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Saving Massachusetts Forest

New England is losing forest again. The last time, we cut it down to farm. However our best crop is trees, and eventually they took over again — giving us benefits we now take for granted as part of life here. The woods shape our lives: we play in the woods, we renew ourselves in the woods, we encounter nature in the woods. They also filter our drinking water and protect its level, slow global warming, preserve biodiversity, and produce wood we need.

This time, we're sacrificing forest to development. But with proper management, we can have both. Nine ecologists and historians at the Harvard Forest are proposing an organized forest conservation strategy called "Wildlands and Woodlands."

Designated Wildlands will be protected reserves, where human impact is minimized, and natural cycles evolve unhindered. Surrounding these Wildlands, buffering them from developed land, Woodlands will be actively managed to provide recreation and wood in ways that sustain the forest ecologies. This plan takes advantage both of the new science of forestry, and of the resources contained in natural processes we may only partially understand.

Currently Massachusetts remains more than 60 percent forested; the W&W plan calls on us to permanently protect about 50 percent: 250,000 acres of Wildland reserves, and 2.25 million acres of managed Woodlands. This total is in line with projections of the needs of future development. But development without a plan for the forest is resulting in woods that are too broken up. Important natural processes require large contiguous areas. And mature, old-growth forest, our ecological resource bank, is the most rare and scattered of our protected ecosystems.

If we put together and sequester the core reserves we need, at the same time we can afford to open up more state-owned forest for managed harvesting as Woodlands. Together both of them, protected from development, will give us the ecologically sustainable forest we do not have now.

Costs? In 1988 the town of Walpole borrowed $7.7 million to purchase 293 acres — in order to protect it from development that would have resulted in greater expense for a new school and other services! But we must pay perhaps a more difficult price: changing our habits of thinking about land allocation, responsibility, and short-term versus long-term benefits.

At 7 pm on Wednesday January 18th, Dr. David B. Kittredge from the Harvard Forest will speak on the Wildlands and Woodlands proposal, at the Nashua River Watershed Association (978-448-0299).


Photo by C.H. Clark - Hawthorne Brook in Howard Park, Townsend


Text and photo © Copyright 2006 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 6 January 2006

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