Whipps, Comerford back moratorium on forest cutting

  • Wendell State Forest STAFF FILE PHOTO


  • Comerford  STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/30/2019 11:12:22 PM

WENDELL — Despite a firm “no” from the state, protestors aren’t giving up on preventing public lands from being logged. 

The groups RESTORE: The North Woods and Wendell State Forest Alliance are now supporting a bill, authored by protestor Janet Sinclair and sponsored by state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, that seeks to preserve state forests for a number of reasons, including fighting climate change and providing recreation. 

“The bill would preserve 13 percent of the state’s land base and 21 percent of forest lands, including large contiguous landscape blocks that are needed to avert plant and animal extinctions, and offer safe havens for humans and wildlife alike,” according to the website savemassforests.com, which serves as a platform for the protest groups.

The bill, HD.3500, specifies that “public welfare” requires “rehabilitation, maintenance and protection of forest lands,” to conserve water, improve the conditions of wildlife and recreation and “optimize carbon sequestration.” It does not call for halting removing of trees on state-owned lands, but specifies that reasons for doing so should include recreation and ecological health. 

In Wendell, the protesters have spoken out against a plan to log approximately 16 acres of an 80-acre old oak stand in Wendell State Forest. The protestors have cited an Oct. 7, 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that states forest preservation is crucial to fighting climate change because of carbon sequestration.

The old oaks that will be logged in Wendell sequester carbon and, therefore, should not be removed, and the project would disturb a nearby population of rare Jefferson salamanders, protestors say. The protesters stood along Route 2 in Erving throughout the fall and delivered a petition with 1,148 signatures to Gov. Charlie Baker calling for the Wendell project to be canceled. In addition to the Wendell State Forest petition, a new petition calling for an immediate moratorium on logging any state-owned lands has just under 800 signatures. 

The bill is the latest effort, and has political support via sponsorship from Whipps. State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, has also thrown her support behind the group. At a Jan. 12 rally at Wendell State Forest, a letter from Comerford was read aloud, in which she said she was “deeply alarmed” by government inaction on climate change, and she vowed to “not yield until constituents have the answers they need,” regarding logging and environmental protection. 

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Commonwealth that all lands devoted to forest growth shall be kept in such condition as shall not jeopardize the public interests, and that the policy of the Commonwealth shall further be one of cooperation with the landowners and other agencies interested in forestry practices for the proper and profitable management of all forest lands in the interest of the owner, the public and the users of forest products, while ensuring the highest standards of sustainable forestry and native biodiversity protection,” the bill reads. 

The state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation has pushed back against the group. While recognizing that carbon sequestration is helpful in preventing climate change, the DCR also asserts that forest management in places like Wendell State Forest will be best for the long-term health of the forest. 

In October, DCR Commissioner Leo Roy gave a presentation before the Wendell Selectboard, in which he said it’s helpful to have trees that are of different ages, reaching their peak age for sequestering carbon at different times. Therefore, “selective” cutting should occur so that the forest does not become too homogenous and is healthiest in the long run, Roy said. 

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