Management on Massachusetts public forest land

  • Wendell State Forest FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/19/2019 7:51:26 AM

Our state forest and parks system consists of 311,000 acres and is managed by Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Massachusetts Wildlife manages over 212,000 acres, while the Division of Water Supply Protection manages 130,000 acres. Managing all of these forests is a complex task with many different goals.

However, the ill-advised anti-forestry bill H 897 filed in the state Legislature by a small group of anti-forestry protesters would stop all forestry on state property and will not protect these forests from various destructive agents or help mitigate climate change. In fact not managing these forests will make these forests less resilient to any future harmful climate change while the health of these forests will continue to decline due to insects, disease, and storm damage.

I) ​​​​​​DCR adopted a land use management structure that designated the 311,000 acres of its parks and forests into three different Zones — reserves, parklands and woodlands.

The Landscape Designation system for all of the 311,000 acres in the state forest and parks system has its own set of ecosystem services and management priorities:

1. 111,000 acres of reserves: large blocks of forest managed primarily by natural processes. There is no forestry allowed in the Reserves. The primary purpose is to create old growth forests and allow the public a wilderness experience.

2. 78,000 acres of parklands managed for public recreation opportunities and the protection and the conservation of natural and cultural resources. Forestry practice is only allowed to remove hazard trees, and clean up storm, insect or disease damage around park facilities.

3. 122,100 acres of woodlands where sustainable forestry will be practiced. These areas provide a range of ecosystem services such as producing local renewable wood products, protection of water quality, increasing CO2 sequestration, and promoting both old growth forests and early successional forests to provide habitat diversity.

DCR is required to develop management plans for all the state forests, parks, and reservations. All management plans and forestry projects are developed with public input. When developing forest management plans and forest cutting plans, DCR considers old growth forests, rare plant communities, rare species habitat, riparian areas, sensitive historical sites, steep slopes, trail buffers, wetlands, and vernal pools. Altogether forest management is prohibited on 60 percent of the 311,000 acres of DCR forest land.

II) The Division of Water Supply Protection (DWSP) manages and protects the drinking water supply watersheds consisting of 130,000 acres of forest that provide water for approximately 2.5 million Massachusetts residents in 51 communities.

More than 20,000 acres of the DWSP watershed holdings have been set aside in large and small reserves where forestry is not allowed.

More than 1,000 timber harvests have been done over the last 50 years on DWSP lands. These harvests remove less than 50 percent of the annual volume growth. Over this long period, timber volume has grown dramatically while timber quality and wildlife habitat has greatly improved. Monitoring has shown no decreases in water quality related to these harvests. The DWSP water supply remains among the cleanest and purest in the world.

Catastrophic storms and other agents can disturb a significant portion of the forest, changing species composition and age distributions suddenly. These events can increase erosion and sedimentation which can reduce water quality. A forest that is diverse in age structure limits the impacts of these disturbances. A forest that is also high in species diversity is less susceptible to severe mortality than a single species forest when insect pests or tree diseases attack.

If Forest Management is stopped on these forests, then a very expensive water filtration system will have to be installed to protect water quality for 2.5 million users costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. The forests will also be much less resilient to future climate change and sequester much less CO2 as insects, disease, and storm damage continue to take their toll.

III) MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of fish and wildlife including endangered plants and animals.

Many types of wildlife rely on grassland, shrubland, and young forest habitats – all of which are declining in Massachusetts. MassWildlife’s Habitat Programs work to expand these habitat types on state wildlife lands.

If Forest Management is stopped on MassWildlife properties, then many types of wildlife including rare species will decline and possibly go extinct.

Conclusion: The anti-forestry bill H 897 must be defeated. If it passes, then all the great forestry work mentioned above will be stopped and our forests, watersheds, and wildlife will all suffer.

Mike Leonard is a consulting forester with North Quabbin Forestry in Petersham.


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