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Cutting trees to save the forest

Timber harvests promote growth, foundation says

Nestled between farmland and the North River, near where Marshfield, Scituate, and Norwell converge, is the Nelson Memorial Forest, a 130-acre refuge for humans as well as wildlife.

Terri Phillips of Marshfield walks her two dogs almost every day in the woods, which have several miles of hiking trails and great stands of pine and hemlock.

One recent morning, she paused in the deepest part of the forest, under tall pines, while the dogs went ahead toward the river for their morning dip.

''When you just stand here for awhile, you get that old quiet sense of the woods," she said.

Once every four to 10 years, the peace of the Nelson forest is disrupted by the whine of chain saws and the rumbling of heavy equipment. Trees are felled, dragged to the edge of the forest, then trimmed and stacked to await logging trucks that will haul them to mills.

The Nelson forest is one of six properties in the suburbs south of Boston owned by the New England Forestry Foundation, a Littleton-based organization founded 60 years ago to educate landowners and the public on how best to manage a forest.

The nonprofit organization, which owns 22,000 acres of woodlands across New England, says it regularly conducts tree harvests on its properties, producing a small amount of income for the organization while promoting the health of the forests.

The last timber harvest at the Nelson forest, in 1998, yielded 42,000 board feet of lumber, which generated $4,200 for the organization, according to an official.

Cynthia Wood Henshaw, director of the foundation's community forest program, said money is not the main reason for the harvests.

''The real benefit for us is that we have a forest that is growing and healthy and is a demonstration of sustainable forestry," she said.

The foundation's other properties in the south suburbs are the Talcott White Edminster Forest in Freetown, Winslow Warren Forest in Walpole, Phillip Weld Forest in Wareham, and Hagar Woods and Donald Hagar Forest, both in Marshfield.

Harvesting a forest allows new trees to grow, controls invasive species of plants and insects, and creates habitats for wildlife, according to Henshaw.

''It's like weeding a garden, although it's a much larger time frame," she said.

''Trees grow for about a hundred years, and you have to remove them at certain times."

A group of foresters led by the late Harris A. Reynolds, a pioneer in the science of forestry, founded the New England Forestry Foundation in 1944 out of concern about the logging industry's clear-cutting of New England's forests.

When trees are felled in the Boston suburbs today, it is usually to make way for homes. Examples of sustainable forestry are still important in suburban areas, according to forestry specialists.

Robert O'Connor, director of land and forest policy for the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, said the work of the New England Forestry Foundation demonstrates there are options for property owners who feel pressured to sell to a developer.

''A forest can pay the taxes for a landowner," O'Connor said. ''As the forest grows, it can be a supplement for someone's retirement."

He also said there is considerable value in preserving forests in the Boston suburbs. ''The forests in the eastern part of the state are very important. They become islands for what habitat is left," O'Connor said.

Preventing a forest from being developed is not enough to save it, said Jeff Ghannam, director of communications for the American Society of Foresters, which is based in Bethesda, Md. Forests that are not managed properly through harvesting are vulnerable to fire and disease, Ghannam said, adding, ''You can't purchase a forest and forget about it." he said.

None of the New England Forestry Foundation's forests south of Boston are being harvested this year. In early August, loggers hired by the foundation harvested a 148-acre forest north of Boston.

The foundation's foresters designated the trees to be taken down in the Prichard Forest in Middleton with red marks. Over several days, the harvest was completed by a two-man crew -- one wielding a chain saw and the other hauling out the cut trees with a piece of machinery known as a grapple skidder. Some of the timber was sold for lumber, while some was sold for firewood and wood pulp.

The foundation has acquired most of its properties from donations by property owners. The Nelson forest, donated by Katharine Dorothea Nelson in 1958, is one of the foundation's larger properties in the south suburbs.

The Talcott White Edminster Forest in Freetown is 83 acres and includes a large stand of white pine and extensive wetlands. The Winslow Warren Forest in Walpole is 20 acres and provides access to Willett Pond. The 39-acre pine and oak Phillip Weld Forest in Wareham is surrounded by other conservation land. The adjoining Hagar Woods and Donald Hagar Forest in Marshfield cover a combined 61 acres.

David Clapp, sanctuary director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's South Shore regional office in Marshfield, said the Nelson forest and Hagar properties are part of a necklace of protected open space along the North River. Other properties nearby are owned by Mass. Audubon, the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, and the town of Marshfield.

Of the tree cutting in the New England Forestry Foundation properties, Clapp said, ''It often surprises and bothers the walkers and hikers when they're first exposed to it, but what it does is open up a woodlands into a variety of habitats and niches that provide quite a bit of diversity for forest land."

Warren Harrington, former conservation administrator in Marshfield, used to live in a house next to the Nelson forest. ''I enjoyed hearing great horned owls calling from the Nelson forest," said Harrington, who now lives in Scituate.

Robert Preer can be reached at preer@globe.com. 

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