My Turn: Woodlands partnership won’t benefit anyone


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) supports the proposed $6 million Mohawk Woodlands Partnership that will be funded by state government. They say it will help the poor areas of western Franklin and northern Berkshire counties by encouraging natural resource based sustainable economic development to support living wage jobs. It will also study the impact of climate change on forests and develop approaches to making forests more resilient and sustainable. They will also evaluate the feasibility of using sustainably-sourced local wood for energy efficient heat to replace oil and reduce municipal energy costs.

This is nothing more than a big government boondoggle. It will not help poor people or encourage any economic development. It will be used by the bureaucracy to hire more expensive bureaucrats for more unnecessary studies and very wasteful projects like their Mohawk Trail Forest Center. The only jobs that will be created by this will be for more bureaucrats.

The impact of climate change on the forests of the Northeast has already been well studied. Mitigating any negative impacts from any possible future climate change means we must support the practice of forestry. If we want to make our forests more resilient to climate change, then we must support low-grade biomass markets. There is no need to waste any money to evaluate the feasibility of using local wood for heat. The state is now offering renewable energy credits for biomass wood boilers after numerous studies and hearings. Modern wood boilers are ultra clean burning — far cleaner than any wood stove. So there is no need for yet another costly study on emissions.

A study was commissioned by the Department of Energy Resources which showed that in the Mohawk 20-town area, forest growth exceeds removals by almost eight-to-one. However, 65 percent of the timber is low-grade junk. It showed that the area could easily support a wood pellet plant that would produce 100,000 tons of wood pellets annually, utilizing 200,000 tons of low-grade timber sourced from the 20-town area and rising to 700,000 tons if markets warranted it. Harvesting low-grade, junk timber will promote better forest growth, increase carbon sequestration rates and make our forests more resilient to climate change.

Sustainable forestry is defined as harvesting no more than the annual growth. Since the forests here are growing eight times as fast as they are being cut, there is a great opportunity for substantially more timber harvesting to improve our forests, provide a source of clean renewable energy, help local landowners and create thousands of new jobs.

One model for development could be based on a plan for a combined heat and power biomass energy plant. Waste heat could be utilized to manufacture wood pellets and used to heat attached greenhouses. This would provide locally produced renewable energy; manufacture wood pellets that would displace imported oil; and grow year-round locally produced food and cannabis while providing a much needed market to improve our forests.

Without low-grade markets, our forests will continue to decline and greatly reduce their ability to sequester carbon, especially as insect pests, like the hemlock wooly adelgid and the emerald ash borer, spread. It would be far wiser to use the $6 million from the state to site a combined heat and power biomass facility and provide the incentives for one to be built.

We must not waste $6 million of our tax money on frivolous schemes that won’t help either the forest or the local economy.

Mike Leonard is a consulting forester for North Quabbin Forestry and lives in Petersham.