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Mass. Activist Says Commonwealth Is Selling Out Trees, Imperiling Environment

Tree trunks litter the ground with a stand of trees far in the background
Chris Matera
Massachusetts Forest Watch
A photo of clearcutting at Sandisfield State Forest in 2008.

Environmental activist Chris Matera is sounding the alarm over how Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s administration is handling the state’s forests. The founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, Matera says the rising value of trees is leading to economic interests trumping ecological ones in the commonwealth – with dangerous consequences.

MATERA: We are currently seeing horrible clearcutting on state forests. And it's hard for people to actually understand this, but it's true. State of Massachusetts, under the Baker administration division of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Conservation and Recreation are literally clearcutting our state forest and trucking the logs up to Canada. These timber sales actually occur at a loss to the taxpayers and ratepayers. So we are literally paying to clear cut our state forests and send the wood to Canada, it's hard for people to understand. I've taken a lot of pictures of this. And it's actually getting worse, especially on fish and wildlife lands. They are literally planning to clear cut 86% of their forests, which are our forests, over the next 61 years. So we have this timber rotation, a logging rotation on our public forests, and it's basically a captured agency. And they're no longer serving the public. They're serving the interest of timber, biomass and hunting interest. This is occurring under Governor Baker. I've called his office, I've contacted them with emails and calls and tried to get somebody there to at least acknowledge what was going on and let us know if they were going to do anything about it. And I was ignored, so.

WAMC: Where exactly is this clearcutting happening? What parts of the state forests are being impacted by this clearcutting?

It has been happening throughout most of the state. But recently, they've really been hammering the central area. If you go over, for example, to Hardwick, they have roughly a 500 acre clear cut, you know, a few trees sticking up here and there that are falling down as, you know, they’re barely even able to hold themselves up, the ones they left, and they're all suffering from exposure because the roots have been run over and they're now out in the open. So basically, it's a 500 acre clear cut. And this is in Hardwick, Massachusetts. This happening up north near Orange, it's happening in a lot of locations, you can look on this website, MAForests.org, that we put together. And you can see some of the things that are going on there. I'm as concerned about what they're planning as what they're already doing. So the acceleration of logging is what's almost more disturbing than what's actually going on.

Now when you say the acceleration, do you mean the sheer amount of logging or the areas that are planned to be logged? Can you expand on that a little bit, and what those plans are that you're concerned about?

The rate of logging and the type of logging. The clearcutting is being- especially on Fish and Wildlife lands- the clearcutting is just, it's crazy. And I do want to mention that it's actually illegal. There's a Massachusetts General Law that says clear cutting Fish and Wildlife lands is specifically illegal. And they're not being held accountable for that. And they're doing it, they're making baloney excuses for doing so. And basically, to answer your question, it's the rate and the type of logging, where before we basically had light logging with selective, more selective logging. Now it's more, higher rate of logging and a more aggressive type of logging, more industrial logging.

So what kind of protections or actions can be taken from your vantage point to protect forests from this damage and clearcutting that you've identified?

People have got to wake up, for one thing. I think we are complacent here, because we have not seen this kind of logging. And it's usually hidden behind the beauty strip. So you don't know what's going on. Not always, sometimes we'll stick it right in front of your face. But people need to wake up and they need to let the Baker administration know, if they're going to claim that they're concerned about the climate and that they are concerned about forest, it can't be clearcutting our most important state forests. This is just absurd. I mean, if you tell people they're clearly cutting our state forest, they shake their head, they think no, they wouldn't do that. That's what's going on. And it's actually- What needs to be realized is this is a part in of a big effort to increase logging and biomass across the Northeast because these trees are becoming more valuable.

And just to spell that as clearly as possible. What are the stakes of this? What happens when we lose our ability to sequester carbon, or when clearcutting goes too far to preserve the homeostasis of the environment?

I mean, there's so many levels, but you know, just take a look at what's going on in California. We have a climate problem. This is, you know, most people of reason understand that, and most will even go further and say well, we should do something about it if we care about the future. And one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution is logging and clearcutting forests. And secondly, if we're going to burn the wood after we log these forests that actually pollutes higher carbon rates than even coal. And I'm not crazy for saying that, it's true. I'm not defending coal. But the fact is, is that burning wood is so inefficient, that it creates more carbon for energy produced, then even coal. So the idea of increasing logging and increasing wood burning is completely the opposite of what we need to be doing. If we want to leave a little world for our, you know, for our kids, we have got to start thinking about this seriously and not just letting commercial interest dictate what we do with forests.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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