By Maiyim Baron (ECA Massachusetts Leadership Team), with help from Janet Sinclair (Save Massachusetts Forests)
Tuesday September 29 was a warm sunny day, and Boston area ECA members drove out to meet fellow member Bart Bouricius at the Quabbin Reservoir near Hardwick in Central Massachusetts. Bart had organized a field trip, to see what is going on at the Muddy Brook Wildlife Management Area (WMA). We were joined by Dr. Bill Stubblefield, a Harvard-trained biologist and forest protection activist, and Janet Sinclair from Save Massachusetts Forests (https://www.savemassforests.com/).
Some of the Muddy Brook property is owned by New England Forestry Foundation, which has granted a wildlife conservation easement (WCE) to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, to manage the area for wildlife. This management generally amounts to clear cutting the forest for hunting, all but for the technicality of leaving a few isolated trees here and there, although this project is nominally a “pine barrens restoration.” On our field trip we viewed the sorry state of 500 acres already cut at Muddy Brook and learned of the state’s plans to clear 600 more acres in the near future. This video by the Wendell State Forest Alliance, “The Pillage of Muddy Brook,” graphically shows results of the logging: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw6mFGGeD9A&t=87s
Bill explained that over 90% of the 500 acres so far affected were in fact historically not pine barrens at all. Notably absent was the key species itself—pitch pine. Bart pointed out that the chestnut stump sprouts prevalent in the area are proof that these never were and likely never can be “pine barrens.” Effectively a clear cut, the heavy equipment used for logging compacts and damages the soil underneath. The top insulating layer of duff is also removed by the equipment, letting heat and cold penetrate the ground more than it naturally would, affecting vital microbial life.
These pine barrens projects themselves are controversial, but Muddy Brook is a case of very severe “management“ for no good reason. Left alone, this property would be more beneficial for native species habitat, and would store and sequester more carbon, allowing natural selection of local species populations, and creating more forest resiliency in the face of climate change and threats of fire (now increased due to the logging), than by cutting it all down. Bart and Bill also pointed out some invasive species that will be able, under current management, to get a foothold into the area.
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is able to sell the logs and wood chips to loggers, creating some income for the agency, but to succeed at creating a habitat like a pine barrens requires costly maintenance. That includes a rotation of controlled burns, heavy equipment to cut back vegetation, and in many cases spraying herbicides, which requires public funding. Pine barrens restoration projects are promoted by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and other similar projects are occurring in the Quabbin Watershed and the Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area.
People donate money and their land to places like New England Forestry Foundation or to Fisheries and Wildlife with the assurance that the land will not be developed. In the past, hunting licenses paid for the land and the management of it. Now WMAs and WCEs are acquired with most of the money coming from state and federal funding. Given the public funding, it seems wrong that the public has virtually no input about what happens on these properties.
Forest management issues are complicated, especially in these days when there is much debate about best practices, precipitated by the calamitous fires on the West Coast. But we are finding more evidence of the value of forests as the cheapest and most efficient way to sequester and store carbon, especially the effectiveness of mature intact forests as opposed to planting many small new trees.
ECA’s forest protection friends in Save Massachusetts Forests (https://www.savemassforests.com/), a project of RESTORE: The North Woods (https://www.restore.org/), are circulating a petition to Governor Charlie Baker for a moratorium on logging in Massachusetts state-owned lands. Please consider signing on at https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/moratorium-on-logging-1
ECA Massachusetts is happy to have these vibrant and knowledgeable forest activists as allies in all we are learning we can do to rebalance and regenerate our public lands.