Bill aims to fight climate change, save forests

  • The proposed logging of 100-year-old oak trees in Wendell State Forest has drawn censure from environmental groups and individuals. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/23/2019 11:09:28 PM

A proposed bill supported by Concerned Citizens of Franklin County will protect forests across the state and help mitigate climate change if passed.

House Bill 897 (H.897), An Act Relative to Forest Protection, is sponsored by Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, with 14 co-sponsors, including Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Pittsfield, and Sen. Jo Comerford, all of whom could not be reached for comment Tuesday, because they were in budget meetings into the night.

The bill classifies all 650,000 acres of state-owned conservation land as “parks” or “reserves,” based on designations currently used by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Concerned Citizens is working with RESTORE The North Woods Concord to push for state legislators to pass it into law.

“This bill would update the direction of Massachusetts public land management,” Michael Kellett, RESTORE’s executive director, said. “A law we have now, written in 1943, formalized a policy that declared logging of state owned forests to be a top priority for the public good. Today, 76 years later, we believe that the greatest public good for these lands is to shift the focus to the preservation of natural forest ecosystems.”

Kellett said the bill calls for management similar to that in national parks, focusing on nature protection while ensuring public access. He said there are exceptions in the bill for cutting and other management efforts in situations where it is proven necessary.

“Massachusetts public land is as important for mitigating climate change as other forests around the world,” Janet Sinclair, a member of Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, said. “This is a matter of thinking globally and acting locally.”

According to supporters of the bill, if passed, it wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything, and it would not affect how private landowners, municipalities or counties use their land. It also would not restrict how private foresters or loggers do business.

“We know that the question is being raised about the economic impacts of this idea,” Kellett said.

They said what it would do is fight climate change, protect native biodiversity, provide a wide array of public benefits, allow forest management flexibility, protect sacred and historic sites and “take concrete action to fulfill Gov. Charlie Baker’s commitment to employ forest ecosystems to mitigate global warming.”

According to Kellett, the law would make Massachusetts the first state in the country to afford such strong public land protection. He said the bill is consistent with a growing consensus on climate priorities at the state, national and international level.

At the local level, a group of citizens has been opposing a plan for the state to log in Wendell State Forest. Jim Thornley, who is part of that group, said he hopes to keep that forest cutting plan at bay, and would love to see forest protection, like that recommended in the proposed bill, throughout the state.

“It seems fitting that Massachusetts should lead the way on forest protection,” Thornley said. “Our own Henry David Thoreau wandered New England looking for unspoiled natural areas and found that they were few and far between. Now, 150 years later, the same is still true. We need to protect our forests, not only for the sake of the plants and animals that live there, but also for our own sake.”

The state DCR did not return phone calls or email on Tuesday asking what it thinks of the bill. Late last year, state officials said “No” when protesters asked that they cancel a planned logging project in Wendell State Forest. The logging of 100-year-old oak trees there has drawn censure from nonprofit groups like RESTORE: The North Woods, which claims the project is unnecessary, has little or no economic benefit and is counterproductive to fighting climate change.

Another proposed bill, House 853, Save Massachusetts Forests, an act to assure the attainment of greenhouse gas emissions goals in the state’s Alternative Portfolio Standard, has also received support from many of the same people and groups supporting H.897. That bill would amend the state’s APS, which is meant to incentivize energy that reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.

Supporters of both bills say the two together would move the state in the right direction by reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels, while pulling additional carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, a consequence of letting more forests continue to grow.

For more information, go to: www.savemassforests.com and see a summary of the bill and an endorsement letter from biologist, theorist and naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson.




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