The session of the Connecticut General Assembly that ended in Hartford this week resulted in a number of achievements that we think are good for conservation and for the state’s environment in general.
The Senate and the House passed one bill with big implications for land conservation, and another with smaller but perhaps more immediate consequences for wildlife sanctuaries such as the 19 we own and operate.
Two other bills that would have had a detrimental effect on conservation went nowhere, which is also good news. Here’s a summary:
Bills that Passed Both Houses
An Act Concerning the State’s Open Space Plan (SB 347) will make it easier for Connecticut to reach its goal of protecting 21 percent of the land in the state.
The bill requires the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to prepare a strategy for achieving the 21 percent goal, in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture, the state Council on Environmental Quality, municipalities, regional planning agencies, and private land conservation organizations such as Connecticut Audubon Society. The deadline is December 15, and it has to be updated at least every five years.
The strategy must include an estimate of the number of acres preserved statewide, as well as timetables for land acquisition by the state, plans for managing the state’s preserved lands, and an assessment of the resources the state will need to acquire and manage open space.
It has to identify the highest priorities for land acquisition, including wildlife habitat and ecological resources that are in greatest need of immediate preservation, and the general location of each priority.
The bill also requires the DEEP to work with other state agencies to identify lands they own that might have conservation value, and to devise a plan for preserving the tracts with the highest conservation value. This provision is particularly important because it could lead to the preservation of important tracts without having to spend state funds.
Many of the bill’s specific provisions started as recommendations in Connecticut Audubon Society’s annual Connecticut State of the Birds reports. Connecticut’s conservation community supported the bill and worked collaboratively to help get it passed, in particular the state Council on Environmental Quality and Audubon Connecticut, the state office of National Audubon Society.
An Act Increasing the Penalty for Poaching (HB 5263) did exactly what its name suggests – increase the fine for hunting illegally on private land, to a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,000.
Illegal hunting has been an occasional problem on our sanctuaries, in particular the 700-acre sanctuary at our Grassland Bird Conservation Center in Pomfret. Andy Rzeznikiewicz, the Land Manager at the center, said this:
“I have personally caught and reported many people poaching on our sanctuary in Pomfret. In the end, these people get a little slap on the hand, and face virtually no consequences for their actions.
“In late December of 2010, after deer season was finished, I found where an abutter to the sanctuary had been baiting deer on our sanctuary and shooting them from his house. He had shot and killed three deer and injured a fourth that particular day. Judging by what I saw there this wasn’t his first time that year.
“When the conservation officer approached him at his house he readily admitted guilt. He was only fined $100 and he got his gun back! Just beyond where he was shooting the deer, we have a public hiking trail. Someone could have been hurt! The poacher asked the conservation officer if it was the women walking her dog five minutes after he shot the deer who reported him. That’s how close we were to a potential injury.”
Bills That Did Not Pass
An Act Modernizing the State’s Telecommunications Laws (SB 447) contained sections that would have declared the construction of cell towers in state parks and forests to be compatible with other traditional parks and forests activities. Cell towers can be built in parks and forests only after a specific review by the DEEP but this bill would have made it much easier to build towers in those areas.
Because cell towers can damage and fragment habitat, we opposed that provision. The sections of the bill that would have made cell towers compatible with state parks and forests were deleted; the revised bill did not pass.
An Act Modifying the Ban on Pesticide Applications on School Grounds (SB 5155) would have rolled back a law that prevented the use of cosmetic pesticides on school lawns and playing fields.
In addition to exposing school children to unnecessary risks, it also would have posed a threat to many of the state’s most common birds, which glean insects from lawns and fields. The bill did not make it out of the Environment Committee.
Connecticut Audubon Society thanks the General Assembly for taking these common sense actions and sends its congratulations to the state’s conservation community for working hard to achieve these results.