LETTER: ENDANGERED BIRD HABITAT THREATENED BY DOG PARK

Endangered grasshopper sparrow. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The anti-environmental bias of the Trump Administration has loosened federal environmental regulations across the board, including protections for endangered species. At the State level, the impact is less clear. However, two Massachusetts State agencies charged with protecting endangered bird habitat (MA-Wildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and MA-Department of Environmental Protection) have signed off on a Dog Park to be constructed on nearly 2 acres of Amherst’s closed South Landfill’s 53 acre site that is designated as protected bird habitat in perpetuity for the endangered Grasshopper Sparrow. How can a dog park be allowed to be built on protected habitat for endangered birds? 

The answer: a legal loophole. In 2015, both Amherst’s closed North and South Landfills were designated as nesting habitat for the endangered Grasshopper Sparrow. The Town negotiated with the State, agreeing to honor a Conservation Restriction to protect the bird habitat on the South Landfill, in exchange for being allowed to install a solar array on the North Landfill. This Conservation Restriction would be triggered once the North Landfill solar panels are installed and the Town is then required to install a perimeter fence around the entire 53 acre South Landfill bird habitat. However, the Town recently disclosed the solar array is not expected to begin operation until April 2022. So technically there will be no legal protection until 2022 for the Grasshopper Sparrow nesting on the South Landfill, if by then the increased dog presence has not chased away the birds. 

This loophole circumventing the Conservation Restriction, allowed the Town to gain State agency approval and obtain Stanton Foundation grant funding for a Dog Park on the South Landfill. This is a case of following the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. The Dog Park project continues to be a Town priority, despite the impact of COVID-19 on services and the Town budget. If Amherst residents do not want their town to be the first in the country to take endangered bird habitat for a Dog Park, urge Town officials to find a different location for the Dog Park before the project breaks ground this summer. Let the Grasshopper Sparrow nest in peace. 

Peggy Matthews-Nilsen

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2 thoughts on “LETTER: ENDANGERED BIRD HABITAT THREATENED BY DOG PARK

  1. Addendum: If Amherst residents are excited about a GREEN project, particularly one that will generate new revenue to help with COVID-19 related budget shortfalls, urge Town officials to quickly move forward to install solar panels on the North Landfill. Yes, the Town will also be required by the State to install a perimeter fence around the protected bird habitat on the South Landfill, but that is what Town officials agreed to do. The Town has been promising a solar array on the North Landfill for 5 years, but recently the Town Manager reported they plan to delay installation until 2022. Isn’t it time to ask why a Dog Park is a higher priority for the Town than the solar array?

  2. Regarding the letter posted by Peggy Matthews-Nilsen (ENDANGERED BIRD HABITAT THREATENED BY DOG PARK):
    The issues expressed by Ms. Matthews-Nilsen are all addressed on the Amherst Dog Park web page – I urge readers to go to this link:
    https://amherstdogpark.wordpress.com/questions-from-the-neighborhood/

    I would also like to address the key issues here.

    Has the South Landfill been ‘designated as protected bird habitat in perpetuity’?
    No. The town has been working on building a solar farm on the North Landfill – as part of this process the town has agreed that it will protect space on the South Landfill to mitigate the loss of habitat. This protection will not take place until the North Landfill construction begins.

    Is the Dog Park being allowed because of a ‘legal loophole’?
    No. The presence of a Dog Park on the South Landfill has been a part of the landfill and solar farm discussions for over two years. In June of 2018 representatives from MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) met with town staff at the South Landfill site. The NHESP representatives carefully reviewed the Dog Park plans and determined that the Dog Park would not interfere with the planned bird habitat and would not adversely affect the wildlife on the South Landfill. The only concern expressed by NHESP was a potential timing conflict between the nesting of the grasshopper sparrow and the noise of a construction site. The town has agreed to hold off on construction until late summer if nesting is taking place this spring. No concerns were expressed by NHESP as to the habitat or nesting of birds once construction is complete.

    Will the Dog Park project have an effect on town services and budget?
    No. The bulk of dog park funding is from the Stanton Foundation, a private grant awarded expressly for the purpose of building a dog park on the South Landfill site. The Dog Park also received some CPA funding in 2018, most of these funds were used for required land-use surveys. No future spending by the town is anticipated – additional maintenance grants from the Stanton Foundation will be available if needed.

    Linking the Dog Park project to ‘…the anti-environmental bias of the Trump Administration’ is both incorrect and inflammatory. The Dog Park Task Force is committed to the improvement and well-being of the town and the environment, and our process has been transparent and civic-minded. In the course of our three years of planning we have held over 30 public meetings and appeared (in publicly posted meetings) before 8 different town boards and committees. We are convinced that the Dog Park will not have a negative impact on the wildlife in the future protected area of the South Landfill, based on evidence and decisions from the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission, and the state Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP).

    Again, I urge readers to visit our web site and read the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ and the ‘Questions From The Neighborhood sections’. I also welcome and will respond to questions that have not been answered – contact me any time!

    Jim Pistrang
    Chair, Dog Park Task Force
    Email: jim@jpcr.com
    Web: https://amherstdogpark.org

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