WE OFTEN THINK of floods, hurricanes, snowstorms and the like as threats to our normal way of life, but the Covid pandemic has shown us a unique threat that affects everyone in a very different way — isolation and inability to gather together. What brought many of us through the last few years was the availability of nearby open spaces for outdoor passive recreation. As much as we need to plan for 100-year floods, we also need to plan for 100-year pandemics. Enter the Public Lands Preservation Act.
Massachusetts has a wonderful collection of State Parks with a huge variety of sites and activities along with Mass Audubon, The Trustees, The Trust for Public Land, and many local and regional private land trusts. Most of the publicly owned open spaces are nominally protected in perpetuity under Article 97 of the Commonwealth Constitution. However, the protection can be removed by a two-thirds vote of each branch of the Legislature. Forty to fifty laws are enacted every legislative session removing protection from parcels protected “in perpetuity.” How can we prevent this erosion of public land? Enter the Public Lands Preservation Act.
The Friends of the Blue Hills learned the hard way that protection can be insufficient. In the early 2000s, the Legislature authorized conveyance of 3.2 acres of the Blue Hills Reservation to a private business to be used as a parking lot. The vote took place without a public hearing and without public notice. How do we better protect places like the Blue Hills? Enter the Public Lands Preservation Act.
In the town of Medway, over 150 acres of land were purchased with CPA funds, much of which were used to create the Chicken Brook Boardwalk Trail, with its miles of natural peace and quiet. Holliston, Hopkinton, Sherborn, Dover, and Medfield all have extensive trail systems and several have large town forests. How to make sure the protection of these lands is adequate? Enter the Public Lands Preservation Act.
Berkshire Environmental Action Team has worked hard to protect land to preserve our beautiful vistas, to ensure we always have natural places to retreat to for spiritual renewal, and to protect the wildlife that we enjoy living with. People trying to escape the pandemic have flocked to the Berkshires, putting tremendous pressure from overuse on our wildlife sanctuaries, parks, and forests. We need more of these beautiful places to retreat to and need to save the ones we have so our use will not degrade their ecosystems. Enter the Public Lands Preservation Act.
The Public Lands Preservation Act (H.851), would provide more protection for our open space land. The bill would require that anyone proposing to transfer or change the use of Article 97 protected land to:
- Provide notice to the public and the Executive Office of Energy and Environment Affairs prior to filing legislation.
- Perform an alternatives analysis.
- Provide replacement land of equal or greater size, market value, and natural resource value and of comparable location.
The bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. If you think our public open spaces should be preserved, let Senate President Karen Spilka and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, the chair of Senate Ways and Means, know you support the Public Lands Preservation Act (H851).
Jane Winn is executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEA;, Judy Lehrer-Jacobs is executive director of the Friends of the Blue Hills; and Paul Atwood is treasurer of the Upper Charles Conservation Land Trust.