Forest protection, climate policy key topics in virtual coffee chat with local legislators

  • Local legislators met with their constituents Saturday morning for a virtual “legislative coffee,” offering residents a chance to ask questions and express concerns about the issues important to them. Screenshot

Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2021 3:30:37 PM

Local legislators met with their constituents Saturday morning for a virtual “legislative coffee,” offering residents a chance to ask questions and express concerns about the issues important to them.

A significant portion of the 90-minute conversation, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Franklin County, concerned climate policy and the desire to protect local forests.

“I’m so happy to see so many of you have submitted bills that are good for our climate as well as for the economy of Western Mass.,” commented Nancy Polan.

She encouraged the legislators on the call — Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield — to look at Bill SD2419, an act that would establish a climate policy commission.

“We want to support that,” Polan said.

She said she was “particularly heartened” by initiatives put forth to protect farms and forests, as well as acknowledgment of the fact that forests are beneficial for sequestering carbon.

“This is an asset that should be factored into our climate plans,” she said.

She asked Hinds for further explanation on what she understood as his “no biomass plan.”

“I think (carbon sequestration) is only finally coming to getting the recognition as a critical part of the climate fight that it deserves. … It’s not just reducing our carbon emissions, it’s capturing emission,” Hinds said. “That, very quickly, is incongruent with biomass plants and cutting trees on state-owned land.”

He said Polan was referring to a “suite of bills” that are trying to figure out how to further incentivize carbon sequestration. One such bill includes removing biomass from references in state laws that refer to “clean energy,” he noted.

Comerford spoke to the intersectionality of issues pertaining to open space and climate change. To that effect, she said legislators are working on a “no-net loss” bill.

“There are states across the country, like Maryland, that have really done important work to put the brakes on the loss of open space,” Comerford said. “They’ve made policy around how to maintain or grow existing open spaces. It intersects with, as you might imagine, everything — from solar policy to forest cutting to prioritization around farms, and support given to landowners.”

Constituents also expressed concern for bills involving carbon credit programs, which they said effectively incentivize landowners to log their land.

“Think about the backwards nature of that — people like me who leave our land alone for wildlife and other things, we get punished,” commented Janet Sinclair.

Kate Conlin, however, raised concern for a few of Hinds’ bills, citing the effect they could have both on forests and the local economy.

“There are a lot of landowners in the hilltowns who have inherited forests, something they couldn’t have purchased in today’s market,” Conlin said, referencing an act to reduce unnecessary destruction of forests, and an act promoting and protecting forests. “Only the privileged will be able to own and maintain their land in a forested condition.”

She said this, in fact, “jeopardizes the stability” of local forests, by making them more susceptible to parcelization and destruction.

“A reduction in local sustainable hardwood results globally in illegal poaching and unsustainable harvesting,” she argued.

Conlin said legislators should instead think globally to address climate change and the protection of forests and natural habitats.

Hinds said Conlin was highlighting the problem-solving process that occurs in policy making; in other words, trying to find the best way forward given the needs of communities.

“You’re right to put out this tension that I often feel, growing up in the hilltowns and growing up with friends who work in the forest industry — how do you support a livelihood in these areas, how do you manage having a lot of land and try to extract economic sources of income from that?” he said.

Still, Hinds said it’s also true that the “science is increasingly clear” on the negative implications of burning wood.

“I’d love to talk with you … and others, and figure out ways we can come to an agreement on what the science says, but also how to make sure we’re not putting people out of work,” he said. “I do think there is a path forward that says you can come up with forest products and the like.”

Other issues that came up at Saturday morning’s talk included COVID-19 vaccination distribution, issues pertaining to disability justice, and education — particularly with respect to encouraging civic engagement in the classroom.

On COVID-19, Blais said local legislators agree that a mass vaccination site in Springfield is not a viable solution for the region.

“Taking away vaccine supplies from our local hospitals, our trusted local boards of health, and directing them to these mass vaccination sites was not OK,” she said.

Charlotte McLaughlin applauded Blais’ response to the recent crash of the state’s vaccine sign-up website.

“I think all of us have been feeling the strain of this rollout and the frustration,” Blais said. “And I can’t tell you how many constituents have reached out to me … because this rollout has been, in the governor’s own words, ‘lumpy and bumpy.’ It’s caused a lot of confusion for people and frustration for people, and I think unnecessarily so.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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