Category Archives: Advocacy

Next Steps for Securing Trailside Funding

Trailside Museum Director Norman Smith © Kent Harnois

Trailside Museum Director Norman Smith © Kent Harnois

Last month, funding for the state-owned Blue Hills Trailside Museum was in jeopardy. Governor Baker vetoed the funds set aside for running the state-owned interpretive center for the Blue Hills Reservation.

The museum, which features indoor and outdoor wildlife and natural history exhibits, welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year to the Blue Hills Reservation; provides environmental education to more than 200 schools; and offers universally accessible nature trails, including sensory and audio trails for the visually impaired.

So when we asked for you to contact your legislators demanding that they override the governor’s veto, you came through in a big way. Many legislators reached out to us, commenting on how many calls and emails they received in support of Trailside.

To everyone who called, emailed, and shared this message, we want to offer our sincere thanks.

But Wait, There’s More

Unfortunately, Trailside is not out of the woods yet. In order to keep the state budget balanced, Governor Baker can utilize what is known as 9C cuts to reduce the funding of any executive branch agency or operation (including the Blue Hills Trailside Museum) at any point during the fiscal year as a corrective measure.

We have already sent a letter to Governor Baker urging him to prioritize funding for Blue Hills Trailside Museum. But our words can only go so far. We need you to call or email the governor asking him to continue funding Trailside.

Why Not Start a Petition or Fundraising Campaign?

You may be wondering why we don’t utilize online petitions of crowd-funding platforms. Online petitions can be an effective means of gathering support for some issues. That being said, Mass Audubon’s experience is that emailing and calling legislators and the Governor’s office is a more personal, timely, and direct method of requesting action. We have specifically heard that even just a few phone calls can go a long way.

Snowy Owl © Richard Johnson

Crowd-funding is a little trickier since Trailside’s budget is complex. The government has been providing operating funds for Trailside since it first opened in 1959. When Mass Audubon took over managing the museum for the state in 1974, we began raising additional money above and beyond the state funding to run public and school programs for adults, children, and families and to care for and research the animals that could not survive in the wild.

For example, the Snowy Owl Project based at Blue Hills Trailside Museum has become a national example of how to humanely capture snowy owls at airports and relocate them to safer areas.

In order for Trailside to operate at its fullest potential, we need both sources of funding on an annual basis. Learn more in our Trailside Funding FAQs.

See Why Trailside is Unique

© Kent Harnois

Universally Accessible Trail © Kent Harnois

If you have never been to the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, we invite you to come visit our native live animal exhibits.

Take a walk on our universally accessible trail, which includes a rope guide and educational materials in large-print, Braille, audio, and tactile formats.

And reach out to one of the many dedicated staff members or volunteers, who can tell you first-hand just how important this resource is for the nature of Massachusetts.

In addition to contacting the governor to keep state funding in place, you can support Mass Audubon’s work keeping Trailside the vibrant, fun, and engaging place to visit by making a donation today.

Action Alert: Blue Hills Trailside Museum Needs Your Help

Blue HillsUpdate 7/30 part 2: Great news! The Senate has also voted to override the veto meaning funding has been restored. Thank you!

Update 7/30: Good news! The House voted to override the veto of Trailside! Now on to the Senate…

We need your help! Governor Baker recently eliminated funding for Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton. This means that Trailside has no operating funds authorized for 2016.

The Blue Hills Trailside Museum is the gateway for the 7,000 acre Blue Hills Reservation. It is a state-owned facility that opened in 1959 and has been managed by Mass Audubon for the Commonwealth since 1974.

Through Trailside, Mass Audubon welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year to the Blue Hills Reservation; provides environmental education to more than 200 schools; and offers universally accessible nature trails, including sensory trails for the visually impaired.

In order to continue to successfully attract and educate citizens and visitors to our state, it is imperative that Blue Hills Trailside Museum continue to be funded annually in the state operating budget.

Please contact your local representative and senator by Wednesday July 29 and ask them to support an override of the governor’s veto of funding for the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in the FY2016 Budget, account 2810-0100.

Thank you for your support!

Action Alert: Migratory Birds at Risk

Osprey via USFWS

Osprey via USFWS

One of the oldest environmental laws in the U.S., the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is the primary piece of legislation established to protect over 1,000 species of migratory birds and makes it illegal to harm them except under very specific circumstances. Now this crucial law is coming under attack.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed an amendment in the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would bar the Department of Justice from enforcing the MBTA, and a similar amendment could be brought up in the Senate. Halting enforcement would leave migratory birds vulnerable to all kinds of harm, from industrial activity to deliberate killing. If this amendment becomes law, it could set the cause of bird and wildlife conservation back decades.

Mass Audubon will be reaching out to U.S. Senators Warren and Markey, and we encourage you to do the same! Please urge our Senators to vote NO on any amendments threatening migratory birds that may come up when this bill is called to the floor.

You can take action easily through our friends at the American Bird Conservancy, or you can call directly using the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Thank you for your advocacy!

A Environmental Report Card for Legislators

Wondering how your state legislators stack up when it comes to supporting environmental bills? Mass Audubon’s 27th Legislative Report Card is out now for the 2013-2014 session, scoring legislators based on their environmental roll call votes. The average score in the House was 94 percent, while the average score in the Senate was 92 percent.

Report Card

The Legislative Report Card is a compilation of the roll call votes taken by state legislators on environmental bills or funding measures. These votes are an objective way to evaluate their environmental performances. A legislator’s score does not represent an endorsement, or lack thereof, by Mass Audubon.

In 2013-2014, the House voted on 10 priority environmental roll calls (out of a total 505 roll calls). The Senate voted on 14 priority environmental roll calls (out of a total 492 roll calls). These included:

  • A $2.2 billion environmental bond, which provides funding for many crucial programs
  • Natural gas leak regulation improvements
  • Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure updates
  • Job creation through energy efficiency programs

Since 1985, Mass Audubon has compiled the environmental voting records of the Massachusetts Legislature to inform citizens of their state legislators’ performance. Legislators receive one point for voting in favor of environmental protection, and zero points for voting against environmental protection or for not voting at all.

Surveying legislators’ scores over the course of their tenure in office may produce a more comprehensive view of their commitment to environmental protection. Learn more about Mass Audubon’s legislative priorities.

Special Alert – Victory for Endangered Species

plover USFWS From our Advocacy Department:

We are happy to report that yesterday, in response to a lawsuit filed against the Commonwealth’s regulatory use of priority habitat screening to protect endangered species, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously to affirm the state’s authority under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).

The priority habitat designation program allows the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Fisheries and Wildlife Division to review projects in environmentally sensitive areas and make recommendations for landowners to avoid impacts to these vulnerable species. Mass Audubon coordinated amicus brief filings in support of the Commonwealth with partners from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, Conservation Law Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Wildlife Federation.

The decision by the Supreme Judicial Court reaffirms the Commonwealth’s right to protect its most vulnerable plant and animal species from destruction,” said Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon’s Director of Public Policy and Government Relations. “Mass Audubon applauds the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Fish and Game for successfully defending the endangered species act before the state’s highest court for the second time in thirteen years. As original drafters of the endangered species act, we look forward to its continued fair implementation and the protections it affords.” Learn more about the decision.

While we take this time to celebrate, we also await news of MESA bills currently awaiting action in the legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. We support Representative Stephen Kulik’s (D-Worthington) consensus bill (H.756) that would strengthen our existing endangered species law, and we continue to oppose any legislation that would repeal or weaken it.

Photo via US Fish and Wildlife Service

Action Alert: Mass Endangered Species Act

Eastern box turtle by Joy MarzolfEfforts to repeal the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) are once again underway, and we need your help!

On Monday, November 4, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture will hold a hearing that includes two bills Mass Audubon strongly opposes. These bills would result in a repeal of endangered species protections in the Commonwealth.

Environmental groups and the business community alike have supported the standards the program currently uses to protect endangered species. The effort to gut endangered species protections is coming from a limited, but very vocal, few.

Both bills would:

  • Dismantle MESA’s Priority Habitat framework for protecting endangered species of plants and animals administered by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.
  • Leave property owners with no advance notice of or ability to avoid harm to a state-listed species, leaving them potentially subject to fines and criminal prosecution for causing harm to that species. The existing permitting process, which takes into account the characteristics of each proposed development site, would be replaced by a costly and cumbersome regime that would rely on action against landowners after the harm to the protected species has occurred. Such a regime would not provide effective guidance to landowners or protect endangered species.

We urge you to contact Chairman Pacheco and Chairwoman Gobi today—by phone, email, or mail—to ask them to protect endangered species and halt Senate Bill 345 and Senate Bill 411.

In addition, you can let your own Representative and Senator know where you stand, and ask them to speak to the Chairs as well.

Please also express your support for An Act Relative to the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, H.756. Mass Audubon supports this consensus bill, which would improve the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act rather than repeal it.

Find out who your legislators are and how to contact them.

Thank you for stepping up to protect endangered species!

Hearing details:
Monday, November 4, 2013
1:00 p.m.
Room A-2
State House
Boston, MA

Centennial Milestone

Copyright Sandy SeleskyExcerpted from Sanctuary magazine

Beginning in March some of our best-known, most-loved migratory birds will arrive in Massachusetts as harbingers of spring. March is also the month when, 100 years ago, the Weeks-McLean Act, the precursor to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, passed—the first legislation in the nation to place migrants under federal jurisdiction and prohibit their killing without the permission of the US government.

The pre-spring arrivals that can move freely and safely from state to state thanks to such early 19th-century advocacy initiatives—sandy-colored piping plovers to beaches, winsome red-winged blackbirds to marshland, and melodious song sparrows to yards and open spaces—are just representative of the many species that still benefit from the efforts begun by pioneering conservationists.

“The Weeks-McLean Act was the primary legislation protecting native birds in the United States,” says Mass Audubon’s Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke, “and one of the country’s earliest environmental laws.” Without these protections put into place at the outset of the 1900s, other avian species would undoubtedly have been subjected to the same fate as the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet, whose species no longer had representative wild individuals as of 1900 and 1904, respectively, leading ultimately to their extinction.

Mass Audubon was one the first players promoting legislation to save birds, so it was fitting that the Weeks-McLean Act had its origins in Massachusetts. In 1908, Charles H. Hudson, a farmer in Needham Heights, wrote to his Congressional representative, John Wingate Weeks, imploring him sponsor “a national law put on all kinds of birds in every State in the country, as the gunners are shooting our birds that Nature put here….”

Five years in the making, the 1913 bill, introduced by Representative John W. Weeks of Massachusetts and Senator George P. McLean of Connecticut—set the stage for bird national bird conservation on a scale that was necessary to change the path of history for the good of our priceless avian life.

Photo © Sandy Selesky

A Win for Community Preservation

Tuesday’s election was a win for the environment here in Massachusetts. But not for the reasons you may think. Here, we are celebrating the fact that seven communities voted to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA) bringing the Bay State total to 155 communities.

This means that these communities have voted to dedicate local funding, with a state match, to preserve and improve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities.

Over the last 10 years, 42 percent of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns have preserved 15,000 acres of open space. The new CPA communities include: Beverly, Canton, Fall River, Great Barrington, Salem, Somerset, and Somerville.

Why it matters

Until the CPA was enacted back in 2000, there was no steady funding source dedicated to helping communities with strained resources address quality-of-life issues like open space, recreation, and historic preservation. CPA has proven to be a valuable tool for communities that don’t have access to other non-property tax revenue streams like hotel/motel taxes, big-ticket mitigation fees from developers, or state grants for special projects.

In municipalities that vote to adopt CPA, the program allows local officials to use a property tax surcharge and matching state funds to encourage communities to invest in areas often neglected when budgets are tight.

How it works

CPA adopting communities add a surcharge of up to three percent to municipal property taxes to raise money locally. A statewide, dedicated CPA Trust Fund distributes annual matching funds of up to 100 percent of the CPA revenues raised locally by these communities. Fees on filings at the state’s registries of deeds fund the CPA Trust.

For the past six years, a Mass Audubon legislative priority has been to update the CPA legislation to make it more beneficial (not to mention appealing). In July 2012, the Act to Sustain Community Preservation was passed as an amendment to the state budget. Among the improvements:

  • Increases in funding for the statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund, which will allow for even more improvements to towns’ and cities’ existing CPA programs.
  • Incentives for cities to join by allowing for recreation improvements and the use of higher matching funds from other local sources;
  • A provision that gives CPA communities the ability to use CPA funds to fix up existing parks and recreational facilities. Previously, CPA funds could only be used to purchase new parks and recreational facilities.

To learn more about Mass Audubon and its efforts in community  preservation, planning, and smart growth, check out our Shaping the Future of Your Community online handbook and attend a workshop.

Photo © Alison Noyce