My Turn: ‘We have a responsibility to be stewards of the land’

Published: 10/26/2020 9:25:13 AM

In response to Michael Kellett’s My Turn “Science is telling us to protect more forests,” Mr. Kellett perhaps hopes that some readers won’t have the inclination or time to follow up on what he says about the ecologist Aldo Leopold. Perhaps this should breed skepticism about the rationale behind some of his other public agendas.

Kellett states that, “Massachusetts state land agencies have designated 3 percent of the state as parks and reserves with no logging and other development.” Where did he get this figure from? The Department of Conservation and Recreation has roughly 36 percent classified as reserve.

MassWildlife has roughly 10 percent of their lands currently in reserve and the goal is to stabilize this at 10 to 15 percent. These figures are easily found online. Is Kellett’s figure referring to all of the land in Massachusetts, even private land that state land agencies wouldn’t have jurisdiction over? Why is he presenting this misleading figure?

Mr. Kellett brushes off my statement that understanding of land use history is often informed by colonialism (and therefore racism) and that we must dismantle this. He instead proposes that interaction with “unspoiled nature” could work to remedy systemic racism, when in fact the very notion of an unspoiled world is in itself colonialist. Mr. Kellett proposes that “forest bathing” is a solution to systemic racism. How are we supposed to take this seriously?

Let’s get back to Aldo Leopold. He was a forester. He wrote about the need for a new “land ethic” to be created that would inform our interactions with the natural world. He valued the preservation of ecosystems. He wrote, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

If we don’t manage our public lands like barrens and young forests — lands that support species that depend exclusively on those areas to survive — what happens to those species? What happens to the ecosystem they are a part of? We need to realize that “leaving the woods alone” is a management choice like any other and therefore has effects just as powerful. Like all land management decisions, what’s right for one area isn’t necessarily right for another.

If we don’t allow foresters and land managers the ability to implement active management, we limit the tools available in strengthening forest health and resiliency. What happens when hemlock trees, already under stress from invasive insects, are finally pushed over the brink by warming temperatures and the dense shade that they cast prevented other trees from establishing beneath them? What happens when deer selectively browse red oak in an understory? What happens when native grape vine is positioned to tear apart a canopy and release invasive plants found underneath? What happens when habitat for New England cottontail disappears? We have a responsibility to be stewards of the land.

Beyond this, we must realize that if wood isn’t used, other resources will be. What is the ecological cost of these resources? The carbon cost? What is the impact on communities? The choice here isn’t wood or nothing.

Many of our public forests were established around the time of FDR. They were a response to the Depression, farm abandonment, and the need to invest economically. Trees were planted like corn by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A tree plantation is not resilient because it is overwhelmingly the same species and the same age. All of the eggs are in one basket. Structural complexity is lost. Whether we admit it or not, our forests are a legacy of human influence. I’ll say this again — there is no “natural” in the romanticized way that we like to imagine it.

Aldo Leopold did in fact advocate for the use of logging to restore biodiversity. He wrote about it many times. In his first book, “Game Management,” he wrote, “The central thesis of game management is this: game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it — axe, plow, cow, fire, and gun … The conservation movement has sought to restore wildlife by the control of guns alone, with little visible success. Management seeks the same end, but by more versatile means.”

Mr. Kellett is fighting an unnecessary fight. The people he demonizes are the very people working to protect the ecology of our open spaces. Rather than engaging in dialogue with them, he takes a position of scientific authority. Mr. Kellett cherry picks information to support his pre-formed opinions. He politicizes science, embedding a cultural anxiety that leads to stubborn, blind distrust of our public services.

Kate Lindroos Conlin is a resident of Buckland.

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