Category Archives: Advocacy

Bald Eagle flying

When Pest Control Poisons Wildlife: Why It Happens and How to Help

(Disclaimer: the post below includes a photo of a dead bald eagle)

This week, Massachusetts passed a sad benchmark–the first documented case of a bald eagle death in the state from second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR) poisoning.  

Or, in clearer terms: rat poison. 

Anticoagulant rodenticides kill rodents by preventing blood from clotting normally. But these poisons can have unintended victims when wildlife, like birds of prey, ingest them or eat prey that has consumed the bait. 

Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) can be especially problematic since they don’t kill rodents immediately. Poisoned rodents can still live for a few days and consume more poisoned bait during that time, and the delay means they can ingest enough poison to kill a much larger animal. 

Photo: James B. Condon

Aren’t These Poisons Regulated?

Second-generation anticoagulants have been banned by the EPA from the consumer market, but licensed exterminators are still allowed to deploy them. Other rodenticides, called first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and non-anticoagulant rodenticides, are still approved for residential consumer use if enclosed within a bait station. 

While this was the first confirmed case of an eagle death in the state as a result of SGARs, the issue of birds of prey becoming the unintended victims of these poisons is a growing problem. Nearly every raptor species is vulnerable to rodenticide poisoning. For example, one recent study found that 100% of tested red-tailed hawks at Tufts Wildlife Clinic had been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Secondary poisoning has also been documented in species like foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.

What’s the Solution?

With rat populations on the rise, pest control measures continue to be necessary. But many poison-free options for preventing rodent problems exist. In addition to non-chemical traps, these include exclusion methods, like sealing up access points to buildings, and sanitation methods, like securing trash bins to reduce food sources.  

If the situation necessitates hiring a pest control company, choosing one that uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can also make a big impact in reducing widespread pesticide use. IPM relies on a series of pest management evaluations, and its strategies can include trapping, sealing up entry holes in foundations, walls, and roofs, and removing or trimming vegetation that obscures the ground.  

We also need laws to regulate the pesticides that do continue to be used. In California, legislation has passed prohibiting the use of SGARs until state agencies can reevaluate what long-term restrictions are needed to avoid impacts to nontarget wildlife.  

Here in Massachusetts, An Act relative to pesticides would better regulate the use of SGARs, in turn reducing their impacts on birds of prey and other wildlife. The bill would: 

  • Increase use of IPM strategies in Massachusetts 
  • Educate consumers about the benefits of IPM and impacts of SGARs 
  • Require digitization of pesticide use forms, making them more accessible and searchable 

You Can Help Stop Wildlife from Being Poisoned

Ask your state legislators to co-sponsor An Act relative to pesticides today! The more co-sponsors a bill has, the more support it has behind it and the better chance it has of passing. 

By improving our approaches to pest management, we can reduce the need for rodenticides at their source and help our wildlife thrive. 

Bald Eagle Flying © David Morris
Bald Eagle © David Morris

The “MVP” of Climate Adaptation

Climate change impacts all of us. Along with sea level rise, we’re seeing extreme weather, inland and coastal flooding, and severe heat at a greater frequency and intensity. To adapt to climate change means to prepare for impacts like these, and one way that Mass Audubon is acting is through protecting and restoring nature. That’s because natural areas like forests and wetlands help us withstand these impacts in addition to storing carbon, helping us mitigate climate change simultaneously!

Mass Audubon partners with a program that prioritizes nature-based solutions to climate change— Massachusetts’ Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program. The MVP Program provides support for cities and towns in the Commonwealth to identify climate hazards like extreme weather, assess local vulnerabilities to these hazards, and develop action plans to increase resilience to climate change.

Two Steps Closer to Resilience

In addition to encouraging the use of nature-based solutions, the MVP Program’s core principles include using best available climate change science, leading a robust and equitable community engagement process, and enacting climate solutions that benefit the entire community—especially vulnerable populations most affected by climate change. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Planning

First, municipalities participating in the MVP Program need to lead a community-driven planning process to understand climate hazards and vulnerabilities and to identify priority adaptation actions. The city or town works with a state-certified technical assistance provider (like Mass Audubon) and organizes a community workshop with a range of stakeholders that can speak to infrastructural, societal, and environmental needs in light of climate change.

Once a municipality completes the MVP Planning Grant process and submits a summary of findings, they become certified as an MVP Community, eligible to apply for Action Grants to achieve their climate resilience goals.

Step 2: Action

MVP Communities apply for Action Grants to implement on-the-ground projects that address the priorities identified during the planning stage. The potential for these projects is vast—they can include updating stormwater infrastructure given increases in precipitation, removing dams to restore stream flow, conserving a wetland to protect against flooding, or planting trees in an environmental justice community.

Getting an Action Grant can be competitive, but applications that prioritize nature-based solutions to climate change—which provide co-benefits to communities like improved air quality—are in a better position to receive the grant.

The Power of Partnerships

The MVP Program is a great example of partnership between state and local government to address the climate crisis, and MVP communities are working together to make their projects more impactful.

Thanks to MVP grants, four Greater Boston awardees are each focusing on extreme heat from climate change—an impact that was felt strongly this past summer. Since the four projects are similar in geographic area and project goal, the teams have been meeting regularly to learn from each other’s efforts and coordinate community engagement.

Multiple communities are also encouraged to apply for funding together, and Mass Audubon is a partner in one successful example of this. In Southeastern Massachusetts, the communities of Freetown, Lakeville, Middleborough, and Rochester are working together to create a nature-based watershed management and climate action plan in an area of interconnected lands and ponds known as the Assawompset Ponds Complex.

Get Involved

89% of the entire Commonwealth, or 312 municipalities, now participate in the MVP Program. You can help bring participation to 100% and encourage the use of nature-based solutions in your own city or town!

Whether or not your community is already involved in the MVP Program, contact your municipal officials to encourage using this opportunity to protect and restore nature. Even more, all Action Grant projects require public involvement, so your input as a stakeholder is highly valued.

Solving climate change is up to all of us, collectively. Visit our website for more ideas on how you can start acting for resilient, sustainable communities.

– Paige Dolci, Climate Resilience Coordinator

Osprey Nest Nicole Mordecai

Your Chance to Speak Up for Birds

The 100-year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act  (MBTA) is one of our first environmental statutes, making it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. Despite providing crucial protections, the law has been under attack in recent years.  

Normally, when birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA helps hold companies responsible, and is a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place. But a rule passed by the Trump Administration altered the MBTA so that incidental, as opposed to deliberate, bird deaths resulting from these activities–for example, birds killed in oil spills–will no longer result in prosecution. 

Osprey © Nicole Mordecai

Now we have a chance to take action.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed the Trump Administration’s rollback, and is taking input from the public as they consider their next steps. You can submit comments by clicking this link and tell USFWS we need to reinstate full MBTA protections! 

Here’s what you can copy and paste into the comment portal (or personalize your comments with a message of your own!): 

I urge the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse damaging rollbacks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and to restore full protections under the law. Many of our bird species are already in trouble due to factors like habitat loss and climate change, with reports documenting a decline of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970. We can’t stop holding companies responsible for bird deaths at a time when 76% of all bird species in the US are declining. 

The MBTA is the primary legislation protecting native birds in the United States, and we need it today more than ever. Please take immediate action to restore this critical law and to enforce penalties for bird deaths. Thank you for considering these comments. 

Boston Traffic / Robbie Shade - Flickr

Massachusetts signs on to TCI. Here’s What That Means

On Monday, December 21, leaders from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia officially signed on to the Transportation Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P). This bold agreement, which is the first of its kind in the nation, will significantly reduce regional carbon emissions, improving air quality and reducing pollution.

“Mass Audubon applauds Governor Baker and his staff for their leadership on TCI-P. This program is urgently needed to address the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region—the transportation sector,” states David J. O’Neill, President of Mass Audubon. “In the implementation of the TCI, we also will advocate vigorously for increasing funds to mitigate air pollution and provide more affordable and just transportation options for communities who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.” 

Boston Traffic / Robbie Shade - Flickr
Boston Traffic via Robbie Shade / Flickr Creative Commons

The TCI program raises funds through a cap-and-invest program that requires large fuel suppliers to purchase allowances for the pollution caused by the combustion of fuels they sell. These funds will be invested into clean transportation options, including public transit and electric vehicles.

The TCI-P also seeks to address decades of inequitable practices that disproportionately impact Brown, Black, and low-income communities. The TCI Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) commits a minimum of 35 percent of the proceeds be dedicated to communities underserved by the transportation system and overburdened by pollution. This is a start, but we know it is not enough to ensure that frontline communities benefit equitably from clean transportation projects and programs.

The involvement of environmental justice communities is essential in the creation of climate change policies that have lasting economic and public health impacts. While we are pleased to see a commitment to investing in our most climate vulnerable communities and to the Equity Advisory Boards outlined in the MOU, we are disappointed the process that led to the agreement was not an inclusive one.

TCI represents the significant strides needed to tackle the climate crisis for both people and wildlife. Given the indisputable science, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity to reduce transportation emissions and invest in clean, equitable mobility solutions. 

Leaving the Paris Agreement: What’s Next?

Mass Audubon Ipswich River wildlife sanctuary © Jared Leeds

Born from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st summit, the Paris Agreement pledges to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. This agreement was pivotal, demonstrating international dedication to collectively reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change. Since its inception in 2015, about 188 of the attending 197 countries have ratified the agreement

Last week, however, the United States officially became the first country to exit the Paris Agreement. While the withdrawal process began one year ago, the exit became finalized on November 4, 2020. 

Our Role in Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

The reason this withdrawal is so concerning is related to the United States’ enormous contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) – the root cause of climate change and its byproduct, global temperature rise. Between 1850 and 2011, our country was responsible for the largest portion of total greenhouse gas emissions compared to every other nation in the world. Even today, the United States continues to be the second largest GHG emitter worldwide. 

This global nature of GHGs is part of the reason why international collective action is so important. No matter where we are, our combined emissions contribute to the global phenomenon of climate change. Even more significant, just a few nations are responsible for a majority of these emissions, which then impact the entire planet. 

Collective Climate Action Isn’t Over 

Although the US has formally withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, much of the country is still committed to reaching these international targets. 

Including Massachusetts. 

We know that to fight climate change and protect the natural and human communities we love, we have to act boldly and urgently. Massachusetts is dedicated to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This means that statewide, through a combination of reducing emissions and improving nature-based solutions, we, as a state, will not emit more GHGs than what we can soak back up and remove from the atmosphere. 

And here at Mass Audubon, we know when we work together, we can make an impact. 

Where We Go from Here 

There is still an opportunity for the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement as soon as February 2021. There are also steps that we can all take to keep the momentum going on climate action.  

You can write to your elected official, urging them to continue to support clean, equitable climate legislation. You can make sure your community and local organizations (like schools) are committed to the nation-wide pledge dedicated to achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals. You can support community programs, like green municipal aggregation, which “greens” community electricity supply. You can talk about climate change with your friends and family to inspire hope and dedication to climate action (here’s an upcoming webinar to learn more).  

Use your voice, get active in your community, and inspire the people around you to make change. Our collective climate fight is far from over. 

Pushing Forward in Spite of Methane Rollbacks

In a big setback for US climate action, the federal government has rolled back requirements for capturing methane pollution. On Friday, August 14, the EPA finalized a rule that lets oil and gas companies off the hook for their methane emissions, replacing a 2016 rule that set limits on these emissions and required companies to monitor and repair leaking equipment.

By shifting our support to renewables like solar energy, we can keep polluting oil and gas companies on the hook in spite of rollbacks.
By shifting our support to renewables like solar energy, we can keep polluting oil and gas companies on the hook in spite of rollbacks.

Methane 101 

Methane (or CH4) is the second most abundant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Alongside rampant carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, methane wraps around earth like a blanket – trapping heat inside of our atmosphere and causing our world to change.

When we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas, we release excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – methane (CH4) included. The atmosphere wraps around Earth like a blanket (trapping heat inside it) and these excess greenhouse gasses make that blanket too thick, hurting plants, animals, and humans.
When we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas, we release excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – methane (CH4) included. The atmosphere wraps around Earth like a blanket (trapping heat inside it) and these excess greenhouse gasses make that blanket too thick, hurting plants, animals, and humans.

The sources most responsible for methane emissions are the production and transportation of natural gas, oil, and coal; in other words, the fossil fuels we burn for our energy.

But methane also comes from the decomposition of organic material in landfills and livestock farming (such as cattle farmed for beef). Because of the design of their stomach systems, livestock like cows emit methane during digestion. With just how many cows we’re farming for beef and dairy globally, about 1.4 billion, cattle (alongside other grazing livestock) account for 40% of the world’s methane emissions. 

A Cause for Concern 

This recent rollback is especially concerning since methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period – which means its warming impact is far more severe in a shorter period of time. To make matters worse, the regulation change comes at a time when research has found much more methane is likely entering the atmosphere than we previously thought. 

We Can Still Make a Difference 

While the rule is now official, having already gone through a public comment process, it is expected to be challenged in court. In the meantime, we can still have an impact on methane emissions by coming together and acting on climate to safeguard our future for people and wildlife alike. Whether you’re a climate action novice or a seasoned pro, here are ways we can act in spite of this rollback.  

Stage 1: Increase Plant-based Meals and Start Composting 

Switching to plant-based meals helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, one of the sources of our global methane emissions. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA.
Switching to plant-based meals helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, one of the sources of our global methane emissions. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA.

A good way to start tackling methane emissions is to look at how we contribute to them. By switching to plant-based meals and encouraging others to do the same, we’re reducing the demand for livestock farming and lowering our personal carbon footprints. Through composting, we shift decomposing, organic materials from landfills (where they release methane) to a compost pile (where the methane is absorbed). 

It’s even more engaging to get your friends, families, and communities involved. For example, do some research to see if there’s a local composting program in your neighborhood, like the City of Boston’s Project Oscar

Stage 2: Urge your Elected Officials to Support Clean Energy 

Recently, the Massachusetts House passed the 2050 Roadmap bill, which brings us closer to an equitable, clean energy future by 2050. Send your local, elected officials a message thanking them for their support, but also urging them to continue their progress on clean energy policy that reduces our fossil fuel emissions.  

Stage 3: Address the Source of our Energy 

The production and transport of fossil fuels is main source of global methane emissions. While the EPA has reversed regulations holding polluting companies accountable, as a collective we still have the power to keep them on the hook by choosing to shift our support towards renewable energy. 

First, you can make the switch to green-powered energy, like solar or wind energy. If you’ve already switched your household over, you can take your support for renewable energy one step further by ensuring your municipality has a Green Municipal Aggregation program. Visit the Green Energy Consumers Alliance’s website to see if your municipality is already involved and how you can opt-in to this community effort.  

A Victory for Birds

Great news for birds and for all of us who care about them!

Great Blue Heron copyright John Yurka
Great Blue Heron © John Yurka

A federal court ruled yesterday that the legal basis for the Trump Administration’s rollback of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is inconsistent with the intent and language of the law.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni found that the Administration’s legal opinion, which would needlessly put millions of birds at risk, “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.”

As many Mass Audubon members know, the MBTA’s passage in 1918 was a direct outgrowth of the advocacy spurred by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who more than two decades earlier had founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society to end the slaughter of birds for their feathers.

It is heartening to know our founders’ legacy lives on in the actions and support by nature lovers that continue to inspire today.

The court’s decision comes as a result of lawsuits filed by environmental organizations and eight states, including Massachusetts; we specifically thank Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff for their stalwart determination to help bring about the ruling.

To be sure, this fight is not over. Mass Audubon has formally objected to the proposed regulatory rollbacks and supported legislation in opposition.

But we need your help to stop any future attempts by the Trump Administration and its allies to dismantle the founding achievement of the Audubon movement and one of the nation’s bulwark legal protections in support of thriving wildlife.

Please make a donation today so we can continue to advocate for the birds that we all love.

David O’Neill
President

Paving the Way Towards an Equitable, Net-Zero Future

Photo © Rishi Jain.

Last week the Massachusetts House passed our priority climate bill, An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving Commonwealth (H.4912). The bill includes critical language highlighting the role of natural and working lands in reaching net zero emissions, as well as protections for frontline communities. This action brings us one step closer to making an equitable carbon neutral future a reality. Here’s why: 

We Don’t Have to Wait for Technology 

Climate solutions already exist all around us. Take a look outside your window, and you’ll probably see a critical tool that’ll help ensure we can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

That’s right. Nature is an indispensable ally in our collective climate fight. Not only does nature make us more resilient to climate impacts like heat, floods, and droughts, it also can help us prevent some of the worst impacts altogether.  

Forests, farms, and wetlands, for example, soak up rampant carbon dioxide like a sponge – removing excess greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change from our atmosphere. This removal process, along with limiting the burning of fossil fuels, is a climate mitigation strategy: it addresses the crisis at its roots by reducing the net amount of emissions that remain in the atmosphere.  

Climate Mitigation and a Net Zero Carbon Future Go Hand in Hand 

Natural climate solutions are crucial mitigation tools for reaching our 2050 net zero goal. It’s up to us to make sure that we urgently utilize them to tackle climate change.  

As amended, the 2050 Roadmap bill makes natural climate solutions a priority for achieving carbon neutrality statewide. It requires the state to measure the carbon stored by and released from natural and working lands across Massachusetts, and create a plan for increasing those absorption levels while reducing carbon emissions. 

Safeguarding Our Future for People and Wildlife Alike 

The amended 2050 Roadmap bill also formalizes a definition of environmental justice, which will help ensure equitable access to future environmental decision making. Environmental injustices and climate impacts are disproportionately harming low-income communities and communities of color, and the bill establishes long overdue protections to address these disparities.  

We Have a Part to Play in our Collective Climate Fight 

Mass Audubon is dedicated to boldly acting on climate change so that we can protect both our communities and our wildlife. As one of the largest conservation nonprofits in New England, we see the value of nature firsthand every day, especially in solving the climate crisis.  

We’ve been advocating for the 2050 Roadmap bill all session, and we’re excited to see it making progress. Right now, we’re thanking legislators that supported it, and you can, too. Next, the bill will head to a conference committee where we’ll continue pushing for its passage. 

We don’t have time to wait. Our future is one we must work to protect right now – and nature can help us pave the way towards equitable carbon neutrality. 

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose

A Crushing Blow to Birds

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose

The United States government has released a draft environmental impact statement that will crush the bird conservation successes of the last 100 years.

Their report recommends ending federal protections for harassing, trapping, or killing birds, or taking nests and eggs, unless it can be proven that the intent of the action was only to kill birds, or the species is an endangered species. This kind of loss, called incidental take (detailed here), kills millions of birds every year, even with federal protections in place enabling responses to reduce impacts. Removing these protections will unleash unbridled assaults on our native birds, which is why this change must be stopped.

Join us and act now to protect birds, and stop this regulatory change.

An Age of Enlightenment

Since 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has protected our native birds from purposeful or incidental losses.  Mass Audubon’s founding mothers, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, built public support to end the feather trade and protect all birds. Some species were split off to be managed as game – and they flourished with special protection.

The vast majority of species like bluebirds, hummingbirds, terns, and owls all entered a new era of protection and conservation. They were given a reprieve from hunting and harassment, egg and nest collecting, and any other behaviors that killed birds without a permit. This helped drive innovative conservation initiatives that allow industry to thrive, and native bird populations to coexist with a booming economy. It worked well – maybe better than in any other country in the world.

The Return of the Dark Ages

Despite these conservation successes, decades of economic expansion, and public comments representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, the Trump administration has chosen to recommend advancing regulatory changes that will make it legal for anyone to kill unlimited numbers of birds, as long as their action is “otherwise lawful.”

The federal government did this while admitting their chosen path would serve the single benefit of “improving legal certainty,” but have negative effects on all other environmental conditions – including bird populations.

So, if you want to build a shopping center, and construction starts in June, and there is colony of herons or a nest of owls on the land, you can legally cut down the trees, destroying the nests, eggs, and chicks.

And, importantly, if your industry is a repeat offender and kills thousands of birds each year in uncovered oil waste pits (because you won’t follow best practices and cover the pits), there is no penalty.

There will be no repercussions, and no incentive, for making even minor changes to construction or industry practices to protect non-game birds like wrens, egrets, and loons, unless your state has legislation that covers these species. At this time Massachusetts does not have legislation that protects these species – we have always relied on the federal MBTA to do that.

What You Can Do

Join Mass Audubon and others who care about birds:

  • Donate to Mass Audubon so we can keep fighting to save the birds we all love and care for.
  • Submit comments opposing the proposed elimination of incidental take protections for birds. Let federal officials know you support Alternative B to restore the Incidental Take provision.
  • Let your Congressional representatives know that you support legislation to restore MBTA protections, and that you support bird conservation.

Birds fill our lives with curiosity, hope, and wonder. We marvel at their audacious colors, ability to withstand freezing nights, and migrations across the hemisphere. We benefit as they help ecosystems thrive by pollinating plants and eating pesky bugs that damage crops.

But they need us more than they have in the last hundred years. It is our turn to step up and make our voices heard.

Surprised Eastern Screech Owl © Jason Goldstein

Moving Forward Despite Rollback Attempts

If you’ve been reading the headlines, you may be alarmed at the attempts by the current administration to roll back or halt efforts to curb the impacts of climate change at a federal level.

Surprised Eastern Screech Owl © Jason Goldstein
Eastern Screech Owl © Jason Goldstein

First came the announcement of the intended withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Then the decision to allow offshore oil and gas leasing off US coastlines. And most recently they created a new rule that would give state’s the authority to set coal emission standards and, in doing so, rendering the Environmental Protection Agency ineffective.

Before you throw up your hands in despair and start searching for funny cat videos, know that the headlines are only telling part of the story. Lawyers have been working tirelessly to block the rollbacks. In fact, according to the Columbia Law School, “no climate change-related regulatory rollback brought before the courts has yet survived legal challenge.”

While that’s happening at a federal level, Mass Audubon and its partners continue to speak up for robust and innovative policy in Massachusetts. For example, we were instrumental in the passage of the Environmental Bond Bill. We work directly with municipalities through the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which fosters climate adaptation practices at the local level. And last week we submitted written testimony in support of S.10 An Act providing for climate change adaptation infrastructure investments in the Commonwealth.

Stay informed about climate change policy by signing up for our weekly Beacon Hill Round Up email. And if you want to share resources and information about fighting the impacts of climate change and inspire others to take action in new and creative ways, join our Climate Action Facebook Group.