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State going ahead with Wendell logging project

  • Wendell State Forest —FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Sunday, November 04, 2018

WENDELL — State officials have given a response to protesters who have been asking they cancel a planned logging project for over a month, “No.” 

The proposed logging of 100-year-old oak trees in Wendell State Forest has drawn censure from nonprofit groups like RESTORE: The North Woods, who say that the project is unnecessary, has little or no economic benefit and is counterproductive to fighting climate change. 

The protesters have been organizing protests along Route 2 in Erving to bring awareness to the project, delivered a petition with 1,148 signatures to Gov. Charlie Baker asking he cancel the project and at least one protester has delivered a Notice of Intent to Sue to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which is heading the project. 

A DCR spokesman would not provide further information about the incoming lawsuit, calling it “pending litigation,” but did confirm the DCR office received the notice.

That doesn’t mean the state has given no response to the Wendell State Forest logging protestors. 

In a meeting with the Wendell Selectboard, DCR Commissioner Leo Roy and Director of Forest Stewardship Peter Church fielded questions from concerned residents, and outlined the scope of — and reasons for — the logging project, which they said is “selective forest management” that’s best for the forest’s health.  

“We have followed our transparent legal process for this project,” Roy said. “I’d like to correct some misconceptions this evening about what we are doing. We are not cutting — clear-cutting — 80 acres of old-growth forest.”

According to Roy, the DCR has been planning this project for over two years, and that there was an appropriate period of time that allowed for public input following the project’s announcement.

“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. 

“We are creating the small openings within approximately 16 acres of the 80-acre oak stand,” he added. “To put this in context, the town of Wendell consists of 20,623 acres, of which 93 percent, or some 19,101 acres, is forested. DCR manages 40 percent of these — 8,236 acres, of which half is in reserve status, which means there won’t be active forest management, and this portion of the forest is largely left unmanaged.”

Roy also added that there have been 65 private forest management projects in Wendell over the last 15 years, but none of those have caused public outcry.

“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 said. “We at the DCR are environmentalists, and we love our trees and we love our forests.”

“Our responsibility, on behalf of all the citizens of the commonwealth, is to protect and enhance the long-term health of  our forests. This limited forestry project on Brook Road will do just that,” he said. 

One of the main contentions of the protesters is that the large oak trees sequester carbon — a function useful for fighting or slowing climate change — and they have cited an Oct. 7 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that states forest preservation is important in combating global warming. 

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.”

But the state isn’t actually disagreeing with this. According to Roy, the DCR recognizes the claims regarding climate change, and is juggling what’s good for the globe with what’s good for the long-term health of Massachusetts forests.

“We certainly are very concerned about climate change,” Roy said, citing the Global Warming Solutions Act and other past and present state directives aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Roy agreed that the old, large oak trees sequester more carbon than still-growing trees, but to keep sequestering carbon over a long period of time, it’s helpful to have trees that are of different ages and reach peak carbon-sequestering ages at different times. In other words, Massachusetts’ forest are too homogenous, which will not provide the “greatest long-term ability to sequester carbon.”

“Taking the long view for healthy forests for hundreds of years to come, our ideal forest is one that has samplings, young trees, teenagers, middle-aged trees and big old trees,” Roy said. “There is no question that a large tree sequesters a lot of carbon. We understand that completely.”

Roy said the state’s current forestry plans could lead to 9 million tons of sequestered carbon over the next 50 years, but they require a mixture of untouched, “reserve” forests and actively logged, “managed” forests.

“We’re trying to do a balancing act here,” Roy said. 

Also, Roy said it’s in the DCR’s best interest to fight climate change — the DCR is responsible for forested areas in 300 of Massachusetts’ 351 municipalities, and each year there are new forest pests moving north to Massachusetts forests due to climate change, he said. 

Dan Keller of the Wendell Selectboard took the opportunity during the meeting with Roy to apologize for a letter with what turned out to be untrue assertions sent to the DCR. He closed the meeting with the commissioner by telling the public, “This is an ongoing discussion.”

Janet Sinclair, who has been organizing the protests, said that even though the project is legal, the fact that citizens can not stop it is “sad.” The logging could begin this month.

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