My Turn: Complex relationship between forests, government entities


Friday, March 09, 2018

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Project has become an ideological, emotional and factual battleground here, in social media and before the state legislature. Similar to others we have become familiar with, such as immigration or gun control, here, too, fundamentalist and pragmatist positions face off and sadly, there seems to be no way of crossing the divide.

One side feels strongly and morally superior about protecting “nature” from any human interference by protecting forests from greedy corporate interests. The other side takes the more complex position and puts our relationship with the forests in the context of our local environment and our need to live, heat, work and recreate. The more complex position is always more vulnerable to being misrepresented. And there is plenty of misrepresentation going on.

Efforts to correct these misrepresentations often exceed the word count limits of newspaper articles and Facebook posts. We proponents can only appeal to the readers to inform themselves at the source, i.e. the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) or Franklin Land Trust websites, and not the misleading links offered by the opponents.

Ms. Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the FRCOG, has set the record straight here on the wood-based energy aspect that has generated much opposition. I want to point to some other misrepresentations.

For instance, Chris Matera offered evidence of the destruction by the U.S. Forest Service in the White Mountain National Forest in his My Turn as proof for the dangers lurking in the Mohawk Trail Partnership with them. However, the Woodlands Partnership was designed to avoid being dominated by the U.S. Forest Service, who would not own any land to clear cut on. Hence, the link to whatever damage they did in the White Mountains is totally disingenuous.

Also, the land that will be placed under conservation protection remains in private ownership — land owners will decide whether to log or not as they have for past generations. There is no mandate for logging! There is a mandate for a forest stewardship plan similar to Chapter 61 — where it does not seem to ruffle any feathers and also loses tax dollars. However, whether this partnership is established or not, forests will continue to be logged — for lumber, firewood, tax payments, and, most importantly, cleared for development or estate settlements. The biggest threat to our forests is not logging but development. (New England loses 24,000 acres a year this way).

If there is logging either way, wouldn’t we rather have it overseen by a licensed forester? To demonize foresters as money-grubbing stooges of the lumber industry who do not care about the health of the forest is plain nasty. Professional foresters study “silviculture” — the art and science of tending the forest in its complexity of functions. Unfortunately, the customary word “management” has a corporate association that turns people off. Greater awareness of the need for “forest tending” would hopefully go hand-in-hand with the work of the Woodlands Partnership.

The much-quoted statement of New England Forestry Foundation’s Whitney Beals, regarding his dishonest approach to membership recruitment to the foundation, is deplorable. Using it over and over to make it sound as if he represented the Woodlands Partnership is underhanded and misleading.

There is an underlying assumption to this partnership that we can tend a forest to be more diverse, resilient to diseases, invasive species, droughts, floods, storms, fires, climate change impacts, etc. Opponents prefer we left our forests here in Franklin County alone for a long time — they would return to some “natural” also wilderness, old-growth and carbon-neutral forest condition. This may or may not be so, but how this would play out here in our local environment, where 82 percent of our land is covered with forests owned by hundreds of land owners, in the coming decades of climate change is anybody’s guess.

The “pro-nature” advocates are much in favor of ‘greener’ energy options than wood burning (which admittedly has its dirty aspects) as if there were a clean alternative that would bail us all out of the painful compromises we have to make between oil, fracking, tar sands, nuclear, coal and yes, solar and wind power electricity. For these green sources we are now starting to mine the bottom of the ocean to get enough copper, lithium, gold and other precious metals to manufacture the needed materials. There are no clean sources. You are simply putting the burden on other people far away.

I have been a member of the partnership’s advisory board since the beginning, but do not speak for the board. There has been plenty of disagreement among us representatives of the towns, regional entities such as the two counties, various interest groups, forest land owners, the state and forest service, and yet in the end there was a unanimous vote in favor of this unique, complex, first-in-the-country approach to forest preservation integrated into the economic needs of those of us who live in it.

Gisela Walker from Charlemont has been a member of the advisory board of the MTWP project from the beginning; she is a member of the planning board and co-owns 70 acres of woodland that does not qualify for conservation restrictions.