Wendell State Forest Alliance to meet with state AG’s Office

  • Co-plaintiff Glen Ayers, of Greenfield, speaks during an August hearing in Franklin County Superior Court outlining the Wendell State Forest Alliance’s case against the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Wendell State Forest Alliance members and supporters protest logging in the Wendell State Forest in August before appearing in Franklin County Superior Court to outline their case against the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation. STAFF file PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2019 10:06:51 PM
Modified: 11/14/2019 10:06:37 PM

WENDELL — The trees are gone, but the Wendell State Forest Alliance is not giving up in its legal battle against the state, and is planning to meet with the state Attorney General’s Office next week.

The Wendell State Forest Alliance is a group of 29 co-plaintiffs who are suing the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). For more than a year, the group protested the state’s logging of an 80-acre old oak stand in Wendell State Forest.

They held signs along Route 2, staged rallies at the forest and several members were arrested multiple times for physically trying to block loggers and machinery during logging operations this summer. In August, the group went before a Franklin County Superior Court judge in an attempt to have logging halted pending a future trial against the DCR — but Judge Michael Callan ruled in the state’s favor, and logging finished up in September.

Now, with Assistant Attorney General Kendra Kinscherff, representing the DCR​​​​​​​, having filed a motion to dismiss the case, the Wendell State Forest Alliance is not giving up and is meeting with the Attorney General’s Office in Boston on Wednesday.

“My feeling is if the state really wants to resolve this, they are going to have to enter a good-faith effort,” said co-plaintiff Glen Ayers, former regional health agent for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

“We need (Attorney General) Maura Healey, who campaigned as the people’s lawyer, to do something,” Ayers added.

Much of the Wendell State Forest Alliance’s grievance with the now-completed logging project involves climate change. Large, older trees — like the century-old trees logged — sequester more carbon than their younger counterparts, with carbon sequestration recognized by organizations like the UN, and Healey herself, as important in combating climate change.

The co-plaintiffs were unsuccessful in getting DCR to agree that leaving the forest alone was what’s best. DCR Commissioner Leo Roy said in a 2018 meeting with the Wendell Selectboard that “selective logging” will create a healthy forest that sequesters the most carbon over time, as well as rid that section of forest of diseased trees.

The suit alleges DCR failed to follow laws and regulations in terms of releasing information about the project’s effects on the climate; violated the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act; and has ignored requests for information from the co-plaintiffs — an allegation the agency denies.

It is DCR policy not to comment on pending litigation. However, Kinscherff in court said that the plaintiffs and public was appropriately involved in the project via a 45-day public comment period.

“It is a procedural nightmare,” said Ayers, adding that the state has not reached out to all 29 co-plaintiffs for a response to the motion to dismiss the case.

The group plans to appeal the motion to dismiss, but first, Ayers said, its members want a hearing to “narrow the scope” of the two parties’ disagreements. The “good-faith” hearing could be mediated by a third party, Ayers said.

“We’re asking the attorney general to come to our rescue,” Ayers said. “Even if this lawsuit is dismissed, we’ll file another one. ... If the case is dismissed, these issues are not going to disappear. It would be beneficial to society to have these issues solved.”

Representation

In addition to meeting with the Attorney General’s Office to discuss procedure, the Wendell State Forest Alliance has filed a formal request to Healey asking for legal representation from the Attorney General’s Energy and Environment Bureau.

The Wendell State Forest Alliance’s 29 co-plaintiffs in the case currently do not have legal representation.

According to the Wendell State Forest Alliance’s Miriam Kurland, the group has every right to be represented by a state agency as citizens, and the group shares the same goals as the state Energy and Environment Bureau.

“Ironically, without representation and as taxpayers of Massachusetts, we are paying the DCR to commit actions that are damaging to the environment, and paying the Attorney General’s Office to defend DCR against the public interest,” said plaintiff Laurel Facey, of Wendell.

The letter to Healey also notes Healey’s previous public recognition of the importance of carbon sequestration.

“In light of the critical role forests play in mitigating emissions, the commonwealth should be working to preserve and replenish our forests as important carbon sinks,” Healey wrote in a July 26 letter to the state Department of Energy.

‘Ghost Forest’

According to Ayers, one of the Wendell State Forest Alliance’s core goals is to raise public awareness about the effects of industrial logging on climate change.

Bill Stubblefield, Ayers said, is a member of the group who is trying to quantify the recent logging in Wendell State Forest’s effects.

“He’s calling (the project) ‘Ghost Forest,’ because that’s what it is,” Ayers said. “The forest that was there is a ghost.”

Having a science background and a doctorate from Harvard University, Stubblefield is conducting an assessment of the logged trees — how many were cut, how large the trees were, how much carbon the trees were sequestering.

Ayers said the “Ghost Forest” project should give information to the public that was supposed to be provided by DCR in the first place.

“We’re going to disclose the impact,” Ayers said.

Stubblefield is giving a talk on the project mid-way through a 1.1-mile hike the group is leading on Sunday at 1 p.m. starting at the Carlton Road entrance to Wendell State Forest off of Montague Road in Wendell.

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




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