Tag Archives: land protection

Big News for Land Protection – LWCF is Now Permanent!

Great news – the federal lands bill that includes permanent re-authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been signed into law by President Trump!

The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) not only reauthorizes LWCF, which expired in September, but also designates more than one million new acres of protected wilderness. Please take a minute to thank your US Representative for their recent vote in support of this bill – the Massachusetts delegation voted “yes” across the board.

The Cape Cod National Seashore has been preserved thanks in part to LWCF funding

The bill also designates sections of the Nashua, Squannacook, and Nissitissit Rivers as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, which helps ensure the preservation of rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. Mass Audubon has supported this designation for the past 3 years while the Nashua River Wild and Scenic Study Committee worked to secure it.

Now that the Natural Resources Management Act has been signed into law, we can celebrate the continued protection of our invaluable wild spaces across Massachusetts and the United States. Thanks to everyone who took the time to contact your legislators in support of this bill – you helped ensure its passage!

Land and Water Funding Close to Victory

Update 3/12/19: The bill was signed into law! Learn more.

Update 3/4/19: The bill making LWCF permanent passed in the House! Thank you everyone who called and wrote to their Representatives.

Great news – the US Senate voted last week to pass public lands legislation that would ensure the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) not only reauthorizes LWCF, which expired in September, but also makes its reauthorization permanent. The bill also designates more than a million new acres of protected wilderness, among many other features.

Thanks to everyone who contacted Senators Markey and Warren urging them to support the bill – both voted in favor of its passage. Overall it passed with a strong majority of 92-8.

Bish Bash Falls, Mount Washington, MA. Photo credit: MA DCR

The US House of Representatives still needs to vote on this legislation before the LWCF can be reauthorized. Help keep up the momentum by contacting your US Representative and ask them to support S.47. Please also take a minute to contact Senators Markey and Warren  to thank them for their support. For 52 years, the LWCF has protected land throughout Massachusetts, from the Cape Cod National Seashore to Bash Bish Falls State Park in Mount Washington. To see those successes made permanent will secure the future of these public lands for generations to come.

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 2/4/19: Public lands legislation that includes permanent reauthorization for LWCF could come up for a vote in the US Senate as early as this week. Mass Audubon is reaching out to our Senators, and you can help.

Please contact Senators Markey and Warren and urge them to support S.47, and to oppose any weakening amendments that could remove LWCF funding or other land protections from the bill.

Let them know that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been expired for four months now, at a total cost of $300M lost to conservation and recreation projects across the country, including Massachusetts. Now that the government has been reopened, the Senate should act as soon as possible to #SaveLWCF.

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

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 to avoid the additional loss of funding for our open spaces, but Congress needs to hear from us. Add your voice.

Original post: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mass Audubon is Monitoring Environmental Regulations at Risk

This week, President Trump signed an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded. According to President Trump, “This will be the biggest such act that our country has ever seen.” Mass Audubon will be on the lookout for the repeal of environmental standards necessary for protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live, work, and play on.

Bald eagles are a species that have benefited greatly from environmental regulations. They are no longer an endangered species in the US thanks to the banning of the pesticide DDT and habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act. Photo credit: USFWS

In more federal news, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to vote on Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, amid complaints from many senators that his answers to their questions were inadequate. Please keep up with your phone calls to Senators Warren and Markey opposing the nomination, and encourage your friends in other states to do the same with their senators!

We are also paying attention to Congress’ damaging decision with regard to federal land management. Earlier this month, Congress revised its House budget rules to more easily allow federal lands to essentially be given away. By adding language to devalue these lands, US Representatives have made it easier to transfer control of more than 640 million acres, including national parks and wildlife refuges to states.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

We’ve written about issues like this before, most recently in regard to control of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham. When management of federal land changes hands to state control, problematic changes can ensue, from limited public access to natural resource exploitation and energy drilling. There is also the added challenge of state agencies and governments being able to pay for all the maintenance required for the land. Mass Audubon is concerned about these legislative changes, and will continue to closely follow the issue and let you know when the time to act will be.

Christina Wiseman is Advocacy Associate.