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January 11, 2013

Groups round up support for bottle bill

BOSTON — Environmental groups persuaded lawmakers to sign on to several bills they are pushing this session, including a move to protect the state’s endangered species act, fine farmers for keeping animals in confined cages and another attempt at an expanded bottle bill, adding water and juice bottles to the list of drinks requiring a deposit.

The groups held a lobbying day at the Statehouse yesterday, where they presented more than a dozen bills for lawmakers to review.

A Mass Audubon official said the group’s top priority this session is to see the endangered species act kept intact after it has come under attack from property owners who question the state’s authority to regulate the habitat of endangered species. There are about 432 animals and plants listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern — ranging from the North Atlantic right whale to the eastern box turtle, according to Mass Audubon.

A 1990 state law authorized the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to regulate the “take” of native plants and animals on the list. “Take” means to harm, harass, hunt, shoot, kill, trap, collect, cut, or disrupt the nesting, breeding, feeding or migratory activity of species on the list, including the destruction of habitat, according to Mass Audubon.

The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program was charged with coming up with regulations to enforce the 1990 law.

Jack Clarke, director of public policy at Mass Audubon, called it a “tough, but fair law” and said it has drawn little attention until recently. Clarke said the group plans to take a three-pronged approach to protecting it: winning any challenges against it in court; defeating efforts to repeal it in the Legislature; and passing reforms that make the law more open and transparent.

Others believe Natural Heritage has overstepped its authority, and puts unfair restrictions on property owners based on the anonymous tips of people claiming they saw endangered species on someone’s property.

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