Wendell State Forest protesters accuse DCR of “intentional stonewalling”

  • Hemingway Road in Wendell State Forest in April. STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2019 10:24:31 PM

WENDELL — The group protesting a state logging project in Wendell State Forest has accused the state Department of Conservation and Recreation of withholding information about the project.

The Wendell State Forest Alliance and nonprofit RESTORE: The North Woods have been protesting DCR’s selective logging of a roughly 80-acre old oak stand off Brook Road in Wendell since last fall. The protesters have held signs along Route 2, organized rallies at the state forest and have appealed to DCR to halt the project, contending that the project is counterproductive to fighting climate change and preserving native wildlife populations. At least one protester has delivered a Notice of Intent to Sue to DCR over the project. 

They’ve also been seeking more information via persistent record requests and have now released a lengthy statement accusing DCR of “intentional stonewalling,” which the department has denied.

“(The department) has not responded to the order by the secretary of state, nor has DCR provided a single record that was requested on Dec. 15, 2018,” said Miriam Kurland, Wendell State Forest Alliance, in a statement.

“This represents almost six months of intentional stonewalling by DCR,” she added.

According to Kurland, a request for 10 items of information “related to sale expenses for staff time and support, soil sampling, carbon impacts, Global Warming Solutions Act compliance, monitoring of carbon storage and carbon sequestration,” as well as projected impacts to soil and carbon emissions was made on Sept. 10, 2018, and another Sept. 17.

One of the protesters’ main contentions has been that old oak trees, like those to be logged as part of DCR’s Wendell State Forest project, sequester relatively large amounts of carbon, and that carbon sequestration is an important strategy in combating climate change. 

According to Kurland, DCR responded to the requests for relative information on carbon sequestration and soil impact with documents that are already publicly available, rather than “any field or laboratory results,” prompting an appeal to the Massachusetts Secretary of ​​​​​​State on Oct. 4, 2018 — the secretary of state deemed the DCR’s responses were adequate, “even though no actual requested records were supplied,” Kurland said. 

On Dec. 15, a records request was made for information on a state timber sale “relating to compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act,” Kurland said, which went unanswered for three months before the DCR responded that “no responsive records were identified.” 

DCR spokeswoman Olivia K. Dorrance released a statement denying the allegation of improperly withholding information Wednesday. 

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation has provided all responsive documents in its possession, as required by law, and will continue to adhere to the requirements under the commonwealth’s Public Records Law,” Dorrance said. 

Dorrance also gave an update on the state’s logging project in Wendell State Forest: “Harvesting operations at Wendell State Forest commenced in the red pine stand in August 2018, and were put on hold by the contractor, who was working on a separate, unrelated project. Additionally, the work prescribed for the red pine stand located along Montague Road in Wendell is nearing completion. No harvesting operations have taken place in the white pine and oak stands. The agency expects the contractor to resume the harvest in the coming weeks (the contractor has two years from the start of the project to complete the work).”

In the same statement, Dorrance echoed what DCR Commissioner Leo Roy has consistently said: The project is actually about maintaining forest health by creating a heterogeneous forest with trees of different ages.

“The Wendell State Forest timber harvest project seeks to convert the red pine stand to a more native forest community,” Dorrance said. “In the oak stand, the agency is seeking to create an uneven-aged multi-species forest that can be more resilient and withstand forest pests and natural disturbances, and, in the white pine plantation, the agency is seeking to create a young forest habitat.”

Roy, in a visit to the Wendell Selectboard in October, explained that the forest management will ultimately will lead to more carbon sequestration, because trees are constantly reaching their peak sequestering age.

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

The protesters have received written support from state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. 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 that she would “not yield until constituents have the answers they need,” regarding logging and environmental protection. 

Wendell State Forest Alliance has also received political support via a bill from state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, House Bill 897 (H.897), An Act Relative to Forest Protection, with cosponsors including  14 co-sponsors, including Comerford, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Pittsfield. The bill would place more limits on logging practices, classifying all 650,000 acres of state-owned conservation land as “parks” or “reserves,” based on designations currently used by DCR.

As for the quest for information, the protesters say they are not relenting, despite “other organizations and individuals who are concerned about our state forests (getting) similar results,” Kurland said. “DCR does work for the people of the commonwealth, as our state forests do belong to the citizens of this state.”

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

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