My Turn: Please save our forests and wildlife

  • Horseback riders explore the woodland trails at Timberlock, which is in the southwestern corner of the 6 million-acre Adirondack State Park. THE WASHINGTON POST BY NANCIE BATTAGLIA

Published: 1/20/2022 6:26:50 AM
Modified: 1/20/2022 6:25:53 AM

Envision a large concentration of protected forests, home to a diversity of wildlife such as moose, black bear, bobcats, martens, river otters, beavers, raccoons, mink and smaller mammals, including flying squirrels and bats.

Altogether, 53 known species of mammals, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians and countless birds, waterfowl, insects and fish live among its mix of broad-leafed trees and conifers (e.g., beech, eastern hemlock, oak, sugar maple, pine, spruce). The area is checkered with thousands of lakes and ponds and thousands of miles of rivers, providing watersheds that help explain its rich biological diversity.

Where is this wondrous place that covers an area larger than Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and the Great Smokies National Parks combined? Regrettably, it’s not in Massachusetts, but just hours from Boston, Burlington, New York, Montreal and Ottawa. For more than 127 years, this has been one of the world’s best-kept conservation secrets.

At 6 million acres, northern New York’s Adirondack Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. Nearly half is a publicly owned forest preserve that’s designated “Forever Wild,” protected under the New York state Constitution “to preserve the exceptional scenic, recreational and ecological value.” The Constitution states that, “These lands shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”

Land use of privately owned portions (including towns, villages and farms) is regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency. Overall, the park is roughly the size of Vermont, yet is unknown to many Americans, and actually hosts some 60 million visitors a year.

Why do I dwell on this example of great progressive legislative leadership that promotes forest, water and wildlife conservation, and outdoor recreation? It’s because expansive pristine forests, lakes, rivers, and outdoor recreation opportunities similarly exist in Massachusetts if necessarily large contiguous areas are protected from logging and development. Conservation protection is needed to prevent extinctions, reverse the decline of species populations, stabilize natural ecosystems & services, and restore degraded lands.

Bills currently being considered on Beacon Hill, H.912 and H.1002, are a great opportunity for our legislators to take environmentally bold actions: protecting Massachusetts’ public forests and their mycorrhizal networks from human harm (such as pesticides, logging, soil compaction, solar farms); for combating the ongoing climate crisis (older trees sequester more carbon than younger trees and the rate of carbon drawdown accelerates as they age); for protecting watersheds from pollution (trees hold soil in place and ultimately filter/clean our drinking water and air); for protecting a vast array of wildlife and plant species (many rare or endangered); for protecting outdoor recreation areas that draw more visitors (and revenue) each year as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes (visitors are not attracted by clearcut areas or rutted, eroded landscapes); and for protecting us from animal disease vectors that commonly spill over to human habitations when forests are disturbed or removed (think eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus and rabies.)

These two bills would go far to create a scenario in the commonwealth that would mimic the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserves of New York and enhance overall forest protection while simultaneously combattng the climate crisis and promoting public health. Undisturbed forests over time is one of our easiest and least expensive approaches to maximize carbon sequestration and it totally depends on natural ecosystem processes that also benefit wildlife. It’s a win/win situation for Massachusetts legislators and the people they serve in the Bay State, especially our children and grandchildren.

Stephen C. Frantz is a research pathobiologist who lives in South Hadley. 


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