• Perschel Bob

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Chris Matera attacked the foresters and forest landowners of northwestern Massachusetts in a Feb. 17 op-ed piece that criticized the proposed Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership. We think it is time to set the record straight about the role of forestry in New England and voice our support for the Partnership.

The New England Forestry Foundation practices sustainable forestry — an approach that prioritizes the long-term health of forest ecosystems — on the 140 community forests we protect and own all over New England, and we’ve been doing it for 75 years. We understand rural communities and the challenges they face to provide well-paying jobs and other amenities that encourage young people to invest in their communities and that provide support for older generations.

These communities are embedded in New England’s forested landscape, and they and their forests are the traditional source of the region’s food, wood supply, clean water, clean air and outdoor recreation sites — things that benefit all New Englanders.

We also have come to understand how difficult it is to convince many urban New Englanders that the region’s natural capital needs to be acknowledged and protected in order to ensure the availability of these goods and services. Private individuals own most of our regional forest.

They do not receive checks from Boston for the clean water, clean air, plentiful wildlife and beautiful scenery along Route 2 in the fall. They can and do receive income from trees harvested in their woodlots that become the floors, tables and chairs in Boston homes.

We do agree with Mr. Matera that all logging activities have ecological consequences. But if we do no harvesting, private landowners essentially receive no income and no incentive to keep their forests intact rather than deforesting them for development. Harvested forests are better than no forests, and sustainably harvested forests are even more so. If private landowners developed their forests, not only would benefits like clean water be lost, but society would also receive less wood and instead would make things out of — what? Steel, concrete, plastic? All of these materials are bad for the environment and climate.

In his op-ed, Mr. Matera once again used an old quote from NEFF’s Whitney Beals out of context. The quote suggests NEFF needs to communicate about harvesting “obliquely.” Beals was referring to how we need to talk to people who aren’t already familiar with forestry. We might engage them first in discussions about how forests play a role in keeping clean water flowing out of their faucets. This is not some kind of subterfuge we are perpetrating on innocent western Massachusetts residents; this is our most experienced land conservationist trying to explain to urban dwellers what the landowners of western Massachusetts are doing for them.

We rely on the foresters of Massachusetts to manage private woodlots for a variety of natural amenities and to balance the harvesting with the ecological values we wish to protect. Sound professional forest management has proven capable.

We can show you NEFF properties where we have harvested thousands of trees over the years and that now have more stocking, more wildlife, and more natural beauty than when we started.

These managed forests and their harvested trees have helped mitigate climate change by storing carbon, both in the forests and in long-lived wood products, and also by providing renewable substitutes for fossil fuel-derived products.

To further enhance the role forests play in mitigating climate change, NEFF has implemented our Build It With Wood campaign, which seeks to replace steel and concrete with massive timber products — made by engineering small pieces of wood into larger building materials — in urban buildings in the 4 to 12 story range. The energy-intensive production processes for concrete and steel emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, and each material is also reliant on mining for components such as coking coal and iron ore for steel. The transition to massive timber products will benefit the climate, offer safe and more affordable housing, and provide support for sustainable forestry in western Massachusetts.

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership will similarly help landowners by leveraging federal funds and expertise.

Part of the program will help buy conservation restrictions for privately owned forest land; these restrictions prevent properties from being developed now and in the future, and provide an influx of cash that could help owners practice better and more sustainable forestry.

The program will also bring technical forestry expertise to more forest owners so they can learn how to make their land more productive. Good forestry is like tending a garden: if you plant in May and do nothing else until the August harvest, your garden will not yield much, but if you tend, weed and nurture in the meantime, you can increase the yield.

Finally, the program will help communicate the value of western Massachusetts’ forests to urban folks and to visitors who reap the benefits of private forest lands but don’t always acknowledge the hard work and costs it takes to maintain them. For all these reasons, we support the Partnership and believe it will have a positive effect on land conservation and economic activity in the Mohawk region.

Robert Perschel is executive
director of the New England Forestry Foundation.