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Almanac Archive for May 13, 2021



The Conservation Almanac
     Environmental Issues Highlight Town Meeting Warrants
          Art Call: Featherstone Gallery Show for Community Art Project
                 
Habitat Fragmentation and Stream Restoration
Calling All Artists: Love it - Protect it - MV
     Help VCS and Featherstone celebrate Island nature and open space  
    
This fall, VCS launched a new community arts and ideas project, “Love it. Protect it. MV.,” intended as an opportunity to bring people together in appreciation of the importance of nature and open space to our lives. Since that time, we’ve received countless amazing works of art, from paintings to photos, poems and essays. Thank you to everyone who has participated so far!

Now, as the darkest days of the pandemic appear to be drawing to a close, we are thrilled to announce that in collaboration with Featherstone Center for the Arts, we will be able to provide a fitting culmination for the project. From June 7 - 27, Featherstone will host a curated show at their Francine Kelley Gallery, displaying a collection of works chosen by VCS and FCA.

But first, to all the artists out there, amateur and professional, young and old – we need your work! To be included in the Featherstone show, art must be received via email by May 22. If you have already participated, please consider contributing again – and thank you!


To participate:
This past year has proven the incredible importance of open space to the nourishing of both nature and the human spirit. We invite you to honor our extraordinary home through the visual arts, written thoughts, and any other form of expression. The Vineyard is blessed with a diversity of places in which to find solace and inspiration. The following prompts are offered as basis for your entry:

Forests: As spring arrives on the Vineyard, our forests are coming to life. Filled with small, sometimes unnoticed details, as well as the grandeur and mystery of trees, forests can be both intimate and expansive. Please consider adding your perspective to this project by sharing your artwork or writing that describes your connection with the Island’s forests.

Meadows, Fields & Farms: From picturesque farm fields that sustain our local food economy, to the native grasslands that support the Island's unique biodiversity, meadows and fields are some of the most iconic spaces on Martha's Vineyard. 

Shorelines: The shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard looks very different from those of other popular destinations on the east coast. Instead of miles-long strips of houses and hotels, built upon pilings in the dunes and wetlands, our beaches remain unspoiled. The human footprint is lighter here, better able to share space with nature. (See the Shorelines Gallery)


For more details, please click here. The project is truly open to all, with no age or skill level requirements. In these challenging times, we can all benefit from a greater sense of connection with nature!

Header photo by Larry Glick, Keith Farm to Beetlebung Farm.
Painting by Rachael Cassiani, Morning Glory Glow.
"The fields on Martha’s Vineyard hold such a notable energy throughout the year. They wear every season in a different color. Fields hold a special place in my heart for their willingness to change and remain beautifully inspiring all the while."

Save the Date: Nature as Inspiration 
     Environmental film festival returns Memorial Day weekend

Our annual collaboration with the MV Film Society returns this Memorial Day (May 27 - 30) as a hybrid festival, with 10 films available to watch either in the comfort of your own home or in-person at the Film Center. It promises to be a great collection as always, so go ahead and click on over to the MVFS for a preview of what's on offer – and get your tickets!
 
 

Ecological Restoration and Habitat Fragmentation
     Everything is connected especially when it isn't

What happens when 100 acres of contiguous habitat is divided into 100 one-acre portions? The answer, of course, depends on the species and ecological communities present, and how those divisions were made – by narrow dirt trails, paved roads, or impervious physical barriers. A narrow footpath through the interior of a forest may have little direct impact on most species, yet pose a mortal threat to ground nesting birds – whose resulting decline then affects other species. Such is the complex story of habitat fragmentation, one of the most important topics in conservation biology.

Stream restoration efforts, underway all over the world but especially prevalent here in New England, represent an effort to address one of our most egregious historical fragmentations: the construction of dams and other stream impoundments, many of which are no longer in use. In addition to creating physical obstructions to movement, stopping the natural flow of water can create isolated hot spots that are lethal to species who might otherwise survive on either side of it. As we previously wrote in this space, this sort of “thermal fragmentation” may be as much of an impediment as the dam itself.

To learn more, tune in next Thursday (the 20th) at noon for a free webinar featuring presenter Gwen Macdonald of Save the Sound (New Haven, CT). Please see the flyer for more info, and for the link to preregister. It looks like a good one!

Across the Island, Town Meetings Highlight Environmental Issues

This spring, voters in all six towns will have opportunities to speak up – and vote – to protect our Island environment. From energy efficiency to plastics reduction, a diverse set of issues has made it onto the Warrant this year. Oak Bluffs is up first, meeting this Saturday (May 15th), followed by West Tisbury on May 18th, Edgartown on May 22nd and Chilmark on May 24th. Aquinnah and Tisbury will meet in June, on the 19th and 22nd respectively. There’s a lot to keep track of, so here’s the rundown:

Plastic Pollution: Single-Use Bottles, Polystyrene, and a New Committee
Oak Bluffs kicks off the 2021 Town Meeting season with a Warrant full of environmental issues, including three Articles addressing the plastic pollution resulting from disposable packaging. Since the launch of the VCS initiative to ban plastic shopping bags over five years ago, Oak Bluffs has proven to be the Island’s sticky wicket on this issue, delaying the vote on the bag ban by a year before its eventual (nearly unanimous) passage in 2017.

The only VCS-sponsored item on the Warrant, Article 44 is a non-binding resolution in support of the voluntary elimination of polystyrene packaging, including the well-known foam (Styrofoam), as well as the rigid plastic form (identified by resin code 6 in the often misleading recycling logo on the package). Both are commonly used in food packaging, but there are readily available, less toxic, alternatives. With 47 communities in Massachusetts having already passed legally binding bans (albeit some apply only to the foam type), we hope this voluntary ban will prove to be an easy vote for Oak Bluffs.

The harder lift will be Article 45, where the students of Plastic Free M.V. are seeking to win approval for their bylaw banning single-use plastic bottles of water and soda. VCS has long supported their work, as the students’ efforts are consistent with our broader plastic pollution reduction campaign. We are cautiously optimistic for passage in Oak Bluffs, which, in addition to making a big impact in that town, would allow for the possibility of achieving a unified Island-wide standard. In 2019, the ambitious students of PFMV won approval in their three hometowns (though it was not always easy!). Last year they won again in Tisbury, while suffering a setback in Edgartown, where the town voted narrowly – during the early days of the pandemic – to postpone consideration of the Article. It is not hard to imagine that Edgartown might have said "aye" in a different year, under different circumstances.

Prior to consideration of either of these measures, however, the Town will vote on Article 43. Sponsored by leaders of the Oak Bluff business community, the “Plastic Reduction and Mitigation Bylaw” proposes to create a new Town Committee to study the issue of plastic pollution and submit to the Select Board in 2022 a plan to “incrementally manage(s) plastic reduction and mitigation.” In and of itself, formation of a standing committee to study the issue is a good idea – the issues of plastic pollution are technical, and best practices are always evolving. Therefore, we do not oppose Article 43; but, being unsure of its intent or ultimate impact*, we must remain agnostic. Should it pass, which seems reasonably likely, we urge Oak Bluffs voters to reject the argument that the formation of the new committee is an alternative to passing the two Articles that follow, which have already been studied, legally vetted, and in some cases even implemented in other Island towns.

* The “Findings” section of Article 43 contains problematic language that assumes the conclusion of the future committee’s research and recommendations, and if taken seriously by the committee (or the Select Board to which they report), would preempt many actions. The language also stands in clear opposition to the next two Articles on the very same Warrant, suggesting that Article 43 as a whole may be intended to act as a substitute, effectively campaigning against those measures. Also note the echoes from 2017 (see second story here), when the Oak Bluffs business community attempted to block the Island-wide plastic bag ban by placing an alternative Article on the Warrant.


Shrinking Our Carbon Footprint: 100% Renewable M.V.
Probably the least contentious of the environmental issues, a non-binding resolution to decrease the Island’s carbon footprint will be up for a vote in Chilmark, Edgartown, and Tisbury, after winning approval handily last fall at Special Town Meetings in Aquinnah and West Tisbury.  An initiative of the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee (VSEC), "100% Renewable M.V." commits to three goals: 1) to reduce our local fossil fuel use (e.g., for home heating and transportation) by 50% by 2030, and to zero by 2040, 2) to similarly decrease the portion of our electricity supply that comes from fossil fuels, and 3) to increase local carbon capture through better land use decisions (see the mercifully short full text here).

Initially, the resolution was to be focused simply on zeroing out our Island’s fossil fuel use, and VCS is most appreciative of the eventual inclusion of that third item. At the State and Federal level, energy policy is obviously central to combating climate change, but when addressing the issue at the local level, taking better care of the land and water can often be a more powerful approach. Improving ecological functioning and protecting habitat is a win-win: reduced emissions and sequestered carbon lessen our contribution to global climate change, while allowing more of nature to exist undisturbed, strengthening our resistance to its impacts.


Energy: Building Efficiency & Local Generation
In Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, adoption of the “Stretch Code” for energy efficiency in buildings is up for a vote. An “aye” here is necessary for the two towns to be eligible for funding through the Massachusetts Green Communities program, joining the Vineyard’s other four towns in that designation. As of April, 280 of the state’s 351 towns and cities (almost 80%) are enrolled. In addition, Oak Bluffs must also pass an “as-of-right” zoning* provision to allow for a large solar installation at the town landfill. For technical details, please see this presentation from VSEC.

Apart from the grant opportunities (and quickly diminishing bragging rights – “We’re number 281!!!”) available to Green Communities, it’s worth pointing out that adopting the Stretch Code is simply a good idea in its own right. The code results in meaningful gains in energy conservation at a small price premium, and easily pays for itself in lowered utility costs. In fact, some studies have indicated that a much bolder move, adoption of a zero net energy code, may not significantly increase costs. Compared to that, the Stretch Code just isn’t that much of a stretch.  

* As-of-right zoning can be problematic when it allows renewable energy developers to evade local authority and pursue projects that are on balance environmentally harmful, i.e. the clearing of forests for solar energy. (As an example of the risk in giving up regulatory oversight, in 2016 VCS testified against a somewhat preposterous proposal by the Oak Bluffs Water District to build a solar farm on 10 acres of ancient woodland sitting on top of a municipal water supply. This resulted in a rare outright denial of the project by the MV Commission.) Fortunately, the provision up for a vote in Oak Bluffs is noncontroversial because it wisely limits the zone to an appropriate, already-degraded site.


Air Pollution: Transportation Electrification
This spring presents two opportunities to simultaneously steer the Island away from fossil fuel reliance and improve local air quality through electrification of buses. In all six Towns, voters will be asked to approve funding for the MV Public Schools to purchase two electric buses (the current fleet is all gas or diesel).  In addition, as Edgartown voters are by now well aware, that Town will vote on a plan by the VTA to add charging equipment to its newly renovated Church Street bus station.

It is today widely understood that the ambitious carbon emissions goals needed to ensure any semblance of a recognizable climate in the future will require both the electrification of transportation and a transition to carbon-free electricity production. What is less appreciated is the direct effect of tailpipe emissions: thousands die yearly from the consequences of air pollution, and many more than that are harmed, impacts that are disproportionately borne by low income people and communities of color. Surprisingly, some research suggests that auto crashes may even be responsible for fewer deaths than auto exhaust.

So while “think of the children” is an overused trope, it’s worth trotting out once again here. School buses are possibly the single most obvious low-hanging fruit for vehicle electrification. The kids riding those buses are very aware of the threat of climate change – it has been a standard part of the curriculum for years now – and more than a few are frightened by it. (Students today learn the word “existential” in the context of climate advocacy long before they understand its plain meaning; pity the English teachers and Philosophy professors of the future.) While the children themselves are probably less concerned about the health effects of breathing air pollution (and good for them!), that’s no excuse for not taking action to reduce it on their behalf. Ultimately, decades from now, these kids will be living with the consequences of our actions – both in terms of their individual health, and as a community that must inhabit the new world we are creating.
 
Photo: Plastic Free M.V. in their formative years campaigning outside Cronig's Market




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