Protecting the Endangered Species Act

by Christina Wiseman and Jenna Clemenzi

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is under threat. A bipartisan conservation law passed in 1973, the ESA defines species as “endangered” or “threatened” and requires federal agencies to protect them and their habitat. The ESA has a 99% success rate, and has helped bring species like the bald eagle and humpback whale back from the brink of extinction.

The ESA is especially important today, as we face the threat of a mass extinction of up to 1 million species. This drastic decline in species would be detrimental to our health, food security, and economies. The ESA is also strongly supported by the American public, with 90% expressing support in a recent poll.

Bald eagle chicks. Photo credit: USFWS

An Uncertain Future

Despite the ESA’s popularity and bipartisan passage, some members of Congress have made 150 efforts to weaken the act in the last two years, largely due to pressure from extractive industries that believe the law restricts business.

Last week, the Trump Administration announced their final changes to ESA regulations, which significantly threaten the law’s effectiveness.

These changes include:

  • Allowing economic impacts, rather than solely the best available scientific data, to be considered when determining the protection status of a species
  • Weakening of protections  for species deemed “threatened”
  • More flexibility in determining how species will be impacted in the “foreseeable future,” effectively allowing the effects of climate change to be disregarded

The changes allow the coal, oil, gas, and timber industries to have a greater say in the management of threatened and endangered species and their habitats. In order to ensure the continued survival of these species in the United States, the ESA needs to be restored to its full capacity.

Humpback whale. Photo credit: NOAA

Fighting Back

You can help stop the dismantling of the Endangered Species Act!

  • Call or email your Congressperson and ask them to hold hearings on saving the ESA
  • Ask Senators Warren and Markey to stop the rollback using the Congressional Review Act
  • Thank Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey for her defense of the Act – she plans to sue the Trump Administration over these changes

Mass Audubon has spoken out about this issue before, and we’ll continue to do so. We’ve reached out to Attorney General Healey in support of her legal appeal, and have offered to work with her office in defending the ESA in federal court. As founding members of the US Endangered Species Coalition, we condemned the decision to weaken the ESA, and weighed in about impacts these changes could have locally here in Massachusetts.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – August 5, 2019

Help Cut Peak Energy Use

Cities are especially vulnerable to the rising temperatures that come with climate change, thanks to factors like the heat island effect. Find out why and discover one simple thing you can do to help.

State Budget Success

Governor Baker signed the FY20 budget last week, which included funding for Mass Audubon’s Trailside Museum and a permanent increase for the CPA Trust Fund. Thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators and Governor Baker about supporting these programs!

Climate Central

→ Boston is holding a public hearing on their Community Choice Energy Plan to increase renewable energy use
→ The growing carbon footprint of ride hailing in Massachusetts
12 books about climate change solutions for your summer reading list

Expanding the MVP Program

Massachusetts is seeking Regional Coordinators for the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program. The positions will support communities through the MVP process and help them advance climate resilience projects. Think you’d be a good fit? Learn more & apply >

Harnessing the Wind: A New Resource for Offshore Planning

The heatwaves we’ve been experiencing this summer are a good excuse to get to the beach, but they’re also a reminder that we’re already starting to experience the impacts of climate change. One of Mass Audubon’s top climate change mitigation priorities is the responsible development and use of offshore wind, which could bring more than 4 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy to Massachusetts.

Offshore wind is a critical component to US emissions reduction and has the potential to create thousands of jobs. But we need to make sure the industry grows responsibly, and set clear guidelines for minimizing environmental impacts.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf

Harnessing the Wind: How to Advance Wind Power Offshore, is a new resource produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council in collaboration with Mass Audubon and other partner groups. This guide outlines how we can tap into US offshore wind potential in a way that’s also protective of ocean life, and identifies the top challenges, along with proposed actions, toward accomplishing that goal.

Whether it’s placing projects outside of sensitive habitat areas or reducing underwater noise, taking these measures up-front will ensure the offshore wind industry continues to grow in a way that works for wildlife, people, and the planet.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – July 29, 2019

Greenworks Bill Passes House

Speaker DeLeo’s “Greenworks” bill, which would develop a state grant program for resiliency and clean energy projects, passed in the House last week. Members of our Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Coalition helped improve the bill to include more nature-based solutions and environmental justice criteria, among others.

Climate Central

→ CNN will hold a Democratic presidential town hall focused on the climate crisis
→ Boston is America’s top-rated city for clean energy!
→ Many species aren’t adapting fast enough to withstand climate change
→ Automakers struck a deal with California on improved efficiency standards, despite a federal push to roll them back.

Greening Transportation Workshops

State agencies will hold more community workshops in August to gather input for a regional, low-carbon transportation plan. Part of the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative, these workshops will focus on how to reduce emissions and make our transportation systems more resilient and equitable.

Taking Action on Chemical Contamination

We signed on to testimony in support of bills that would establish an interagency task force on the group of chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS chemicals threaten both public and ecosystem health through groundwater contamination, and the state needs a plan to improve their management.

Upholding Hydropower Regulations

Mass Audubon was also among 70 groups opposing a state proposal to change the way hydropower generators are certified as river-friendly facilities. The change would allow a qualified project to retain that status regardless of environmental changes or needed updates, which could negatively impact river systems.

Help Us Save CPA!

Update 8/5/2019: Great news – Governor Baker signed the FY20 budget last week, and it included these CPA funding increases. Thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators and Governor Baker in support of CPA!

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) helps cities and towns preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities. Since it went into effect in 2000, CPA has been adopted by 175 communities (50% of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns), and has helped preserve 29,289 acres of open space.

When a city or town votes to adopt CPA, they agree to add a small surcharge to local property taxes, which goes into a dedicated fund for these projects. In exchange, they receive matching funds from the Statewide CPA Trust Fund, which is generated from Registry of Deeds recording fees.  

© Community Preservation Coalition

As the number of CPA communities has increased, however, Trust Fund payouts to CPA communities have declined. Fortunately, we now have a chance to change that pattern.

The FY20 budget has been sent to Governor Baker’s desk for his final approval, and it includes a long-overdue increase to recording fees from $20 to $50 – a change that would provide the Trust Fund with an additional $36 million per year! The budget also includes a one-time transfer of $20 million to the Trust Fund from the state’s FY19 tax collection surplus.

Combined, these fixes would stabilize CPA and boost future matching funds for communities to use in local projects.

You can help make this happen! Our Community Preservation Coalition has launched a campaign to generate hundreds of phone calls to the Governor’s hotline, urging him to sign the bill. It only takes two minutes – please call today and let Governor Baker know it’s time to #SaveCPA!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – July 22, 2019

Help Pass a Strong State Budget

The FY20 state budget is headed to Governor Baker’s desk. Good news for climate change adaptation programs, Mass Audubon’s Trailside Museum, Green Budget priorities, and CPA—which all received the funding levels we recommended. Help ensure the final budget stays strong!

Environmental Justice & the Climate Crisis

Mass Audubon recently endorsed the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform, which advances the goals of economic, racial, climate, and environmental justice to improve the well-being of all communities while tackling the climate crisis.

Climate Central

→ If no action is taken, here’s how hot Massachusetts will get by century’s end.
→ Help our friends at MCAN rally support for climate-smart building codes.
→ This month is shaping up to be the warmest July on record.
“Climate despair” is real, but not necessarily helpful.

Celebrating Local Resiliency Work

Last week we attended Governor Baker’s award ceremony for the town of Millbury’s MVP action grant-funded downtown greening project. Our Shaping the Future program helped the town develop the plan, and will be advising on later stages of the project.

Help Pass a Strong State Budget

The Massachusetts state legislature released their final FY20 state budget over the weekend following conference committee deliberations, and there’s good news for many of Mass Audubon’s priority programs, including our Blue Hills Trailside Museum:

Trailside director Norman Smith preparing to release a snowy owl
  • Trailside received $500,000, the amount we requested and a $200,000 increase compared to FY19
  • A long-awaited deeds fee increase that would restore needed Community Preservation Act funding was upheld, and an additional $20 million was directed to the CPA Trust Fund
  • Our recommended funding levels were met or exceeded for several Green Budget line items and the Mass Cultural Council (see table below)
  • The conference committee also included $2.19 million for state climate change adaptation programs

Now the budget is on its way to Governor Baker’s desk for final approval. He can still veto line item funding, so help make sure he knows Massachusetts residents value these programs! You can email his office and encourage him to pass a budget that upholds funding levels for these programs.

Mass Audubon will be submitting our own request to the Governor as well.

The Intern Intel Report: Summer 2019 #2

Hi everyone! My name is Taylor Wurts and I am a new Legislative Affairs intern at Mass Audubon. I am a rising senior at Tufts University where I study International Relations, Economics, and French. I have been fortunate enough to have had many incredible experiences in the outdoors and am honored to help protect the planet with Mass Audubon’s advocacy department this summer.

Growing up and going to school in Massachusetts, the organization’s many incredible wildlife sanctuaries were never far from home. Some of my earliest memories are of watching the goats at Drumlin Farm, while more recently I’ve frequently cross paths with Mass Audubon sanctuaries while training as a member of Tufts’s cross country and track and field teams. Similarly, as a trip leader for an outdoor education program last summer, I led bike touring and camping trips for teenagers that traversed Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. Sharing the unique beauty of these natural landscapes and teaching conservation, leave no trace, and outdoor living principles, I was reminded daily of the importance of preserving our state’s many resources so that future generations can be afforded the same opportunities I have. Organizations like Mass Audubon are leading this charge, whether through advocacy efforts at the State House, conservation initiatives at fifty-nine sanctuaries across the state, or educational outdoor programs and camps.

This summer, I hope to gain a more nuanced understanding of how the policy process works at both the state and federal level, and leave with valuable tools to help effect environmental change. Afterwards, I will be finishing up my studies at Tufts University before hopefully beginning an environmentally-focused career. I seek to one day work at the intersection of international relations and environmental policy, helping to forge an increasingly critical global climate regime. I am eager to get to work with Mass Audubon and hope you all join me for this adventure!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – July 15, 2019

Join Firefly Watch!

It’s summertime, and that means fireflies are out and about. Firefly Watch is a citizen science project that gathers data on local firefly populations, and you can help right from your backyard!

Weigh in on Green Transportation

State agencies and transportation groups are holding public workshops on the future of green transportation. Massachusetts is part of the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative working to adopt a regional, low-carbon transportation policy. We’ve provided past input with our partners.

Climate Central

→ Worcester and Boston will participate in a new urban heat island mapping project.

→ Discussing climate change leads to more acceptance of its science.

→ EEA Secretary Katie Theoharides on state climate initiatives.

→ Intelligence aide blocked from submitting climate change testimony resigns.

The Intern Intel Report: Summer 2019 #1

I’m Jenna Clemenzi, a Legislative Affairs intern at Mass Audubon. I grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts and just recently moved to Boston. I graduated from Simmons University in May ’19 with my BA in Political Science, and I’ll be returning to Simmons in the fall to start my Master of Public Policy. I’ve always had an interest in environmental policies and sustainability, so I’m excited to learn more about Mass Audubon’s advocacy initiatives this summer.

During my senior year of high school, I interned at Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. I grew up nearby this sanctuary and enjoyed hiking the trails and canoeing along the Ipswich River. I loved spending time outside and visiting the sanctuary, so it was the perfect way to end my senior year! I learned how the staff preserves and manages the grounds, and helped upkeep the sanctuary, doing everything from clearing trails to managing groups of volunteers. This experience gave me a great appreciation for Mass Audubon and the work they do to protect nature in Massachusetts.   

As a Public Policy student, I am interested in pursuing a career related to environmental policy. I’m always looking for ways to live more sustainably and I’d love for my career to have a positive environmental impact too! I’m looking forward to spending this summer learning more about current environmental legislation in Massachusetts, and the influence that organizations like Mass Audubon can have on state policies.