My Turn: We need to protect more wild lands

  •  The late biologist E.O Wilson signs the moratorium petition July 6, 2019. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 1/5/2022 10:50:48 AM
Modified: 1/5/2022 10:50:08 AM

Thank you Jon Leibowitz of Northeast Wilderness Trust, for your Dec. 8 op-ed “Wildlands must be a greater slice of the pie.”

The value of old complex and wild forests is something we don’t hear about enough. I know that forest landowners often feel that if they are not doing some kind of management of their land, that they are being neglectful. Of course people can cut timber, and there are better and worse ways of doing that.

But what about someone who wants to simply leave their forest alone to be “managed” by nature? Should that not be seen as truly beneficial for our towns and our commonwealth?

Unfortunately, most financial help for forest owners to pay their property taxes does not allow the forest to be left alone but requires timber cutting and other intrusive management. In contrast, Northeast Wilderness Trust is committed to helping landowners to preserve their land as forever wild, without such interventions. I encourage people to learn more about its programs and consider this type of conservation easement.

While any land conservation, large or small, is a good thing, we know that larger intact forested areas provide more significant benefits in terms of wildlife habit, protecting native rare species, and allowing complex biological processes to flourish. The Massachusetts BioMap 2 project shows where these sensitive areas and large landscapes blocks are, and we are encouraged to take special care of these areas.

Our average-sized privately owned forests are about 40 acres in size. Landowners can contribute to ecological protection, but larger areas are better. Our state-owned lands are often located within these special areas, but are much larger than 40 acres. Our state forests provide an opportunity to create significant and larger areas to give the protections and benefits that only wild lands can provide.

The United Nations, conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, and numerous climate and biological scientists are calling for a high level of protection of 30% of the Earth by 2030, including vast expanses of forest. We submitted two bills to the Massachusetts Legislature that would move us toward that goal.

H.912 requests that the century-old laws that dictate policies on our state land, including forest management for various purposes, be updated to reflect the 21st century realities of climate change and the biodiversity collapse. H.912 would set aside a modest 8% of our state land base as wild lands and is something that we can readily do, with little or no harm to anyone, and it would not cost anything.

H.1002 requests that 30% of the commonwealth’s wildlife management areas be set aside as wild lands by 2030. This would amount to a very modest 1 % of the state’s land base.

The agencies in charge of these lands, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, already recognize the value of this type of land protection. Both agencies have land held as “reserves” which are very similar to wild lands. Our two bills provide for independent overview by scientists to ensure that in these proposed reserve areas, limited management can occur if needed, as it is done now, including for native species habitat, fire control, soil erosion and public safety.

If you care about our climate and biodiversity, please help protect our publicly owned lands. Dr. Edward O. Wilson, the pre-eminent biologist referred to the Charles Darwin of this century, who died on Dec. 26, supported this effort. He wrote:

“I strongly support (these bills). This is the single most important action the people of the state can take to preserve our natural heritage. As it has many times in the past, Massachusetts can provide leadership on this issue, inspiring other states across the country to take similar bold action.”

He also signed our petition for a moratorium on current management practices on our state lands while we get better rules and laws in place to protect our forests. You can sign the petition too.

For more information including what you can do, including signing the petition, please visit

Michael Kellett is the executive director of RESTORE: The North Woods based in Concord. His organization works to protect forests in New England and took the lead to establish the 87,500-acre Kahtadin Woods and Waters National Monument. The organization is working to expand national parks across the country.


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