Protecting Public Natural Resource Lands

ELM Testifies in Favor of Public Lands Preservation Act

Massachusetts residents care enough about permanently protecting forests and parks for all citizens to enjoy that, in 1972, they voted to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to make it the law of the land. Article 97 of the Constitution put into place what was supposed to be strong protection for public natural resource land - requiring that any elimination or change in use of such land (whether owned by a city or town or the state) must first pass a vote of both branches of the Legislature by a two-thirds margin, and then be signed by the Governor. It sounds like the high hurdle it was intended to be, but it hasn't turned out that way. Instead, almost all such "Article 97" land disposition bills are passed unanimously in roll-call votes without debate. Article 97 land disposition votes have comprised more than 20 percent of all roll-call votes in the last several years. We believe strongly that this practice is counter to the will of the people as expressed in Article 97 of the Constitution.

Along with several other conservation advocates, ELM has been working to promote passage of a law that would impose reasonable requirements to ensure that Article 97 lands not be eliminated or changed to non-natural resource uses without first meeting several important requirements, including an alternatives analysis to show whether the public land in question is really the only feasible location for the new proposed use, and the provision of replacement land of equal or greater conservation and dollar value.

This bill, formally An Act Protecting the Natural and Historic Resources of the Commonwealth (House Bill 1124, Senate Bill 350) but usually referred to as the Public Lands Preservation Act or Article 97 No-Net-Loss Bill, was heard on Tuesday (March 22) by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. ELM's Managing Director Ken Pruitt, along with several advocates from Environmental Collaborative organizations and others, spoke in favor of the bill. Past versions of this bill have received favorable votes by the committee, but never passed the full Legislature. ELM will continue to work with our legislative and conservation allies to win passage of this important bill.

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