It’s time to set the record straight

  • The Wendell State Forest park office and main entrance.

Published: 8/24/2019 9:29:18 PM

The protests in Wendell State Forest have attracted significant media attention over the last two weeks. Unfortunately, the facts about the work being done there have been missing from much of the coverage, and it’s time to set the record straight.

Let’s start with the purpose of the work. One section of the management work removes dead and dying red pine trees in a plantation (planted by CCC workers during the Great Depression), allowing for more natural mixed-species regeneration. Another section is being cut to create more early successional forest habitat for wildlife species in decline that need that type of forest habitat to survive. A 2007 tornado created some of this habitat, and the whip-poor-will, a bird that is a species of concern in Massachusetts, became established there. This work will enhance and protect that habitat. Finally, a stand of mostly oak trees of the same age will have roughly 20 percent of the volume of wood removed in small 1/3-acre patches in a forest management practice called “irregular shelterwood” to encourage regeneration and create age and species diversity.

Wendell State Forest is 8,003 acres, and more than 4,300 acres are set aside as “Reserves” or “Parklands,” meaning no active forest management can take place. The allocation of state forest to these categories resulted from the Forest Futures Visioning Process — a comprehensive plan put together by representatives of numerous groups, including some that have led these protests. The current project sites are in the “Woodlands” category, which allows for forest management, and participants in the process agreed on these allocations.

Protesters first approached the town of Wendell about the project last year. In response to their complaints, the town sent a “cease and desist” letter to the sate Department of Conservation and Rereation (DCR). DCR met with town officials to explain the project, and the town Conservation Commission was sent to investigate numerous environmental violations alleged by the protesters. The claims of the protesters proved to be unfounded, and the Wendell Selectboard made a public apology to DCR, saying they relied on bad information in their decision to send the letter. Oddly, this didn’t receive any mention in the press coverage of the October meeting where the apology was made.

Reasons for the protest seem to have shifted over time. Initially, protesters complained about Native American artifacts. (DCR designed the plan to protect these sites.) Next, they said they were focused only on 1/3 of the project — the portion involving the oak trees — and had no objection to the rest of the work, even though many of the trees were of similar size and age. Some called this oak stand “almost old growth” and claimed it was being entirely clearcut and “deforested.” Clearly, that’s false, based on DCR’s publicly available documents. As those charges were refuted, they seem to have settled on climate change as a reason to protest, but that doesn’t explain singling out this particular job. Wendell is more than 90 percent forested, and much of it is the same age as the stand in question, and regular forest management work occurs across the town. The town of Wendell owns similar forestland itself that it harvests to support its schools — without any protests. 

In terms of forests and climate change, there is good news. Because of our careful, sustainable forest management practices — which are heavily regulated by the commonwealth — Massachusetts forests are the most carbon-dense in New England. We’re growing nearly five times as much wood each year as is being harvested, resulting in significant net growth. Not only are we adding more sequestered carbon to our forests each year, but the rate at which we are sequestering is increasing every year as well — all while we sustainably obtain the forest products we all use and rely on every day.

Last fall, protesters told the timber harvesters (a small, local family business that has heavily invested in the logging equipment they own) that people might destroy their equipment when the job resumed, and last week protesters approached the equipment when it was unattended in the evening. Protesters trespassed into closed harvest areas, dangerously approached active logging equipment, and then claimed they were being “intimidated.” They’ve cursed out the harvesters.

We thank the state troopers who’ve had to respond to these incidents. We’ve also been heartened by the many people who’ve voiced support for the timber harvesters — waving and giving thumbs up to trucks on their way to the forest, thanking them in person, and so forth. Whatever your position on forest management, we can all agree that these guys are just doing their jobs and don’t deserve the harsh treatment they’ve been receiving from the protesters.

Chris Egan is the executive director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, which represents forest landowners, foresters, timber harvesters, and forest products companies and advocates for a strong, sustainable forest economy.

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