Six more arrested for Wendell State Forest protests

  • A sign on a truck outside Franklin County Superior Court, where Wendell State Forest Alliance members and supporters protested logging in the Wendell State Forest before they outlined their case against the Department of Conservation and Recreation last week in Greenfield. Six protesters were arrested Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2019 10:21:51 PM

WENDELL — Six protesters were arrested Tuesday morning at Wendell State Forest, the latest in a slew of arrests since a state logging project at the forest began three weeks ago.

Shortly before 8:30 a.m., Massachusetts State Police arrested the six members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance — a group that has held rallies, circulated petitions and brought the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to court in over the project.

Specifically, the group has taken issue with the harvesting of trees more than 100 years old in an 80-acre oak stand. Tuesday, the protesters attempted to physically block loggers and equipment from the site, using their bodies and by erecting barricades with PVC piping.

State Police Media Relations did not return calls inquiring about the names and charges of those arrested by press time.

“They (the state) leave us no alternative,” said Wendell State Forest Alliance member Glen Ayers in a statement. “We are calling on the Baker Administration and the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Kathleen Theoharides, to stop breaking the law, to stop this illegal logging.”

In the last three weeks, at least 22 arrests have been made on Wendell State Forest Alliance members, with charges typically being trespassing and disorderly conduct. In addition to standing in front of, or blocking, logging vehicles and machinery, protesters have also chained themselves to trees, requiring police to remove them with bolt cutters. Gates have been installed around the logging, with “danger” signs posted.

While the Wendell State Forest Alliance has cited concerns for native plant and animal populations, including the rare Jefferson salamander, and the forest’s recreational value, most of its opposition to the project concerns climate change. Older, larger trees, like those being harvested, sequester more carbon than comparatively young trees. Organizations like the U.N. accept carbon sequestration as an important phenomenon in fighting climate change and global warming.

“We are currently in a climate emergency,” said Wendell State Forest Alliance member Miriam Kurland. “There are many reasons to stop DCR’s logging of our publicly owned land, including the need of these trees, especially the precious older trees, to sequester the carbon being emitted into our atmosphere by industry and fossil fuels.”

Wendell State Forest Alliance members have decried the logging project in Wendell as counterproductive in combating climate change, and have characterized the project as an “industrial-scale” “clear cutting” that will permanently affect their lives by diminishing the forest’s recreational appeal.

They have also called the project illegal, saying it violates state acts, such as the Global Warming Solutions Act, and took the state to court over the matter last week. The lawsuit — from 29 Wendell State Forest Alliance co-plaintiffs — names Kathleen A. Theoharides, secretary of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Leo Roy, DCR commissioner; and William Hill, the department’s State/Public Lands Forestry Program director as defendants.

In his opening statement before Judge Michael Callan in Franklin County Superior Court, Ayers said, “The reason we are here is DCR has refused to meet with us and discuss anything to do with this,” and called taking the matter to court a “last resort.”

He also mentioned Miller v. Commissioner for the Department of Environmental Management — a predecessor to DCR — a 1969 case that affirmed that commercial activities in public forests used for recreation should only be allowed if they are “essential to the quiet enjoyment of the facilities,” and called the project, carried out by private Belchertown company John H. Conkey & Sons Logging Inc., inessential.

But the state has portrayed the project in an entirely different light, calling it “selective harvesting,” rather than clear cutting, and stating only a small portion of the 80-acre stand will be harvested. In fact, DCR has consistently said the project will be better for climate protection efforts, and will sequester more carbon, in the long run.

It is the department’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. However, Commissioner Leo Roy described the project to the Wendell Selectboard last fall, where he said Massachusetts’ forests are too homogenous, and by selectively logging, DCR creates forests with trees diverse in species and age. By having forests consisting of trees of differing ages, Roy said the most carbon will be sequestered in the long term, because there will be a flow of trees reaching their peak carbon-sequestering ages.

In court last week, Assistant Attorney General Kendra Kinscherf, representing the state, said the project is being carried out with the best forest management practices and, in addition to being beneficial to long-term forest health by eliminating diseased trees, is happening away from wetlands and vernal pools.

Protesters specifically asked Judge Callan to order a “preliminary injunction,” which would halt the project until the matter is settled at a future trial. To make such a ruling, Callan said protesters would have to make a sufficient legal argument that they would likely win a future trial.

After listening to arguments from both sides, Callan chose to take the matter under advisement and said he would let both parties know whether he decides to order a preliminary injunction or not “as quick as possible.”

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


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