Guest columnist John Scanlan: Reasons to oppose forest preservation bills

  • Scene off Montague Road in Wendell State Forest. FILE PHOTO

Published: 12/2/2021 1:41:44 PM
Modified: 12/2/2021 1:41:12 PM

The recent guest column published by the Gazette by a member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance contained so many false claims that’s it’s hard to know where to begin my response. Let’s start with the patently false claim that habitat management 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 ongoing mass extinctions. Human development has also accelerated climate change by both releasing carbon from converted forestlands, and by forgoing future carbon sequestration on those lands (a lose-lose climate change scenario).

The Wendell State Forest Alliance is all about stopping forest management on state conservation lands while they avoid taking on the critically important task of keeping forest land in forest use. I ask everyone who is concerned about mitigating climate change to take a look at the recent Clark University publication on the regional carbon benefits of avoided deforestation.

The most recent Mass Audubon publication in the excellent “Losing Ground” series reports that 13.5 acres of open space (primarily forestland) are converted to development each day across Massachusetts. In fact, The Land Sector 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 forestland in forest.

Yet the Wendell State Forest Alliance ignores this pressing climate issue. It’s easy to protest forest management, but the hard work of climate change mitigation involves keeping forestland in forest use. 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 forestlands 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 resequester carbon on those converted acres; and 2) harvesting of wood products from Massachusetts forestlands 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 forestland 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 forestlands 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.

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 local renewable wood products supports rural economies and enhances the economic value of Massachusetts forestlands, 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 forestland in forest use is a win-win climate scenario.

Let’s finish by debunking another piece of fake news contained in the recent guest column, 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 was designed to increase local populations of endangered and threatened species associated with fire-adapted habitats. These operations removed high fuel loads to enable the safe 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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