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New plan protects state’s forests

Logging banned on 60% of lands; watershed rules review is expected

‘Governor Patrick sees our state forests as precious natural resources, and we intend to protect them,’ said Ian Bowles. ‘Governor Patrick sees our state forests as precious natural resources, and we intend to protect them,’ said Ian Bowles.
By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / April 22, 2010

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Massachusetts is more than quadrupling the amount of forested state land that is off-limits to commercial logging and will sharply limit the use of clear-cutting, according to a plan announced yesterday.

The new policy, the most significant change in state forest management in decades, reflects the growing use of public land in Western Massachusetts for recreation, and was adopted after an outcry about logging practices on some of those properties.

For the first time, the state will clearly articulate what is a park, a nature preserve, or an area where trees can be cut, replacing vague rules that have led to logging in some parklands.

“From now on, we will be clear about how we manage the different kinds of forest land that are owned by the state,’’ said Ian Bowles, secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “Governor Patrick sees our state forests as precious natural resources, and we intend to protect them, not exploit them.’’

Today, about 40,000 acres, or 13 percent of the forests and parks managed by the state Department of Conservation, are off-limits to logging. Under the new plan, logging will be banned on at least 185,000 acres, or 60 percent of the lands. In most cases, clear-cutting will be limited to one-third of an acre.

The plan does not include watershed lands, however, such as those around the Quabbin Reservoir or Division of Fish and Game property where controversial cutting has also taken place. The state says it will review watershed lands before any new timber sales are approved to ensure they fit in with state goals and will post all cutting plans online. Meanwhile, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife officials will conduct a review of their forest management guidelines this year to ensure they are aligned with state forest goals.

The announcement followed a yearlong evaluation of forest policy prompted by public outrage after the discovery of large clear-cuts on public lands in the last five years. State Department of Conservation and Recreation officials have acknowledged that some cutting violated their own rules, and they recently disciplined some foresters over the issue.

Reaction to the plan was mixed, with environmentalists largely praising it and forestry industry officials slamming it. They said state lands have a long legacy of logging, and with much state land placed off limits, foresters could lose money cutting only on smaller tracts of private land.

“Those of us in the wood products industry are very concerned,’’ said Kent Lage, executive director of the Massachusetts Wood Producers Association. He said the state is overreacting to public concern about clear-cutting, adding that most publicly logged lands are not clear-cut and that logging helps maintain forests by getting rid of old and diseased trees.

Chris Matera, a Northampton engineer who has investigated and publicized the state’s aggressive logging practices in recent years, said the plan did not go far enough.

He wants the state to include all public lands, including watershed and Fisheries and Wildlife properties, in its plan.

“While the state’s actions are a step in the right direction and may sound good to the uninformed listener, the protection of 185,000 acres of DCR parks and forests is only a small portion of the nearly 600,000 acres of state public lands,’’ he said in an e-mail.

“As we speak, the state is still clearcutting in the Quabbin reservation and other watershed areas, the forests that protect Boston’s drinking water.’’

Massachusetts is the nation’s eighth most forested state.

By the end of this year, the state will zone its forested lands, with public involvement, placing the forests and parks into three categories: parklands, which will be largely managed for recreation; reserves, which will be managed for biological diversity; and woodlands, which will be managed for forestry.

No cutting will be allowed in parklands or reserves.

In the woodland category, clear-cuts larger than one-third of an acre, but never greater than 5 acres, will be allowed in exceptional circumstances, such as an invasive insect infestation, fire risk, or storm damage.

“The vision strikes the right balance between preservation and sustainable use, between economic benefits for people and the Commonwealth’s wildlife,’’ said Wayne Klockner, director of the Massachusetts chapter of The Nature Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group.