My Turn: Forest as ally

  • Wendell State Forest FILE PHOTO

Published: 7/21/2022 10:37:35 PM
Modified: 7/21/2022 10:37:12 PM

Massachusetts is losing over 5,000 acres of woodlands every year to housing and commercial development, and solar farms, according to Mass Audubon.

Not only is the scenic rural character of western Massachusetts at stake, but the loss of forest woodlands has a direct impact on our climate resiliency in New England. Prof. Emeritus Barrett Rock of the University of New Hampshire spent his career studying and researching the carbon and hydrologic cycles of living forests. He suggests we see “forest as ally.”

We can only do that by observing untouched woodlands and understanding the complex biologic workings of deep forest ecology. Woodlands play an outsized roll in the hydrologic cycle of our region. By supporting a complex web of life amid the rich spongy forest soil, trees slow the runoff of heavy rains allowing water to percolate downward to be slowly released to streams and rivers while also adding moisture to our atmosphere through transpiration thus seeding the next precipitation event.

Climate change is well acknowledged in New England. Our iconic sugar maples are under stress as the climate warms. Bird and mammal species once rare are gradually making New England home. Tree species are pushed to adapt or perish in a rapidly changing climate.

Landowners, foresters and conservationists can document which forest species are struggling and which are thriving as conditions change. Studies to determine which trees can grow rapidly and store carbon efficiently while disease and pest resistant. Locust, tree of heaven and ironwood might adapt better going forward. Ash and maple may not be here with us into the future.

We think forest ecosystems left intact allow the remaining woodlands to best adapt to our changing climate. State forests and wildlife management areas should be designated “forever wild.” We support legislation that will make this a permanent reality. We remain skeptical of efforts to site biomass energy facilities in western Massachusetts due to the impacts of soil compaction, increased erosion, depletion of soil nutrients and disruption of the “wood wide-web” of fungal and microbial life harvest and removal of biologic material necessitates, as well as the negative impact on climate health and human health of the gaseous pollutants and ultra fine particulates emitted by the burning of biomass.

Healthy forests give rise to clear up unpolluted waterways and can provide corridors for wildlife to sustain healthy breeding populations, whereas forest fragmentation increases “edge effects” that favor cowbirds, crows, jays skunks, opossums, and raccoons that cause predation and competition to deeper forest dwelling wood thrushes, warblers, scarlet tanagers, and more elusive animals like otters, martins and bobcats.

Because of the complexity of the issue the decision of whether or not Buckland joins the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership should be made through a vote at our annual Town Meeting to ensure local control.

Two links that provide an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons involved are www.savemassforests.com/ and www.mohawktrailwoodlandspartnership.org/.

Michael Novack, Penny Novack, Margaret Olin, Harvey Schaktman, and Brian Summer are members of the Buckland Energy Committee.


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