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.