Ruling upholds state authority on land designations

Bill Pepin (center) is seen in this photo testifying on a piece of environmental legislation on Beacon Hill in 2010.

BOSTON (WWLP) – In a case dealing with how the state sets aside land to protect species of animals, the state’s highest court has ruled against WWLP-22News General Manager Bill Pepin in a lawsuit he brought against the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the agency Tuesday in the case of Pepin v. Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.

Pepin and his wife Marlene brought suit against the state agency several years ago after a parcel of land they own in Hampden, on which they hope to build a house, was designated a “priority habitat” for the eastern box turtle. The reptile is not on the endangered species list, but is listed as a “species of special concern” by the state.

The DFW does not prevent development on priority habitat altogether, but it does put tight restrictions any development in an area with the designation.

The Pepins argued that the DFW’s regulations on priority habitat overstep the agency’s authority under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act of 1990. The state, and several environmental groups, argued that such regulations are necessary to protect wildlife.

A lower court judge agreed, and on Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the lower court ruling.

Pepin told 22News that he’s now looking into how to proceed.

“Obviously I’m disappointed with the court’s decision, it’s been a very long, involved challenge, and right now, we’re just evaluating our options to see what the next step is going to be,” Pepin said.

In a statement sent to 22News, DFW Commissioner Mary Griffin said that they are happy with the outcome.

“The Patrick Administration has a proven track record of protecting rare species while also allowing development to take place. We are pleased with today’s decision and look forward to continuing this vital environmental mission we are charged with carrying out,” Griffin said.

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