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Spare that tree? Is clear-cutting of woodlands good or bad?

Byline: Bradford L. Miner

Some might call Christopher Matera a tree-hugger.

That's because of his appeal to the public to "please speak up for the trees."

A year ago, the Bay State native and professional civil engineer returned to Massachusetts from the Pacific Northwest in part because of his disgust over the wholesale cutting of forests by large timber companies.

Mr. Matera and his wife settled in Northampton and, to his dismay, he found evidence of forest clear-cutting on state Department of Conservation property, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife management areas and the Quabbin watershed. He documented his concerns with aerial and ground-level photographs on the Web sites and

Mr. Matera urges people to ask their legislators and Gov. Deval L. Patrick to stop the practice, stating, "Clear-cutting looks bad, because it is bad."

Not a scientist himself, Mr. Matera cites several sources on his Web sites to support his claim. He said he has 20 years of experience as a civil engineer.Managers of the state's forests acknowledge there is no disguising a clear-cut for what it is, but they see things differently and say Mr. Matera's concern does not take into account forest science.

Foresters who oversee the Quabbin Reservoir watershed, the DCR forests and parks, and the state's wildlife management areas say clear-cutting to replace existing plantations is essential to improve the natural diversity of tree species, promote wildlife habitat and, in the case of Quabbin, protect the forest that in turn protects the water supply for 2.2 million state residents.

The Quabbin plantations are primarily red pine and Norway spruce, both non-native species that foresters would eventually like to replace with trees native to the region - white pine, red oak, maple and birch.

Foresters at the Harvard University Graduate School of Forestry in Petersham are planning clear-cutting at Harvard Forest as well, and often are asked, "Isn't clear-cutting bad for the environment?"

The consensus among Harvard Forest experts is that clear-cutting based on best forest management practices is an accepted and effective method of regenerating forests.

Herm Eck, chief Quabbin forester, said at the June 16 annual review of Quabbin's 10-year land management plan that clearing selected tracts of watershed, the majority of which range from less than a half-acre to 2 acres, is necessary for maintaining the most weather-resilient and disease-resistant forest to protect the water supply.

Mr. Eck said the goal is to open up 1 percent of the 40,000 managed acres each year for regeneration, at the same time providing new wildlife habitat.

Wendy Fox, press secretary for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the same cutting rules in place at Quabbin apply to all state forests and parks.

Timber lots are put out to bid. Bids are then awarded to private contractors, who must submit a performance bond, and they in turn sell what they harvest as saw logs, firewood or pulp. DCR foresters, much like Quabbin foresters, monitor cutting to ensure compliance with the cutting plan and applicable state regulations.Chief steward of nearly a half-million acres of state-owned park land and watershed, DCR's Jim DiMaio said the state's forest resources are managed by licensed professional foresters for sustainability, habitat, forest health and in many instances, the protection of water quality.

While some state forest land, including the few remaining old-growth forests, are held as forest reserves and left untouched, most of the state's forested land had once been cleared for farming or destroyed by natural events such as the September 1938 hurricane.

This is graphically depicted in the 23 dioramas at the Fisher Museum at Harvard Forest in Petersham that portray the history, conservation and management of central New England forests.

Mr. DiMaio said the combined result of natural disaster and wholesale clearing of land for agriculture means the average forest land managed by DCR comprises trees mostly 60 to 80 years old.

A substantial number of forested acres, Mr. DiMaio said, are made up of plantations of non-native species, such as Norway spruce and red pine.

In addition to regular thinning of state-owned forests to improve growth and composition, the management goals envision replacing non-native trees over time with native varieties, and clearing small areas to create opportunities for new forest habitat.

The chief forester said cleared areas for new growth, something which has been increasingly rare in Massachusetts, is important for increasing wildlife diversity.

Mr. DiMaio said that in some cases non-native plantations have become overcrowded and trees are dying or have been subject to substantial blow-down that requires foresters to remove all trees so that native trees can become established.

"I think it's great that there are people like Chris Matera who care so passionately about our forests that they become concerned at signs of tree cutting. Overall, I believe our forest management practices, which have achieved Green Certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, are the best way to maintain the health and vitality of our forests for years to come," Mr. DiMaio said.

Mr. Matera said he's disturbed by the sharp increase in the amount of logging in comparison to historic harvesting levels and thinks the change may in part be driven by the biomass industry.

"I find it difficult to believe that the increase in clear-cutting is not linked to the proposed biomass energy plants, like Russell Biomass, that are going to burn enormous amounts of wood," he said.

"I've lived with this for 16 years in the Northwest and I'm afraid that this is what's happening here in Massachusetts. The three proposed biomass energy plants - Russell, Springfield and Pittsfield - would burn in one year more than twice the wood harvested annually in Massachusetts," Mr. Matera said.

Mr. Matera said he was told when he contacted Mr. DiMaio that the state does not clear-cut its forests and what he saw at Savoy State Forest was "a mistake."

"This is a monstrous propaganda game, as I've learned from my experience in the Northwest, and they'll give any number of reasons for doing it to appease the public. The reason they are doing it is to sell the wood and make money," Mr. Matera said.

Jonathan Yeo, DCR's director of water supply protection, disagrees.

"We are about protecting drinking water at Quabbin, and employ the best possible watershed management practices. Promoting diversity of native species trees of different ages is our best insurance any natural disaster that might threaten this resource," he said.

Contact Bradford L. Miner by e-mail at


CUTLINE: (1) Herm Eck, right, chief forester for the Quabbin Reservoir watershed, discusses new tree growth in an area that was clear-cut in 1998. At left, Thom Kyker-Snowman holds a black birch that has flourished in the cut area. (2) A 6-acre opening was created in 1998 by clear-cutting on land at Thurston Brook on Prescott Peninsula at Quabbin Reservoir. Within a decade, the forest has regenerated with native species of mixed hardwoods and provided new wildlife habitat. (3)

At right is a permanent forest; at left is the area that was clear-cut in 1998 and today has thick growth of younger, native species. (MAP) Quabbin Reservoir (CHART) Clear-cutting in the Quabbin

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 3, 2008
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