Legislators mull House bill to restrict state forest logging

  • Hemingway Road in Wendell State Forest. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2019 10:57:34 PM

BOSTON — Touted as a measure that will combat climate change and preserve forests’ recreational value, House Bill 897 is now being considered by legislators, having had its first hearing two weeks ago.

The proposed state legislation, “An Act Relative to Forest Protection,” is a bill that would minimize logging and forest management in state forests, designating these roughly 610,000 acres of public lands as “parks” and “reserves” — a “park” is defined in the bill as an area for recreation, while a “reserve” is a place where ecosystems are conserved.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol. There are 15 co-sponsors, including state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

Groups like RESTORE: The North Woods and the Wendell State Forest Alliance, which unsuccessfully tried to halt the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s recent logging of an 80-acres old oak stand in Wendell, also support the bill.

In a nutshell, the bill says “lands of the commonwealth now under the care, custody and control of the (DCR) commissioner or hereafter acquired, shall be designated as parks or reserves and 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,” except to benefit, research or manage the plants and animals in those public lands, as allowed in Section 1, Chapter 31 in Massachusetts General Law.

It also requires further cooperation between state agencies, with a management plan being developed for watershed systems every five years subject to public hearings.

“A year ago I started reviewing the DCR process for timber sales,” said Glen Ayers, of Greenfield, who is a member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance and traveled to Boston for the bill’s hearing before the Joint Committee on the Environment. “(Currently), the DCR picks an area they want to log, they write a plan in a process where they submit the plan to themselves, then they approve their own plan that they have written.”

Ayers, a retired longtime health agent for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and a soil scientist, said the bill would close a loophole that allows DCR to appeal logging projects to themselves, a system that currently renders public input in logging projects moot, he said.

Michael Kellett of RESTORE: The North Woods argued the bill would help the climate by discouraging the cutting of old forests, leaving them to sequester carbon, a phenomenon recognized by the U.N. as important in combating global warming.

“If we do this, we would be the first state in the country to set aside public land, like what happens for national parks,” said Janet Sinclair, of Shelburne.

State Rep. Michael J. Finn, D-West Springfield, also supports the bill. He submitted a statement to state Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, and state Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, chairs of the Joint Committee on the Environment, which has the authority to report the bill unfavorably or favorably, causing it then to move further through the legislative process.

“Most of the public land policies were written decades ago before global warming and climate change were recognized as a real and imminent threat,” Finn said. “Now is the time to review these policies and make the necessary changes to modernize our public land laws.”

Finn noted the designation of 610,000 acres of public land as parks and reserves “will help keep carbon stored in the trees and soil.”

“Protecting forests also provides many public benefits such as clean air, water and soil,” he said. “Our forests are naturally beautiful and should be protected so future generations can enjoy the beauty and life they bring to the commonwealth.”

DCR did not respond to a request for comment on the bill by press time.

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


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