Forest protesters file suit against Dept. of Conservation and Recreation

  • Local protesters on Montague Road in Wendell picket the logging operation in Wendell State Forest that began last week. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2019 10:17:32 PM

WENDELL — A lawsuit is the latest bid to stop a state logging project targeting 110-year-old oak trees in Wendell State Forest.

Over the last year, members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance have been protesting the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR’s) selective harvesting of an 80-acre old oak stand, a project that started last week, citing concerns about climate change and native species. The state is going ahead with the project, and department officials state the project is best for long-term forest health.

The local group has held signs along Route 2, picketed at a forest ranger station, garnered more than 1,500 signatures on an anti-logging petition and has physically tried to stop the project, with State Police making six arrests involving protesters in the last two weeks for trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Now, a lawsuit has been filed in Franklin County Superior Court by 29 of the group members, alleging the project is illegal and violates the Forest Cutting Practices Act, Global Warming Solutions Act, Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedures Act.

“(DCR) has engaged in a pattern and practice of violating, ignoring and/or misinterpreting laws and regulations meant to protect the environment,” said Gia Neswald, lead plaintiff and member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance who was arrested last week for trying to physically halt the project.

The lawsuit contains 13 complaints, including “failing to notify the plaintiffs of any appealable decision and refusing to provide an adjudicatory process”; denying the plaintiffs “due process” in appealing the project on public lands; “failing to consider climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the commercial logging of the Brook Road Timber Sale in Wendell State Forest”; and withholding information from the protesters — a claim that DCR denies.

“Recent scientific studies and reports have identified one of the single most important things we can do to avoid the looming climate catastrophe is to protect intact forests,” said Glen Ayers, a co-plaintiff on the suit and member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance. “The commercial logging being conducted at Wendell State Forest ignores climate impacts and is the exact opposite of what we should be doing to avoid climate chaos.”

When contacted Wednesday afternoon, DCR spokeswoman Olivia K. Dorrance said DCR does not comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiffs are expected to share evidence supporting their claims in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday, Aug. 21, during a 2 p.m. hearing.

The protesters’ main issue with the project is concerning carbon sequestration, a phenomenon accepted by the U.N. as critical in combating climate change and global warming. As trees grow larger and older — like those being harvested in Wendell State Forest — they sequester more carbon than younger trees.

However, DCR does not actually dispute this claim, with Commissioner Leo Roy telling the Wendell Selectboard last year that his department recognizes the importance of climate protection and carbon sequestration. Rather, Roy said, the project is necessary to protect the forest’s long-term health.

Roy said that it is DCR’s job to maintain state forests, which includes selective logging to prevent disease and foster healthy growth. Massachusetts’ forests are too homogenous, Roy added, which — in the long run — is actually worse for combating climate change. By having forests consisting of trees of differing ages, it creates a timely flow of trees reaching their peak carbon-sequestering ages, and will sequester more carbon in the long run.

“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.”

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


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