Quabbin foresters make case for regular cutting in watershed

  • Massachusetts Water Supply Protection Division Director Jonathan Yeo, left, and forester Derek Beard, inspect a portion of the Quabbin watershed that was logged 5½ years ago. RECORDER STAFF/Richie Davis

  • Massachusetts Water Supply Protection Division Director Jonathan Yeo, left, and forester Derek Beard, inspect a portion of the Quabbin watershed that was logged 5 1/2 years ago. Richie Davis—Richie Davis photos

  • Richie Davis—Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/30/2016 11:15:38 PM

NEW SALEM — The team of four state foresters makes its way around a dense stretch of watershed at Quabbin Reservoir one day recently, as they look for a roughly 1½-acre area that was cut about 6½ years ago not far from Gate 21A.

Led by Jonathan Yeo, the team walks across patches of periwinkle and avoids occasional clusters of moose pellets, holding countless sapling branches from springing back on one another before finding the area corresponding to a widely disseminated photo that depicts what one group has labeled “clear-cutting” in the Quabbin.

Arriving at what Yeo describes as an “opening” — a 1¼-acre piece of forest that was cut back in 2010 as part of an overall management plan of about 70 acres in that year — he explains it was done to improve diversity of tree species as well as age classes in the area around the reservoir that provides the Boston area with its water.

The woodland management, affecting 40,000 of the watershed’s 56,000 acres, according to Yeo, results in 200 to 300 acres of “regeneration” cutting, along with thinning up to 100 acres, a year. The “openings” range from one-tenth of an acre to 2 acres, said Yeo, director of the Department of Conservation and Recreation Water Supply Protection Division. They’re spread throughout the 56,000-acre watershed where four towns were dislocated 80 years ago.

“Our intention is to very gradually, very sustainably, very slowly have a diverse class of trees and species here at Quabbin,” said Yeo, noting that the watershed division’s forestry objectives differ from those of wildlife management and forest and parks operations. “We feel that’s best for water supply protection, and we’ve been doing that for over 50 years now. That’s our only goal.”

Contrasting this young stand of red oak, black oak, red maple, white pine, black birch, white ash, chestnut, hickory and black cherry reaching 10 to 20 feet high, with photos of the exact spot from early 2010, Yeo emphasizes that the stark image captured immediately after the cut doesn’t last long.

“The forest takes over very quickly,” he says. “It’s like a jungle,” and any area that’s cut back once won’t have to be cut again for at least a century. That way the Quabbin — an otherwise fairly homogeneous, mature forest that replaced open farmland from the 1930s — becomes a hardier patchwork of trees of different ages and species.

The forest diversity that results is more resilient to disease as well as disasters like hurricanes, Yeo says, and it results in a reservoir system for 2.5 million people that’s considered a model for other metropolitan areas around the world.

The DCR tour was arranged in response to an August event in New Salem by the environmental action group Massachusetts Forest Rescue, calling for a permanent moratorium on commercial logging at Quabbin. About a dozen people attended that event, saying the forestry projects would destroy sacred sites and would hurt the environment, claiming “deforestation contributes to climate chaos.”

Yeo said the area, which had been regenerating nicely, despite typical “browsing” by moose and deer attracted by the new growth, was typical of areas where over-story removal of pines was done, although after review by a University of Massachusetts-based Science and Technical Advisory Committee, there have been aesthetic improvements in management techniques.

Those, he said, make the newer areas more irregular rather than the exact rectangles visible from Google Earth, with “maybe leaving a few more trees in the middle as seed trees or wildlife trees, sort of breaking up the view from an aesthetic standpoint. In the end, we’re still regenerating healthy forest for water supply protection.”

Yeo dismissed the notion that the logging that’s done is commercially driven, as groups like Mass. Forest Rescue and Mass. Forest Watch have claimed.

Even with a limited number of local logging operations that can afford expensive specialized equipment needed to minimize damage to the watershed and water quality, said Yeo, those operations — “the vast majority local guys” — must follow detailed cutting plans, with each tree marked, careful monitoring by DCR and adherence to state requirements for how much woody debris is left behind to provide soil nutrients.

“If you look at it from an overall sustainability metric, we’re continuing to grow more forest than is being cut,” he said, “No matter how you look at this, it’s a sustainable program that’s targeted for water protection.”

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269




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