Judge hears out activists over Wendell State Forest logging

  • Glen Ayers of the Wendell State Forest Alliance talks about permitting process used in logging the Wendell State Forest. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mary Thomas, a member of the Wendell Conservation Commission, talks about the endangered Jefferson salamander and their habitat that was compromised during logging operations. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gia Neswald of the Wendell State Forest Alliance objects to the permitting process used in logging the Wendell State Forest. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The seven representatives of the Wendell State Forest Alliance objected to the permitting process used in logging the Wendell State Forest. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bill Stubblefield of the Wendell State Forest Alliance brings up environmental issues in logging the Wendell State Forest. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • James Thornley of the Wendell State Forest Alliance pleads with Judge Mark Mason to not dismiss their case against the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s logging practices. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Franklin County Superior Court Judge Mark Mason said it would take 60 to 90 days for him to render his decision on the civil case brought by the Wendell State Forest Alliance. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Patricia Gallager of the Wendell State Forest Alliance speaks in Franklin County Superior Court on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kendra Kinscherf, assistant attorney general, asks Judge Mark Mason to dismiss the Wendell State Forest Alliance’s case in Franklin County Superior Court on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Franklin County Superior Court was packed by representatives of the Wendell State Forest Alliance, in the foreground, and their supporters on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/7/2020 11:29:05 PM
Modified: 1/7/2020 11:28:32 PM

GREENFIELD — There are many reasons the members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance wanted to “have our day in court,” they told Judge Mark Mason on Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court.

Citing concerns about climate change, endangered species and the recreational value of the woods, the 29 co-plaintiffs are suing the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), alleging the logging of 100-year-old oak trees on an 80-acre stand in Wendell State Forest over the summer broke numerous state laws and regulations.

Tuesday, they argued against a motion to dismiss the case, presented by Assistant Attorney General Kendra Kinscherf. Ultimately, Mason listened to both sides and said he would rule on the motion in 60 to 90 days, calling the issue “complex.”

Following the hearing, lead plaintiff and retired regional health agent Glen Ayers was optimistic and said he was pleased that the judge listened thoroughly to the group’s arguments.

“He heard us. He was paying attention. He wasn’t sleeping up there,” Ayers said. “Yes, this is about Wendell, but it’s also about so much more.”

The Wendell State Forest Alliance is not represented by a lawyer, and the group is not asking for any money in the suit. Rather, members explained to Mason, they would like a declaration or recognition that the DCR’s actions were wrong, so that a similar project won’t happen in other forests.

“We’re just a group of concerned citizens. We don’t have money for a lawyer. The only thing we have is the integrity with which we stand, and our minds and our bodies,” said alliance member James Thornley.

The group’s protests began in fall 2018, when demonstrators held signs along Route 2 protesting the proposed logging project. Over the following year, protesters held rallies at the forest, circulated petitions and sent letters to the governor. Once logging began in the summer, protesters tried to physically stop the project by standing in the way of loggers and equipment, and even chaining themselves to trees — actions that led to more than 30 arrests.

They filed the lawsuit against the state in August, asking for a “preliminary injunction” to halt the project, but their motion was denied.

Kinscherf said Tuesday the “entirety of the complaint” against DCR should be dismissed, and noted that logging already finished in September.

“The action, the selective cutting of trees in Wendell State Forest, has completed, so now their claims are moot,” she said.

Kinscherf said the state accepts several of the protesters’ assertions — there are rare Jefferson salamanders in the forest, and climate change is a concern.

However, she argued that DCR broke no laws in carrying out the project as established stewards of public forests. She said only a small parcel of the more than 8,000-acre forest had been logged during the project.

Previously, Kinscherf had said the logging was done to improve the health of the forest by removing diseased trees. DCR Commissioner Leo Roy, in a meeting with the Wendell Selectboard, also said the project helped combat climate change in the long run by maintaining a diverse forest of healthy trees that will continually sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance disagree, and said in court that the forest should be untouched to sequester the most carbon now, in the midst of a “climate crisis.”

“We face a grave and growing danger,” said alliance member Bill Stubblefield. “If given a chance, we will prove these assertions through the discovery process and introduction of expert witnesses.”

Priscilla Lynch, another member, said the case should be allowed to go forward to show the damage done to the forest’s recreational value in court.

“That forest mattered to people, it had significance to people and the damage done to that forest is an unending harm,” she said. “The DCR are the stewards of the forest. They are not the owners of the forest. We are the owners of the forest.”

Gia Neswald, an alliance member, called into question the procedures leading up to the logging. She said that DCR projects may be appealed, but the DCR itself is the authority that rules on the appeal, a procedural “absurdity,” she said. She also said that, while the DCR claims public input was allowed, there is “absolutely no evidence” that the “substantial” comments the group submitted to the DCR were considered at all.

Mary Thomas, a member of the Wendell Conservation Commission, said the lawsuit should continue because the logging violated state laws protecting endangered species. She said the DCR reduced its established buffer zone of 1,000 feet from Jefferson salamander vernal pools to 50 feet for the project.

Ayers brought up case law that he said has established such logging projects can’t happen unless they are essential to the “quiet enjoyment of the facilities” by the people.




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