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State officials believe forests should stay 'untouched' in tornado-stricken areas

Posted by Amy Chaunt  May 7, 2012 02:10 PM

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In Southbridge, 50 acres of forest that was mostly leveled by last Spring's tornado will be left alone to heal itself.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, (DFW) which owns the 50 acres, out of a total of 350 acres of forest in Southbridge, decided to leave mother nature alone.

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“DFW will help conduct whatever clearing of tornado debris is requested by public fire and safety officials in coordination with adjacent property owners. Other than that, we like the habitat structure as it is,” said John Scanlon, the Forestry Supervisor of DFW.

David Kittredge, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor, says there were “two schools of thought” on what to do with the tornado-stricken land.

“Some people think that, well we got to get right in there and clean up that forest now, cause it’s either a mess or a fire danger or we cant hike in it or recreate thru it, there’s a human compulsion to make it look better than destruction,” he said. “The other school of thought, says you know, that’s the way it works, and even though it was destroyed, it’s really a relatively unique circumstance out there.”

The tornado’s path covered 7,200 acres in Western Massachusetts – with 4,500 of that being considered forest – and 65 percent of that is now considered “open.”

Kittredge thinks that people are most likely to want to fix the land and pick it up because it is a mess to look at.

“The most important thing is that it (tornado) converts standing forests to a big mess of horizontal sticks and trees all jumbled together, however, nature is pretty clever and wild life is pretty clever, and tornadoes were happening long before we got here,” Kittredge said.

Massachusetts is the third densest populated state in the country but it is ranked eighth in the highest percent of forest cover. Before the storm, people were living in communities surrounded by trees and now, the landscape has changed.

“You know forests deal with this stuff all the time, they have adapted in evolutionary time, where either the trees snap or get uprooted,” said Fletcher Clark, a UMass graduate student in forestry. “I think the decision to keep it as is and do nothing is probably a good one.”

“It’s sad for the people’s homes that were affected, but….. the forest is messy place but it’s also a resilient place, this is what forests do,” said Clark.

Photo Credit: John Scanlon

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the authors

Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.

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