Response to anti-H.897 letter: Here are the facts

  • MIKE WATSON IMAGES

Published: 2/15/2020 11:03:18 AM

The Recorder recently published a letter from some Wendell residents in opposition to the bill H.897, An Act Relative to Forest Protection. The letter makes a number of incorrect and misleading statements. Here are the facts.

The letter lauds the 2009-10 Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Forest Futures Visioning process, which determined the management classifications for many state lands. I was directly involved in this process as a member of the citizen advisory committee, and the claims in the letter do not square with my experience.

• The Forest Futures process involved only about half of state land holdings. Despite vigorous objections from many on the citizen advisory committee, DCR refused to include the Quabbin and other watershed lands or the many wildlife management areas in the process. So, half of our public lands have had no meaningful public review or involvement in their management.

• The process was heavily influenced by special interests. Forest industry advocates and their allies in the agencies pushed hard to keep lands available for logging. Meanwhile, public pressure for protection was held back because most people did not know the process was even happening. As a result, although The Nature Conservancy stressed that reserves need to cover at least 15,000 acres to preserve an entire ecosystem, the largest area designated is 11,400-acre Mount Greylock and no others come close. The Harvard Forest called for 7% of New England to be protected as reserves, but the Forest Futures process only classified 2% of our state as reserves and kept 63% of state lands open to logging.

• The process almost completely ignored climate change. It was done long before recent studies that stress the urgency of fighting climate by protecting more forests within the next decade to keep carbon out of the atmosphere. The Forest Futures process mapped reserves without considering this critical factor. Instead, most forests with large trees were devoted to logging, not to carbon sequestration and storage.

I was also a co-author of H.897. The letter is largely wrong on the provisions and impacts of the bill. For example:

• Massachusetts land management laws, written many decades ago, did not anticipate the climate emergency, the extinction crisis, and concerns about the loss of public connections to nature. H.897 would update these old laws to address all three of these urgent issues.

• Commercial logging on state lands is an economic loser. Taxpayers are forced to subsidize this logging, because the cost of administering this expensive program is far higher than the meager timber revenues received. H.897 would save the public millions of dollars, which could be redirected to underfunded visitor centers, picnic grounds, trails, educational programs, and land and wildlife protection programs.

• H.897 takes a balanced approach. It would simply expand to all state public lands two designations that already exist — parks and reserves. The bill explicitly provides flexibility for vegetation management if historically or scientifically shown to be necessary for public health and safety or environmental reasons. This is similar to the management of our National Parks. Few people would argue that we should open our National Parks to commercial logging.

• Under current laws, parks and reserves — ranging from Walden Pond to Mohawk Trail — have only provisional protection. These designations can be weakened or abolished by an agency bureaucrat with the stroke of a pen. H.897 would, at long last, give permanent protection to these areas under the law.

Yes, H.897 was written primarily by citizen activists. But the bill was introduced by Rep. Susannah Whipps and 15 other legislators, who represent thousands of constituents. The bill has promoted an open public discussion of critical issues affecting our public lands. This is important, because most Massachusetts citizens do not even know that state forest lands are being logged.

Bill opponents would rather keep the management of our public lands under the control of a few agency officials and special interests, with little public scrutiny or involvement. I believe that as more and more people learn the benefits that H.897 would provide, most of them will support this kind of positive change rather than maintaining the outdated status quo.

The concerns addressed in H.897 are only going to become more urgent. The people of Massachusetts deserve to have accurate information and an honest discussion of these issues so they can make the best decision on the future of our public lands. For more information, go to www.savemassforests.com.

Michael Kellett is executive director of RESTORE: The North Woods, a nonprofit organization based in Concord.

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