Judge hears arguments on motion to dismiss Wendell State Forest case, sets deadline for comments

  • Hemingway Road in Wendell State Forest, as seen in April 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Protesters on Montague Road in Wendell picket the logging operation in Wendell State Forest last summer. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Wendell State Forest Alliance members and supporters protest Wendell State Forest logging outside the courthouse in Greenfield before appearing in Franklin County Superior Court in August of 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2020 6:35:09 PM

GREENFIELD — Plaintiffs and defendants on Wednesday afternoon delivered statements pertaining to a motion to dismiss a lawsuit pitting a group of environmental activists against the state.

Superior Court Judge Richard Carey heard arguments from three Wendell State Forest Alliance members and Assistant Attorney General Kendra Kinscherf. He gave the parties until Sept. 25 to submit additional written comments while he takes the motion under advisement.

Twenty-nine alliance members are suing the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), alleging the logging of 100-year-old oak trees on an 80-acre stand in Wendell State Forest in the summer of 2019 broke several state laws and regulations.

Kinscherf, representing the state, said the case should be dismissed, continuing her previous argument that the logging ended a year ago. The other defendants are Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, DCR Commissioner Leonard Roy, and William Hill, director of the state’s Public Lands/Management Forestry Program.

Bill Stubblefield, Glen Ayers and Gia Neswald were the three co-plaintiffs to address Carey. Time ran out before James Thornley could speak, but he submitted his comments in writing and read his statement to his colleagues during a post-hearing Zoom meeting.

Stubblefield said his opposition to the motion to dismiss, and that of his colleagues, involves three areas.

“The first prong of our response concerns the ever-growing threat of catastrophic climate change and the role our public forests must play in addressing this emergency. That we do in fact face a genuine emergency of unparalleled severity is not in dispute,” he said. “The people of Massachusetts have clearly committed themselves to addressing this threat with the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 and the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act as recently amended with the addition of Section 61. These acts have profound and far-reaching implications for environmental law in the commonwealth that have yet to be fully developed.”

Stubblefield said the other two prongs are the legal foundations that underlie logging on public lands and a lack of any meaningful due process for citizens to appeal decisions regarding public forests.

Ayers told Carey the plaintiffs were denied access to all administrative processes.

“Also, your honor, we cannot rely upon the AG’s Office to advocate for ‘we the people,’ nor to protect the environment, as is their mission, since they are defending those named in this case,” he said. “We are simply asking that the court review the administrative record, or lack thereof, and find a reasonable solution to the complete lack of administrative options available to the public when dealing with publicly-owned lands.”

The Wendell State Forest Alliance’s protests began in fall 2018, when demonstrators held signs along Route 2 protesting the then-proposed logging project. Protesters held rallies at the forest, circulated petitions and sent letters to the governor over the following year.

Once logging began that summer, protesters tried to physically stop the project by standing in the way of loggers and equipment, and by chaining themselves to trees. This led to more than 30 arrests.

The Wendell State Forest Alliance is not represented by a lawyer, and the group is not seeking any money in the suit. Rather, they would like a declaration or recognition that the DCR’s actions were wrong, so a similar project won’t happen in other forests.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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