Bill seeks to relax forest management practices

Bill Stubblefield of Wendell, center, gives a tour of the Montague Plains Wildlife Management area in August to argue against the state’s forest management practices. Stubblefield testified on Wednesday in favor of bill H.4150 that aims to change forest management and conservation efforts in the state.

Bill Stubblefield of Wendell, center, gives a tour of the Montague Plains Wildlife Management area in August to argue against the state’s forest management practices. Stubblefield testified on Wednesday in favor of bill H.4150 that aims to change forest management and conservation efforts in the state. STAFF FILE PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Wendell State Forest.

Wendell State Forest. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Bill Stubblefield, pictured at his home in Wendell in 2021, testified on Wednesday in favor of bill H.4150 that aims to change forest management and conservation efforts in the state.

Bill Stubblefield, pictured at his home in Wendell in 2021, testified on Wednesday in favor of bill H.4150 that aims to change forest management and conservation efforts in the state. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Wendell State Forest.

Wendell State Forest. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Brook Road in Wendell State Forest.

Brook Road in Wendell State Forest. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-30-2023 6:28 PM

BOSTON — Multiple Franklin County and North Quabbin residents testified Wednesday in favor of a bill that aims to change forest management and conservation efforts in the state.

H.4150, “An act relative to forest protection” filed by state Rep. Carmine Lawrence Gentile, D-Sudbury, takes a stance in favor of keeping forests in their natural state and allowing them to progress without intervention. Supporters of the bill are against management practices that include logging to keep forests in a desired biological state, which is currently done by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

“We believe that the vast majority of people in Massachusetts want our state forests and watersheds treated like our national parks — left alone and pretty much exclusively managed by nature,” Buckland’s Janet Sinclair said during the hearing of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Wednesday.

The bill aims to change forest management and conservation efforts by introducing a series of amendments across multiple chapters of Massachusetts General Laws. The key provisions include establishing a “Forest Reserves Scientific Advisory Council” to oversee forest designations and management. The bill also creates a “Forest Trust” for advancing the state’s interests in forest preservation.

Most notably, it addresses concerns related to commercial activities, having lands under state control remain primarily in their natural state, with restrictions on leasing, selling or exchanging.

Furthermore, the legislation reinforces the protection of watershed systems, restricting industrial infrastructure installations in specified areas. It also mandates periodic watershed management plans with input from environmental experts and public participation.

“H.4150 provides a modest but important step in this direction by protecting our public forests from further degradation and allowing them to develop to their fullest ecological potential, while providing a wealth of benefits with no additional funding, including increased carbon accumulation and biodiversity protection,” testified Wendell’s Bill Stubblefield, a Harvard-trained biologist and environmentalist involved with the Wendell State Forest Alliance.

With 27 people testifying in favor of the bill and one person testifying against it, many argued that managing public land is hindering the state from meeting its environmental goals, and to reduce the impacts of climate change, the state must stop using forest management practices on state-owned land.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Charlemont planners approve special permit for Hinata Mountainside Resort
$338K fraud drains town coffers in Orange
Greenfield residents allege sound and odor issues from candle, cannabis businesses
Fire at Rainbow Motel in Whately leaves 17 without a home
Hotfire Bar and Grill to open Memorial Day weekend in Shelburne Falls
Mohawk Trail’s Chay Mojallali sets school record in high jump as Franklin County contingent racks up titles at Western Mass. Division 2 Track & Field Championships (PHOTOS)

Another local resident who testified in favor of the bill was Montague’s Bart Bouricius, who is also a member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance. He argued that unmanaged forests have greater carbon uptake rates than their managed counterparts.

Bouricius said many arguments in favor of forest management “grossly overestimate” the benefits of durable wood products produced from forest management.

“It is ridiculous to be balancing wood product production from state-owned land against additional forest carbon accumulation. Logging will be meaningless without a livable future,” Bouricius said.

“Logging has been the greatest single source of forest degradation since the European invasion and remains so today,” Stubblefield argued. “Logging is always costly when all forest benefits are considered, and not just wood products. Forest protection is essential if we are to preserve a well-functioning ecosphere upon which our very lives depend.”

One aspect of the argument in support of forestry practices favors the carbon sequestered in lumber as a finished product (while allowing new trees to grow) over the carbon sequestered by older trees in the forest.

The one person who testified against the bill was Massachusetts Forest Alliance Executive Director Chris Egan. He argued that all leading environmental groups in the state stand in favor of forest management and would not support the legislation.

“Some might think that environmentalists support this bill while only groups like ours oppose it, but in fact nearly all the leading environmental organizations in Massachusetts support sustainable forest management on state-owned lands,” Egan testified.

He said this bill would make it difficult for the Department of Conservation and Recreation to remove dying pine trees and reduce the chance of blowdowns, in turn protecting the Quabbin Reservoir’s water quality.

“This balanced approach is needed to meet state and landowner climate biodiversity and economic goals,” he argued. “We join these prestigious environmental groups in supporting a mix of forest reserves and actively managed forests on state lands, which is the current status quo.”

With the hearing of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources complete, the bill will be sent to a branch floor to be further considered to become a law.

Bella Levavi can be reached at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.