Protesters rally at state forest

  • Protesters gather at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save Our Oaks” rally on Saturday. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Protesters gather at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save OurOaks” rally on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Protesters gather at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save OurOaks” rally on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Protesters gather at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save OurOaks” rally on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Protesters gather at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save OurOaks” rally on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Concerned citizens participate in a “Love for the Forest” walk after rallying at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save OurOaks” rally on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Concerned citizens participate in a “Love for the Forest” walk after rallying at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station for “The People Have Spoken: Save OurOaks” rally on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2019 7:40:49 AM

MONTAGUE — Protecting rare salamanders, sequestering carbon and respecting the natural order of forests — there were more than a few reasons a group showed up at Wendell State Forest to protest planned logging. 

About 60 people gathered at the Wendell State Forest Ranger Station on Saturday to rally against the cutting of about 16 acres of an 80-acre old oak stand, brandishing signs and speaking out against what they see as an ill-guided state venture. The rally was followed by a peaceful walk into the woods.  

One of the main reasons the protesters — including groups the Wendell Forest Alliance and RESTORE: The North Woods — is standing against the logging project is carbon sequestration. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on Oct. 7, 2018 stating that forest preservation is crucial to fighting climate change because of carbon sequestration.

According to Mary Booth, director of the nonprofit Partnership for Policy Integrity, “The science is clear that the highest and best use of native forests is for the carbon they sequester and the ecosystem services they provide. Harvesting these trees, which if left to grow will continue to sequester carbon for a hundred years into the future, is wasteful and unnecessary.” 

“Old oak trees double how much carbon they sequester every 50 years,” said rallier Lisa Hoag, referencing a carbon sequestration at Harvard Forest and 47 other indigenous forests.

One protestor, Mary Thomas, pointed out there is a population of rare Jefferson salamanders at a vernal pool just northeast of Brook Road, adjacent to the logging site. Wendell is one of 51 towns with a confirmed population, Thomas said. 

“According to Mass Wildlife’s Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program, Jefferson salamanders are terrestrially active in both the Spring and Fall. This past fall, however, contractors for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation brought heavy equipment onto the rain-soaked ground and began cutting the trees,” Thomas said. 

Thomas cited a report in the New York Times that stated salamanders are important to carbon sequestering, because they eat leaf-shredding insects, which release carbon into the atmosphere when they eat leaves. But besides the that, Thomas said that allowing the project would go against the values of Wendell residents. 

“One of the many things I love about Wendell is the community’s almost universal respect for the wildlife with whom we share our neck of the woods,” Thomas said. “We put up turtle crossing signs, and, on warm, rainy spring nights, we grab ponchos and flashlights and head out to carry frogs, toads and salamanders safely across roads during the annual amphibian migration.”

The protests have been happening periodically since the fall of last year. The protesters have stood along Route 2 in Erving and delivered a petition with 1,148 signatures to Gov. Charlie Baker calling for the project to be scrapped. An online poll currently has 1,019 signatures. 

But the Department of Conservation and Recreation has a blunt answer for the protesters: “No.”

According to Leo Roy, DCR commissioner, the project is actually beneficial for forest’s long-term health. 

“We are not clear-cutting the 80-acre oak stand. We are harvesting about 17 percent of the oak, creating 1/3-acre openings and doing some selective thinning. There will be a continuous cover of large trees left on the site,” Roy said at a meeting with the Wendell Selectboard in October. 

“While cutting any tree is unpopular with some of our citizens, under state law the responsibility falls to us to manage our state forests,” Roy added. “We at the DCR are environmentalists, and we love our trees and we love our forests.”

Roy agrees with protesters that the old, large oak trees sequester more carbon than still-growing trees, but contends that, in order to keep sequestering carbon over a long period of time, it’s helpful to have trees that are of different ages and reaching their peak age for sequestering carbon at different times. Massachusetts’ forest are too homogenous, he said, which will not provide the “greatest long-term ability to sequester carbon.”

The protesters do have some good news on the side of the government. State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, could not be at Saturday’s rally, but sent a letter in support, which was read aloud. 

“I share your concerns about the logging of indigenous forests,” Comerford said. “My team and I will not yield until constituents have the answers they need.”

Comerford said she has been “deeply alarmed” by government inaction on climate change, and that forests should be protected specifically for there carbon sequestration, just as the protesters say.

“I hear you loud and clear, and I will work tirelessly over the next two years to make sure Beacon Hill hears you too,” Comerford said. 

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


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