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Massachusetts issues climate forestry report, ends tree-cutting 'pause.' Loggers want work to begin.

The view from Mt. Holyoke in Skinner State Park in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in July 2022.
Nancy Eve Cohen
The view from Mt. Holyoke in Skinner State Park in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in July 2022.

A committee of a dozen scientists assembled by the state issued a report Wednesday on how to manage Massachusetts forests to address climate change. The commonwealth owns about 17% of the forests in the state. The report also suggested ways to incentivize private landowners to steward forests to address global warming.

The report is designed to help Massachusetts meet a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit of net zero by 2050.

Net zero means the amount of carbon emissions are equal to the quantity of carbon that is removed from the atmosphere and stored every year. Forests naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and then store it.

The state also announced this week $50 million to support forest conservation. The funding is intended to help Massachusetts meet its goal of conserving 40% of natural and working lands, including property used for growing food or harvesting wood, by 2050.

The committee recommended the state expand the size and number of state forest reserves, where trees, for the most part, are not cut.

The scientists also suggested the state reconsider its goals for managing wildlife areas so that there is less emphasis on creating areas with young trees, shrubs and grassy fields — and more emphasis on old growth forest.

Mike Akresh, the director of the Conservation Biology Program at Antioch University New England, in Keene, New Hampshire, has researched birds and snakes on Massachusetts wildlife management areas for about 15 years, including the Montague Plains. He said he recognizes the need for old-growth forests, but disagrees with the idea of reducing the amount of young forest on state-managed wildlife areas.

"The rare and threatened species in Massachusetts need young forest and grasslands and shrublands. So, limiting that on state lands is problematic," he said.

The Eastern whippoorwill is a species of special concern on the Massachusetts endangered species list. It needs young woodlands with open areas to forage and breed successfully. The Grasshopper sparrow, which thrives in large grassy fields, is listed as threatened on the state endangered species list.

Along with the report, Massachusetts ended a year-long pause on new logging contracts on state land.

Chris Egan, executive director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, which represents loggers and sawmill owners, said the moratorium has been tough.

"For some of our members, who are timber harvesters, about 30% of their businesses is work on state lands. So to lose 30% of your business for a year — that's challenging," he said.

Besides new contracts, Egan wants logging projects that were previously approved by the state to go forward. The state expects the committee's recommendations will be applied to all new projects.

The Healey administration is asking the public to submit comments on the report by January 24.

The state expects to give a formal response to the committee's recommendations this spring, and at that time, put out new forestry projects to bid.

The report noted that members of the committee "wrestled" with different scientific findings and opinions. For instance, some thought Massachusetts should produce more of the wood it consumes. Others said state forests would be better used to store and remove carbon.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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