My Turn: In response to Wendell State Forest Alliance

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Published: 11/30/2021 6:44:31 AM
Modified: 11/30/2021 6:43:59 AM

The Nov. 23 My Turn “The arrogance of habitat management” by Bart Bouricius, a member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance, contained such false claims and accusations that’s it’s hard to know where to begin this response. Let’s start with the patently false claim that management of natural resources has caused mass extinction and climate disruption. Fake news, anyone? I’ve had about enough of it myself.

Make no mistake that human conversion of forest and other natural ecosystems to development is the primary cause of recent and on-going mass extinctions. Human development has also accelerated climate change by both releasing carbon from portions of trees cut from converted lands that are burned, and by forgoing future carbon sequestration from those converted forest lands (a lose-lose climate change scenario).

The Wendell State Forest Alliance is all about stopping forest management on state lands while they avoid taking on the critically important task of keeping forest land in forest use. About 17% of total annual global carbon emissions come from conversion of forest to non-forest use. I ask everyone who is concerned about mitigating climate change to take a look at the recent Clark University publication on the potential regional carbon benefits of avoided deforestation https://bit.ly/3re8NCO.

Further, the Technical Report of the Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap Study released in December 2020 by Harvard Forest notes that one of the highest priority conservation challenges in Massachusetts today for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is retaining existing forest land in forest use https://bit.ly/3E67vNE. The men and women of Massachusetts who participate in licensed, regulated hunting, fishing, and trapping contribute more than a million dollars annually to public land acquisition that keeps forest land in forest use.

How much has the Wendell State Forest Alliance done to protect Massachusetts forest lands from conversion to development?

The Harvard Forest report also notes that: 1) forest conversion releases substantially more carbon per acre than harvesting of renewable wood products while forgoing future opportunity to re-sequester carbon on those converted acres; and 2) harvesting of wood products from Massachusetts forest lands that remain in forest use often results in increased rates of carbon sequestration by retained trees and rapidly growing young trees on those-harvested acres.

To be sure, we need to shift more of our locally harvested wood into long-term products that continue to store carbon while the forest land those products came from go on to sequester additional carbon. The Harvard Forest technical report estimates that only about 34% of the carbon in wood products harvested from Massachusetts forest lands currently goes into long term storage. We need to do and can do a lot better than that. For example, recent technological advances in wood building materials now allows construction of multi-story buildings with Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) produced from what has traditionally been relatively low value wood used for short term products with associated carbon release. In fact, the process of building with CLT results in substantially lower overall carbon emissions than building with traditional steel and concrete (see: https://bit.ly/3ll1ghA).

Stop the harvesting of renewable wood products? What do you replace the wood with? More use of carbon-spewing plastic, concrete and steel, anyone? Harvesting renewable wood products supports local economies and enhances the economic value of Massachusetts forest lands, which helps resist development pressure. Using the sustainable harvest of renewable wood products to reduce overall carbon release associated with new construction while supporting local economies and keeping forest land in forest use is a win-win climate scenario.

Let’s finish by debunking another piece of fake news contained in the Nov. 23 “My Turn”, namely that MassWildlife “…is focused on resource extraction from the natural environment, whether of game animals, fish or wood products.” Baloney. MassWildlife is focused on the conservation of rare and declining species, and wood products are removed from state wildlife lands to enhance conditions for at risk species while keeping common species common. Habitat management by MassWildlife at sites like the Montague Plains WMA, Muddy Brook WMA, and Frances Crane WMA have increased local populations of endangered and threatened species associated with fire-adapted habitats by removing high fuel loads to enable application of carefully planned prescribed fire.

The future is up to us. Please ask your state representatives to adamantly oppose forest preservation bills: H.912, An Act Relative to Forest Protection and H.1002, An Act Relative to Increased Protection of Wildlife Management Areas.

John Scanlon, who lives in Barre, is the retired Habitat Program supervisor for MassWildlife.


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