or dead birds.

Application of anti-bird strike film is one option for reducing collisions. Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

We reached out to our congressional delegation to request their support for this bill. You can help too, by asking your own US representative and senators for their support.

More locally, we submitted comments to the City of Boston on the planned renovation project at One Post Office Square. Boston is located along a major migratory bird pathway, and these migrants utilize small urban parks, including Post Office Square, as ‘stopover’ or resting habitat during migration. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird Project, 91 bird species have been observed at the site. A glass-clad building in such close proximity to a well-known bird habitat presents a clear hazard to birds. On top of this, it is important to avoid large, uninterrupted areas of reflective glass in close proximity to landscape features, since birds may be attracted to the plantings and unable to distinguish the glass reflections. We encouraged the Boston Planning and Development Agency to consider building façade and landscaping designs that minimize bird collision hazards.

In the future, we hope to see bird safety become more commonplace in development, through both regulations and incentives, like the LEED credit awarded for Bird Collision Deterrence.  The choice should be clear – but the buildings shouldn’t.

Sensitive Offshore Areas at Risk

The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has released a draft plan to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass around 90% of US coastlines. This means that the coast off of New England could now be opened up to drilling.

The decision came when DOI released its Notice of Availability of the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which includes plans for two oil and gas lease sales in in the North Atlantic.

(Update: Mass Audubon attended the Boston public listening session on the expansion plan, and submitted comments to the Bureau of Energy Management voicing our opposition. The Massachusetts congressional delegation and Governor Baker have also written to DOI Secretary Zinke urging him to exclude the North Atlantic from the expansion. You can voice your opposition too.)

The exploration, development, and production of oil and gas off the Massachusetts Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and geological resources. Massachusetts and all of New England depend on a thriving coastal and ocean economy – which brings in $17.5 billion annually to the region – and that success in turn depends on healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems.

Endangered humpback whales are among the many species whose habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: Bill Thompson, USFWS

In response to this decision, Senator Ed Markey and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the New England Coastal Protection Act, which would bar offshore drilling along the New England coast and protect our ocean resources. Senator Elizabeth Warren and all of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation have co-sponsored the bill.

Mass Audubon agrees that a permanent moratorium is needed on oil and gas exploration and production off Massachusetts. It would be a grave mistake to place our valuable natural resources at risk, especially when so much progress and economic growth is occurring through energy efficiency and development of clean, renewable energy.

This infographic gives a sense of the damage that offshore drilling could cause our region. To make matters worse, this graphic doesn’t account for currents or other variables. For instance, the combination of the Labrador Current coming down from the north and Gulf Stream coming from the south creates a clockwise gyre on George’s Bank. If there was a spill there, oil or gas would likely become entrapped in the gyre, repeating the damage to fish and other marine resources over and over. Photo credit: Center for American Progress

There are four areas in particular that we are especially concerned could be impacted:

Nearshore areas within 100 miles of the Massachusetts coast – the 1,500-mile coastline of the Bay State constitutes an environmentally sensitive and fragile marine environment that contributes substantially to the tourism and recreational economies of Massachusetts.

Georges Bank – this shallow, sediment-covered underwater plateau was once one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds for Atlantic cod, haddock, and flounder. Much of the Bank is currently closed to fishing in order to allow the area to recover from bottom-trawl fishing, and any disruption caused by drilling will severely disrupt long-term restoration efforts and jeopardize future sustainability.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary –  located between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, this area provides feeding and nursery grounds for more than a dozen cetacean species including the endangered humpback, northern right, and fin whales; supports foraging activity by diverse seabird species, including loons, shearwaters, alcids, and terns; Leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (both endangered species) use the area for feeding, and seasonal fish and invertebrate populations include bluefin tuna, herring, cod, lobster, and scallops.

Atlantic cod in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: Matthew Lawrence, NOAA

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument – 4,913 square miles of rich and diverse marine ecosystem, which includes three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains (extinct volcanoes) known as “seamounts” that are biodiversity hotspots and home to many rare and endangered species.  These include thousand-year-old deep sea corals found nowhere else on Earth and other rare fish and invertebrates.

The proposed expansion would also be inconsistent with the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, which Mass Audubon helped develop. In addition to the the actions of Governor Baker and the Massachusetts congressional delegation opposing the expansion, Attorney General Healey has also said she opposes opening up any new ocean areas to oil and gas leasing.

The final expansion plan is expected to be released by December 2018, which will be followed by its own 90-day public comment period. We’ll be standing alongside our state leaders and conservation partners to keep offshore drilling away from Massachusetts shores and beyond.

Help Migratory Birds Remain Protected

We’ve learned from our friends at the National Audubon Society that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is at risk. The US House Committee on Natural Resources recently approved energy legislation to which an amendment was added that would significantly weaken this important bird protection.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

The MBTA is one of the country’s oldest and most effective protections for birds, making it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.

The amendment filed by US Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) strips away this incentive. If the bill as amended becomes law, industries would no longer be held accountable for bird deaths, such as birds killed in oil spills.

A full vote is expected in the House soon. Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge them to vote NO on this harmful amendment.