Policy Agenda 2012: How We Are Making a Statewide Difference

March 2012 – Advocating for issues of statewide importance on your behalf is one of the ways we fulfill our mission of conserving Connecticut’s birds and their habitats. Our advocacy takes the form of legislative policy work in Hartford and grassroots work on the local level. You can follow our progress in Hartford.

To see the status of bills to revise the state’s open space plan, weaken pesticide regulations and increase the penalties for poaching wildlife (including on our sanctuaries), click here.

You can learn more about our 2012 legislative work in general by clicking here.

For 2012, our priorities include reforming Connecticut’s land preservation program; reducing bird mortality through a Lights Out program; and increasing outdoor educational opportunities for Connecticut’s children. Here are the details:

1 Reforming the state’s land preservation program.
We will push for passage of a bill that requires the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to identify lands that are the highest priorities for open space acquisition, including wildlife habitat and ecological resources, and the general locations of these highest priorities.

The legislation will also require the DEEP to work with other state agencies to identify state-owned lands that are important for conservation but which are not protected open space, and to plan a strategy for preserving them in perpetuity.

The legislation also broadens the number of stakeholders that the DEEP must consult with when it works on these projects. Added to the list are municipalities and regional planning agencies, in addition to the Council on Environmental Quality and private nonprofit land conservation organizations such as Connecticut Audubon Society.

These revisions to Connecticut’s open space acquisition process are among many that we have enumerated over the years in our Connecticut State of the Birds reports. This year’s legislation was drafted by the Council on Environmental Quality and is supported by other conservation organizations as well.

The proposed legislation is important, we believe, because it will help focus the state’s land acquisition program as we move toward the goal of preserving 21 percent of the land in Connecticut by 2023. As things stand now, state officials know how much land has been preserved but they do not have a good idea of what kinds of lands have been preserved — whether it be conservation land, farmland, recreation land, etc.

The proposed legislation also is important because it will require the DEEP to make careful judgments about what kinds of lands should be preserved and to identify in general where those lands are located, so they can be viewed in the larger landscape context that is essential to serious conservation.

In addition, we know that state agencies other than the DEEP own large tracts of land, some of which have habitats that are rare or play an important role in a larger mosaic of habitats. This legislation will require the DEEP to work with its sister agencies to find and evaluate those lands. Because they are already state-owned, it would be a relatively-easy next step to protect them with conservation easements so they remain preserved forever.

2. Reducing Bird Mortality Through a Lights Out Program.
Connecticut Audubon Society will work with municipalities and landlords in the state on a voluntary “Lights Out” program to reduce the vast number of migratory birds that get killed when they fly into lighted buildings at night.

Across North America, the estimated number of migrating birds killed annually in collisions with buildings ranges from 100 million to 1 billion. In cities throughout the U.S. and Canada, building owners, conservation groups and local governments are working together to reduce this mortality by taking the simple step of turning out lights at night.

We will work to get a similar program underway in one or more Connecticut communities, and will plan to expand the program over the years.

3. Increasing Outdoor Educational Opportunities for Connecticut’s Children.
Based on the findings of our Connecticut State of the Birds 2012 report, “Where is the Next Generation of Conservationists Coming From,” we are calling for a renewed emphasis on environmental education for our children, in school and out of school, and are increasing our own education efforts.

The goal is to help create a deeper, long-term commitment to conservation, as well as contribute to the health and academic success of our state’s children. To do ourpart, CAS has hired a new statewide director of education, Michelle Eckman, who will focus on developing oureducation programs into a lifelong educational experience, with a goal of working with all of Connecticut’s school districts.

To engage the public in this topic, we are organizing round-table discussions this spring at four of our centers (in Glastonbury on March 14, Fairfield on April 12, Milford Point on May 3, and Pomfret on May 10), featuring a panel of local experts including educators, parents, students and other stakeholders.

Those are Connecticut Audubon Society three highest priorities. But there are other proposals and initiatives we will be following.

Connecticut Audubon Society will work, for example, for passage of a law that increases the penalties for poaching wildlife on private property, including land protected for conservation purposes. We’ve had a problem with this on some of our sanctuaries and we hope this will help solve the problem. CAS would also support passage of a law that allows bow hunting on Sundays on private property with the landowner’s permission as a way to help control the deer population that has damaged the state’s woodland ecosystem.

Connecticut Audubon Society will work with partner organizations to fight a rollback of a 2010 pesticide law that bans the use of “cosmetic” lawn pesticides by day care centers, nursery schools and K-8 schools. The ban is important for the health of our children but also has implications for our bird populations.

Connecticut Audubon will oppose attempts by the General Assembly to take money in the Community Investment Act that is intended for land conservation, farmland protection, historic preservation and affordable housing, and use it for other purposes.

Connecticut Audubon will continue to work for passage of the Community Preservation Fund, which would give communities the chance to ask local voters if they want to create a dedicated source of funds for open space acquisition.

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