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Guest Columnist Bart Bouricius: Commercial logging in state-owned forests is not climate wise

  • Bog on Farley Road in Wendell State Forest. STAFF FILE PHOTO



Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Judging from a recent opinion piece, I believe that many people who make their livings designing logging projects are confused about the content of House Bills 912 and 1002. These bills would protect only state-owned forests, “common wealth” owned by the citizens of the state. These bills do not propose restricting logging on the over 80% of our forests that are privately owned. H.912 and H.1002 would preserve less than 20% of the forests in Massachusetts.

The writer and I agree that some forest should be preserved in its natural state. The question is how much. He justifies commercial logging as a management tool by claiming it is analogous to practices of North America’s Indigenous people prior to colonization. This drew a response from Nohham Cachat, who researches Native traditions and whose family is Indigenous to what is now western Massachusetts. In his letter to the Greenfield Recorder, Mr. Cachat states, “It’s time for non-Native people to stop rewriting our story to suit their needs.” He also notes that “…we did not burn the land significantly in Western Massachusetts,” and that traditionally “very little wood” is used.

I agree we should take care of our forests. However, “taking care” of our state-owned forests by using the blunt instrument of commercial logging and its massive 60,000-to-90,000-pound soil and small creature-crushing machines is far from serving the forests’ best interest. As we experience the worsening effects of climate change, many would agree that our primary “need” is to have a livable planet, for ourselves and for the other beings that share our earth.

All logging causes an immediate release of carbon into the atmosphere. But an even worse effect is the loss of our forests’ ability to accumulate enough carbon within the brief time frame required to mitigate climate change. In fact, post-logging, forests become net emitters of carbon dioxide for up to 20 years.

Even when the forest begins to recover, and starts to absorb slightly more carbon than it releases, it will not come close to the amount it might have absorbed had it been left in peace. Left undisturbed, the trees and soil will continue storing ever greater quantities of carbon as the forest grows, and can continue accumulating large quantities of carbon for hundreds of years.

So why are young forests unable to store as much carbon as mature forests? It’s pretty simple, really. Short trees with small girths can’t store much in their tiny trunks, and the majority of young trees will die off during the forest’s natural succession process. When it comes to accumulating carbon, young trees are insignificant compared to canopy trees with large girths.

Several researchers have done measurements which demonstrate, for example, that one 40- to 50-inch diameter white pine can store the same amount of carbon as half an acre of 12-inch diameter pines. Dr. James Lutz and his research team have collected data showing that, globally, 50% of a forest’s carbon is stored in the largest 1% of trees. It is, therefore, these larger older trees that are important to preserve in response to climate change.

Readers who are following this discussion may have noticed that the critical responses to my original opinion piece were from people who have some financial interest in logging, or who received grants through agencies that promote logging and pesticides as primary management tools.

The most effective machines for removing carbon from the atmosphere fast enough and in the quantities required to mitigate climate change are our undisturbed living forests. Nothing else comes close. We must allow our forests to remove the excess carbon that has already been emitted into our atmosphere, and which threatens our living planet.

The bills I am promoting would preserve less than 20% of the forests in our state. There is more than enough private forest land left for logging. It is unnecessary to have commercial logging in the forests that belong collectively to Massachusetts citizens.

So please ask your state representatives and senators to support forest preservation bills H.912 and H.1002. And while you’re at it, please ask them to also support H.1003 which provides for greater public participation in decisions about our state-owned forests, and requires greater transparency from the agencies managing them.

Bart Bouricius is a retired adjunct professor and emergent tree researcher living in Montague. He is a former Amherst resident.