Endangered Species Act is Endangered

Endangered species acts in addition to the obvious goal of protecting endangered species, are sensitive “canaries in the coal mines,” that warn us of dangers before it is too late.   If today’s endangered species are allowed to die out because we can’t afford to protect their environments we will be much less likely to realize it when something is terribly wrong with our environment and will ourselves become endangered.

The following is edited from an alert I just received from the Mass. Land Trust Coalition.  I hope House Bill 4167 is soundly defeated if up comes up for a vote on the House floor.  It is a prime example of a small short term savings that will generated huge long term costs.

Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and Sen. Stephen Buoniconti have introduced House Bill 4167, An Act designating natural heritage functions of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement. This bill would severely limit the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and curtail the vital work of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

This bill poses a great threat to the 400 plant and animal species listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern.   Combined with the complete loss of all general funding to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, this is the most serious attack on our Endangered Species Act we’ve ever seen.  The Springfield legislators’ bill limits the authority of the Heritage Program to review development projects slated to take place in “significant habitat.”  The Rivera-Buoniconti bill would strangle endangered species protection in Massachusetts.

Published by Michael Arnott

Cambridge Resident of Cornerstone Village Co-housing.

3 replies on “Endangered Species Act is Endangered”

  1. Thanks, Mike, for speaking out and for bringing this issue to my attention.

    The bill reads as follows:

    Subsection (d) of Section 5 of Chapter 131A of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2006 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence:
    “The director shall not impose any project review or permit requirement upon any land unless such land is located within an area which has been duly designated as a significant habitat.”

    I read this bill not as limiting ability to regulate activities within significant habitat areas, but as limiting ability to reach outside those areas. I’m guessing there’s some history behind it related to some particular project. Are your sources able to provide some additional background?

  2. According to the Mass. Land Trust Coalition, “The Commonwealth does not designate “significant habitat” as they believe it is an action bordering on a taking of property. Currently Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program regulates “priority habitat” as a more flexible approach to endangered species protection. The bill would strangle Natural Heritage’s ability to protect rare species in Massachusetts.”

    Unless I’m missing something that sounds to me like a “Catch 22” situation. Natural Heritage regulates priority habitats because the criteria are less demanding of their limited resources. Natural Heritage is an example of a state agency that has not had adequate funding or resources to do its mandated job for many years. Evidently there are property owners in the Springfield area that have been limited in what they can do by the presence of endangered species on their properties. These property owners realize that Natural Heritage is not going to get the funding necessary to enforce “significant habitat” designations so they are hoping that if this bill is enacted into law there will be no state enforcement of endangered species regulations.

    There will be a hearing on the Mass. Endangered Species Act this Wednesday, October 7th, at 11am in the State House, Room B-2. The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

    1. Ok, Mike. Thanks for this additional background. I will keep my eye out for the bill. I haven’t heard rumblings of actual motion on it — every bill gets a hearing. If a version of it starts to move, we’ll dial in more clearly how it will work.

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