Walking tour of Wendell State Forest logging one year later


Published: 7/29/2020 2:48:33 PM

A year ago a number of resolute protestors were arrested at Wendell State Forest while obstructing the logging there, part of a larger though unsuccessful effort to halt the project. Overall concerns included biodiversity, climate, recreational use, the selling of timber, and archaeological sites. There was a clarion call to save our oaks. Afterwards, some claimed the forest had been ripped to shreds and totally decimated.

As can anyone, I decide to see for myself. Wendell State Forest contains over 7,000 acres. According to the cutting permit, the logging occurred on 118 acres. That’s where I go.

Parking recently on the side of Montague Road, I soon cross the Carlton-Dirth Trail and bushwhack northwards. The liquid song of a rose-breasted grosbeak greets me; a great crested flycatcher shrieks.

At first I am in a red pine plantation. Straddling Montague Road, these are the trees the public sees through its collective car windshield. Roughly 90 feet tall, these trees were planted with foresight during the Great Depression, the intention being to grow useful timber for the future. Repeated cutting of red pine over time has cultivated a layered understory of native plants, including oak, maple, shadbush and blueberry.

Red pine was the biggest component of last year’s logging. While roughly half of the timber cut was red pine, white pine made up almost a third. Red oak accounted for about 15% of the logged timber.

Unfortunately, insects are slowly killing many of the remaining red pines. For a time, these pines will retain their value as useful timber. But, if left alone, they will provide positive ecological value as tall snags and later as rotten logs on the forest floor.

Next I cross the New England Trail and quickly come into the oaks. According to DCR, in 1927 this area consisted mainly of hardwood saplings just 2”- 3” in diameter — I picture a thick young forest poised to grow. Indeed, since then, the trees grew to over 13” in size — a five-fold increase.

With the clear song of a hermit thrush for companionship, I hike through a diversity of forest configurations among the oaks. Here in the logging footprint, airy groups of well-spaced oaks intermix with forest openings under wide patches of sky. The tall oaks have a healthy look. The openings offer bright lines of sight. Low-bush blueberry, powered by an increase in sunlight reaching the forest floor, is spreading. Without question, the unused branches, stumps and other woody slash cluttering the forest floor are unsightly, but, like the dying red pines, these, too, provide positive ecological value and will decompose. I weave my way up to the Wicket Pond Trail.

Soon, though, the sky darkens tellingly and grumbles, forcing me to skip the white pines for today.

In pelting rain I consider that if a person utterly opposes the idea of cutting trees, then there is little for them to appreciate about the recent logging in Wendell State Forest — other than, perhaps, its relatively limited scope. By contrast, some might argue that not enough timber was cut, and that the best thing we can do is fully use our trees “before,” as I often hear, “they just tip over and die.”

But there is a vast middle ground between never-cutting and over-cutting. This intriguing intellectual realm is open to anyone who recognizes the key role of renewable wood in a sustainable lifestyle. But to be renewable, this remarkable resource must be grown and cut in forests with plenty of healthy trees and a site-appropriate spectrum of biodiversity. In pursuing this core objective, people will easily find that the forester and loggers did a nice job.

Is there always room for improvement? Yes. Here, an unnamed loop trail became partly buried in slash. This need not have happened. Though not an official trail, it is shown clearly on a local 2018 map. With focused energy and perhaps a congenial and communicative approach, the well-trodden eastern leg could be quickly fixed. It seems someone may have already begun. The western leg — a fainter trail to begin with — would require greater effort.

To those for whom saving oaks was a chief priority, the present condition of Wendell State Forest may offer a welcome measure of relief. After all, most of the oak timber within last year’s logging footprint is still standing. Indeed, less than 20% of the oak timber was cut; the rest of the large oaks are still there, growing freely in this summer’s sun and rain.

To be continued.

Michael Mauri is a Massachusetts licensed forester based in South Deerfield.


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