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Of the Earth: Saving the forest for the trees

  • The Save the Brook Road Forest petition aims to stop logging at Wendell State Forest. Recorder File Photo

  • BLIXT



For the Recorder
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Riddle: What is homegrown, covers about 80 acres and may be far more valuable when it isn’t harvested?

Answer: If you took a sneak-peek last week at bit.ly/2JYdPu7, you already know the answer is 80 acres of forest in Wendell — and you know that some folks there are petitioning to stop the state Department of Conservation and Recreation from logging that part of Wendell State Forest, which is between Wickett Pond and Ruggles Pond.

By last Sunday, nearly 400 people had signed the Save the Brook Road Forest petition, initiated by Wendell’s Jim Thornley. It reads, in part, “We, the People of Wendell, state that we want this 80-acre, 110-year-old oak forest placed in reserve status, and classified as a Zone 1 wildland pursuant to the forest management policies of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Thornley said the parcel includes a “stately, 80-acre old oak forest that is just beginning to reach an old-growth condition — something that is rare in Massachusetts.” He said he got involved because he didn’t’ relish “one of the most visited and cherished areas in the state forest being turned into a pile of wood pellets.

The DCR, which wants to start timber harvesting in November, has said that it is hoping to “imitate natural diversity” by disrupting the uniformity of the growth that occurred about 110 years ago following a major forest fire.

Members of the group, however, see the plan to harvest the trees as part of a much larger and more damaging plan to turn western Massachusetts into a major source of industrial and commercial biomass. They note that the United States Forest Service classifies 93 percent of Massachusetts’ forest as timberland capable of producing crops of industrial wood.

They also point to “An Assessment of the Forest Resources of Massachusetts” by UMass Amherst researchers who write that, “The five counties of western Massachusetts have just over 1.2 million acres of timberland, or land that is capable of growing wood and where no legal prohibitions on harvesting exist.”

To which, the Wendell petition responds: “We want our forest as a living, wild and natural asset ... We choose nature as the ‘manager’ of the Wickett Pond Forest.”

Michael Kellett, executive director of RESTORE: The North Woods, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization, said the DCR action would worsen climate change and waste taxpayer dollars.

“Based on these deficiencies alone, DCR should withdraw this plan and go back to the drawing board,” Kellett said following a DCR tour of the site last week.

So, what does this have to do with the ideas of food, farms and “terroir?” First, it’s a reminder that trees are a large and often unrecognized part of Massachusetts agriculture, and decisions about what to cut and what not to cut are complex. Those decisions impact larger land use issues which in turn determine our very special way of life — a special way of life that is “of the earth.”

Secondly, the Wendell group’s “tree-roots” approach to organizing that is especially compelling for anyone interested in rallying community support around land and agriculture issues. Like grassroots organizing, it begins with a deep central premise — in this case, the constitutional right of the community to agree to those things that impact it — and from there it branches out into education and political campaign to sequester many thousands of acres of trees for commercial harvesting.

Lisa Hoag, a local organizer, said the forest qualifies for DCR Zone 1 classification, which would forbid timber harvesting. She also points to a “Cultural Resource Emergency Concern” letter sent to the DCR in April by the Wendell Selectboard, its Historical Commission and four native tribes with preservation interests in the forest.

“DCR has adamantly refused to adhere to their own guidelines and rules,” Hoag said. “Our forest is part of our Family of Life; we owe the forest our voice of gratitude and protection.”

Wendell Forest Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped onion

4 cloves chopped garlic

3 sprigs thyme

1 sprig rosemary

1 cup chopped portobello mushroom

1 cup chopped shiitake mushroom

1 cup chopped oyster mushroom

1 cup chopped edible wild mushroom from Brook Road Forest

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

4 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee ingredients in butter. Add stock and let simmer. Add cream. Puree or leave chunky. Salt and pepper to taste.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.