Loggers seek $30K due to protester disruptions

  • Logging in Wendell State Forest last year. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2020 9:28:08 PM

GREENFIELD — The local loggers contracted to harvest trees in Wendell State Forest last year are requesting nearly $30,000 in reimbursement, for work hours lost due to disruptions by protesters.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) contracted the family-owned John H. Conkey and Sons, a company based in Belchertown, to log at an approximately 80-acre old oak stand last summer and fall, with the job finishing in September.

That project — before, during and after the actual logging — was vociferously protested by a group calling itself the Wendell State Forest Alliance. The protesters claim the project negatively impacted the forest’s species and recreational value, was counterproductive in fighting climate change and violated state laws like the Global Warming Solutions Act.

During the project, the protesters tried to physically prevent logging by blocking loggers, their vehicles and equipment, and even chaining themselves by trees — actions that led to more than 30 arrests.

“The harassment we have suffered and the delays we have experienced to date have increased our cost of performance and reduced the overall profitability of this contract,” reads a letter to DCR from Kenneth Conkey of John H. Conkey and Sons.

That letter is included among court documents, attached to a Jan. 17 affidavit by DCR Director of Forest Stewardship Peter Church asserting the legality of the project. The Wendell State Forest Alliance is currently suing DCR in Franklin County Superior Court over the project.

In total, John H. Conkey and Sons is asking for $29,995.93 in reimbursement.

Along with the letter is a document showing more than 20 work hours were lost for the company’s logging truck; almost 19 work hours lost for a Komatsu harvester; almost 21 work hours lost for a John Deere 1110D Forwarder; and 15 work hours lost for hired tractor trailers.

Conkey writes that neither he nor the DCR could have anticipated the level of disruption caused by protesters.

“It is my understanding that DCR has conducted many informational meetings/hearings regarding the forest management plan for the Wendell State Forest with residents of the area,” he writes.

Conkey notes the great care his company took during the project to follow proper logging standards, and notes the long and respectful relationship the small, family-owned company has had with the DCR, including past projects in state forests and around the Quabbin Reservoir.

Judge Mark Mason listened to arguments on the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Jan. 7, allowing both sides to plead their cases. He decided to take time to consider the “complex” case, and said he would rule on the motion in 60 to 90 days.

In the meantime, members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance who were arrested last summer will be due in Orange District Court on Tuesday for a hearing. There were 32 arrests on 17 protesters during the logging, with charges being trespassing and disorderly conduct.

They continue to assert their actions were necessary in light of the “climate emergency” and claim forests should be left largely uncut in order to allow trees to sequester carbon.

“Thousands of trees were cut and removed from the Wendell State Forest in August and September 2019,” said John Cohen, of Northampton, one of the defendants set to appear in court Tuesday.

“The climate emergency necessitates that trees be allowed to mature as carbon storers and sequesterers rather than be cut for private industrial benefit,” he said.

It has consistently been DCR’s policy not to comment on ongoing litigation or related matters, and it is unclear how the agency plans to respond to the request for reimbursement.

A DCR spokesperson said Friday they do intend to respond to the Greenfield Recorder but was unable to get back by press time.

A call to John H. Conkey and Sons was not returned by press time.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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