A 23-year-old law designed to protect threatened plant and animal species in Massachusetts is facing a makeover in the Legislature and could itself be threatened by one of the proposals, say a coalition of 80 environmental groups.
The Endangered Species Act would be affected by bills filed by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and by Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, with vastly different outcomes, according to observers. The bills are now before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
The Candaras legislation was refiled from last session in response to concerns raised by the Springfield television station executive whose plans to build a retirement home on a 36-acre Hampden property designated as a “priority habitat” after an Eastern box turtle had been seen on the land. The bill would restrict the Division of Fish and Wildlife to imposing land-use restrictions only on land deemed a “significant habitat.”
That would make it more difficult for regulators to designate and would essentially gut the law, said Kulik, whose legislation would allow the “priority habitat” designation — adopted as part of the Fish and Wildlife regulations — to continue as a more flexible mechanism. He said it has worked and allowed the agency to negotiate to allow development to proceed.
Kulik’s bill, which is also supported by Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, and Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, would codify “priority habitat” language to clear up confusion about that designation, and also create more transparency in the way the law is executed.
The bill, which has backing from environmental groups, the Patrick administration and the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, would require anyone who reports seeing any threatened animal or plant to sign a sworn statement that they had permission to be on the property in question, said Kulik. It would also require Fish and Wildlife to define “priority habitat” using the best available scientific evidence. More....