Help Our Parks Get the Resources They Need – Contact Your Senator Today
Last month, we cheered the new Healey-Driscol Administration’s strong commitment to parks, demonstrated by their $107.6 million dollar allocation to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) operations in its budget request (H.1).
Senator Mike Rush, chair of the Legislative Parks Caucus, and Senator Becca Rausch, chair of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, have filed amendments 76 and 37, respectively, to increase the Senate Ways and Means’ proposed budget by $2.75 million, which would restore DCR’s operations allocation to the amount proposed by the Administration.
TAKE ACTION:Please contact your state senator today and encourage them to sign on as a co-sponsor of amendments 76 and 37 and support the amendments on the Senate floor. The Senate will start its debate on Tuesday, May 23, so we encourage you to take action now.
An Act preserving open space in the Commonwealth (H.5381) will become effective February 17, 2023 for lands subject to Article 97. Also known as the Public Lands Preservation Act (PLPA), the legislation was proposed over 20 years ago when the proponents of the PLPA first sought to codify a 1998 “No Net Loss” by the secretary of energy and environment as a more permanent and enforceable statutory law. But, sometimes the value and replacement requirements weren’t followed and completed. In some cases, it has been impossible to determine if replacement land of any sort was obtained.
The PLPA will close those gaps in the process and the public can engage with the official process when their public land is disposed of or changed.
As a concession, necessary to passing this legislation, if no comparable replacement land can be identified, a proposal can still be realized if settlement monies are provided (cash in lieu of replacement land). But those funds must be expended for land at least 110% greater in market value and equal to or greater in resource value compared with land taken. The replacement land must also be found and acquired at a nearby location and the replacement land shall be dedicated to conservation in perpetuity under Article 97.
What is Article 97?
Approved by voters in 1972, Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution enshrines our rights to a clean and healthy environment. It also authorizes the Commonwealth to acquire land for the purpose of placing it under conservation easements and protecting those open spaces. Learn more here.
With the PLPA enactment, public entities looking to repurpose Article 97 land must notify the secretary of energy and environmental affairs and the public. They must then conduct and publicize an analysis that defines whether it is feasible to dedicate replacement land or if they need to provide funding in lieu of the replacement land, a so-called “cash in lieu” settlement. and such settlements will require approval by the secretary of energy and environmental affairs to ensure the proposed action will not harm the health of Massachusetts residents and that the change serves the common good.
“As others have already said, this is a “first of its kind” law in all of the United States,” said Steve Engel, chair of Friends of the Fells Advocacy Committee and Friends of the Fells board member. “The idea of a PLPA was brought to Friends of the Fells by its originator, Phil Saunders, whose insight and passionate, seemingly relentless advocacy to preserve public open land inspired many, many others. We saw that a PLPA would be a natural fit with our desires to protect and enjoy the natural beauty of the Fells. It took real stick-to-it-ive-ness by many supporters across the Commonwealth to accomplish this.”
Persistent work from environmental and land conservation organizations in partnership with municipal and state public officials has led to this victory for the Commonwealth and its public spaces. It will serve us all well to be vigilant about how our official business is accomplished with regard to Article 97 land to preserve our legacy for future generations.
Making sure that DCR has adequate resources to carry out its conservation mission for the Fells is at the top of our list when it comes to our advocacy efforts. As we’ve alerted you to before, this Special Commission is investigating many aspects of DCR’s operations, and it’s important that this Commission hear from you.
Some of you spoke up at the Special Commission’s virtual meeting last week–thank you! You can read a summary of this past meeting prepared by Mass Conservation Voters here.
Signing on to Massachusetts Conservation Voters’ petition is an easy way to speak for the Fells — the Friends of the Fells is in general agreement with MCV’s position. You can also send in your own comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that all comments must be submitted by Tuesday, June 8th, when the public comments period will close!
In the meantime, the Friends of the Fells Advocacy Committee is developing a detailed response that addresses specific issues of concern for the Fells — we’ll share that with you when it is complete.
The Friends of the Fells (FOF) is excited to announce a significant expansion of our conservation work with the establishment of the Sustainable Fells Campaign.
The Campaign includes FOF-led conservation initiatives, partnership building through a new Fells Alliance, and enhanced engagement with state legislators with a new Fells Caucus. We look forward to inviting you to join us in these efforts as projects get underway in the coming months.
This campaign is the result of two concurrent efforts.
First, I spent hundreds of hours meeting with members, volunteers, partner organizations, and elected officials to ask them a simple question: How do we balance our enjoyment of the Fells with efforts to protect its natural resources? I also read your advice from our 4,000-supporter survey last fall.
At the same time, Friends of the Fells volunteers got to wondering how well DCR has been carrying out the “conservation” element of its portfolio, versus the “recreation” element in the Fells. We discovered that DCR’s decimated budget hasn’t been able to accomplish much. But, we did find that as recreation opportunities have expanded in the Fells, the natural resources of the Fells have unfortunately not been taken care of very well.
As we considered the advice we received and recognized the lack of care of nature in the Fells, it became crystal clear that we urgently need to increase our capacity to meet the needs of the Fells — to protect its biodiversity, enhance the health of its natural resources, and promote sustainable enjoyment of the forest.
The Sustainable Fells Campaign is our answer to that call.
Here’s a brief summary of the Campaign.
photo by Jeff Buxbaum
Sustainable Fells Campaign – At a Glance
Friends of the Fells has developed three multi-year Conservation Initiatives:
Our Reduce Rogue Trails for People and Wildlife initiative will identify illegal trails in sensitive habitat areas and develop and implement plans to close, and keep closed, these trails.
Our Invasive Species Management initiative will identify priority habitat impacted by invasive plant species, develop management plans to control the invasive plant populations, and bring habitats back to health.
Our Social Messaging for a Sustainable Fells initiative seeks to reform a “culture of non-compliance” in the Fells with a new culture of care and community stewardship through an innovative communications strategy rooted in behavior change communication and marketing models.
The Fells Alliance is a network of organizations that share a common understanding of the value the Fells brings to the region and commit to working together to protect, preserve, and enhance the Fells as an invaluable and irreplaceable biological and recreational asset.
The Fells Caucus engages elected officials whose districts fall within the influence area of the Fells, briefs officials on current Fells issues, and explores opportunities for advancing Fells priorities through legislative action.
If the Sustainable Fells Campaign is to be successful, we’ll need to expand our capacity on a number of fronts.
As a grassroots organization, volunteers play an essential role in implementing our work. We’ll need more financial support from our members so we can build a stronger volunteer program to support our volunteers and cultivate volunteer leaders able to help guide these initiatives.
And, we’ll also need to develop funding relationships with foundations, government agencies, and others to sustain these multi-year initiatives. This work is already underway.
We look forward to your continued input and support of our work. Together we will achieve a better future for the Fells, and in the years to come, we’ll enjoy a deeper sense of joy and satisfaction in our time in the Fells, knowing we have made it a better space for people and nature.
Chris Redfern Executive Director
Photo Credit: Jeff Buxbaum
Late last year, we reached out to more than 4,000 Fells enthusiasts to gather feedback via an online survey. We asked you to share with us what you think we should be working on and how we can improve in our efforts to protect and enjoy the Fells.
We were thrilled to receive feedback from more than 500 Fells supporters, and appreciate the thoughtful responses to our questions.
Now, we’re using the survey responses, as well as input from interviews with members, donors, volunteers, elected officials, and partners, to plan Friends of the Fells programs and initiatives for 2021 and beyond in a Strategic Plan to be released this spring.
We’re eager to complete our planning and share it with you soon. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some of the key takeaways from the survey.
Your Top Priorities
When we asked you what our priorities should be, the three most popular were:
Engage communities in hands-on stewardship activities in the Fells;
Work with DCR to improve compliance with the rules intended to protect natural resources and improve visitor experiences in the Fells;
Engage people in under-resourced and diverse communities to increase their knowledge of and comfort in using the Fells.
A very modest percent of our survey respondents volunteer with us. Only 13% volunteer annually or more often, which means we need to get busy cultivating more volunteer leaders and enhance our efforts to recruit, support, and celebrate volunteers who want to help.
We are not a diverse community. Survey respondents are mostly white (90%), and mostly over the age of 30 (94%). It’s clear that we need to focus more of our attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion so our organization is more reflective of and supports the diverse communities that can benefit from what the Fells has to offer. Our Strategic Plan will have more to say on this topic.
One key theme ran through many of your comments. There’s a hunger to be part of a community of people who share an appreciation for the Fells and come together to enjoy and protect it. To me, this may be the most important advice of all, since building a stronger Fells community will result in a more impactful Friends of the Fells, and thus better protection and care for it.
Over the coming months, I look forward to a brighter, “pandemic-recovery” future where we invite more diversity into our organization, meet up in the Fells, and work side by side to make it a better place for nature and people to thrive. I hope to see you there!
Chris Redfern Executive Director Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation
The increased popularity of the Middlesex Fells these past months has also brought more attention to the park from regional news outlets. Here are some of the recent news articles about the Fells, and the Friends of the Fells.
…As COVID-19 spurs historic visitation at the Middlesex Fells and other nature refuges in the region, we must protect the long-term investments in these nature spaces more than ever, as impacts to trails and fragile ecosystems take a toll.
DigBoston writer Caitlin Faulds writes about the state of Massachusetts parks and how the pandemic has impacted park upkeep and volunteer projects, and features an interview with Friends volunteer coordinator Jesse MacDonald:
Due to COVID-19 and strict health guidelines, MacDonald said Friends of the Fells have had to cancel all volunteer trail care events, which typically address some of these issues, while DCR itself is struggling to run with a “skeleton crew.”
Last, we are happy to share that the Friends of the Fells has been awarded two grants through the Tufts University Community Relations program:
Thirty-four local organizations in Tufts’ four host communities have been awarded $28,000 in grants from the Tufts Community Grants (TCG) program. The grants, which are fully funded by donations from Tufts University faculty and staff, are awarded each year to community-based charitable organizations in Boston, Grafton, Medford and Somerville.
These funds have been allocated towards the purchase of graffiti removal equipment and supplies which will be used this fall.
“During these trying times, it’s more important than ever for us to support our neighbors and the non-profits that do such important work in our home communities,” said Rocco DiRico, director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at Tufts. “We always strive to be the best neighbor that we can be, so we’re pleased to be able to provide this essential support to local organizations that are assisting local residents with the challenges they face as a result of the pandemic.”
These funds were utilized by the Friends’ 2020 Fells Forest Camp program to directly defray the expenses for essential purchases of safety and sanitizing equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning services, and other COVID-prevention plans that were necessary to hold this summer’s programming safely.