Patrick-Murray Administration Announces Commonwealth Forest Heritage Plan
Nearly 200,000 acres will be held in reserves, protected from logging, as state forests are managed with focus on conservation biology
"Governor Patrick sees our state forests as precious natural resources, and we intend to protect them, not exploit them," said Secretary Bowles. "We need to manage these assets to maximize benefits for forest ecosystems, and that means protecting more of our forests from any kind of logging and sharply restricting timber harvesting where we do allow it. From now on, we will be clear about how we manage the different kinds of forest land that are owned by the state."
The forest management approach announced today in large measure follows that recommended by a year-long Forest Futures "visioning" process held by DCR. Final recommendations to DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan from the Forest Futures Technical Steering Committee were also made public today. Specific measures announced today will apply to forests managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) as state and urban parks.
"I am very grateful to everyone who participated in the Forest Futures process, which gave me great insight into the diverse interests and values held by people who cherish our state forests the way I do," said Commissioner Sullivan. "I am confident that the thoughtful recommendations of the Technical Steering Committee, as adopted and amplified by Secretary Bowles, will make Massachusetts a national model in forest stewardship."
"We applaud the leadership that Secretary Bowles and Commissioner Sullivan have provided, and we are eager to see the Technical Steering Committee's recommendations implemented,'' said Lisa Vernegaard, chairwoman of the Technical Steering Committee. "We are confident that our recommendations will help DCR improve its stewardship of our state forests and parks so they will continue to provide the Commonwealth's citizens with an abundance of values - today, and into the future."
Going forward, DCR will adopt a "zoning" model that specifies management practices according to forest designation. These zones will be established through a consultative public process. The three zones for DCR forests and their attendant management practices will consist of:
- Parklands : primarily managed for recreation, human experiences and protection of cultural and natural features . Commercial timber harvesting not allowed. Cutting is limited to that which is necessary to support recreational assets and uses, including public safety.
- Reserves : primarily managed for biological diversity based on natural processes and the protection of large contiguous blocks of high-value ecosystems. Commercial harvesting not allowed. A new Forest Reserves Scientific Advisory Committee, informed by the public process, will guide the department in selection and stewardship of reserves.
- Woodlands : primarily managed for state-of-the-art sustainable forestry, forest products, and active carbon management. No new harvesting contracts will be issued while woodlands are being zoned. Once woodlands are delineated, commercial harvesting will be allowed under new, more protective guidelines:
- Level 1 - small patch reserves for areas of ecological or cultural significance (e.g., wetlands, endangered species protection, etc.) - no commercial harvesting
- Level 2 - uneven aged management in high productivity forests up to 150-200 years old - maximum of 1/3 acre openings and requirement of best management practices.
- Level 3 - under exceptional circumstances (invasive insect infestation, fire risk, storm damage, or compelling biodiversity/habitat needs), larger cuts between 1/3 acre and 5 acres may be allowed. Prior to any proposed action that would result in greater than a 1/3 acre opening, DCR will engage in wide consultation with experts and the public. Any such cut will require a determination by the Commissioner that certifies compelling need and the use of best management practices.
Currently, roughly 40,000 acres, or about 13 percent of State and Urban Parks lands are held in protected reserves. Under the new plan, at least 60 percent of forest land, or 185,000 acres will be designated as parklands and reserves, and therefore protected from logging. DCR will soon begin a public process to identify areas of state-owned forest land to be included in the greatly expanded reserves.
Secretary Bowles is also directing DCR's Division of Water Supply Protection and DFG's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to review their forest land management practices in light of the Forest Legacy Plan, with the goal of coordinating and integrating forest stewardship across state agencies.
For DCR Water Supply Protection forests
- Review: Before new FY2011 timber sales on DCR Water Supply Protection forests are finalized, DWSP will have the existing Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) conduct a review of the scientific principles that guide existing Land Management Plan objectives. The STAC will also analyze DWSP proposed changes to implementation on issues such as opening sizes and retention standards. Resulting recommendations will be reviewed by the existing public Advisory Committees and appropriate changes or clarifications to Land Management Plans and future watershed forestry projects implemented. DCR will defer any new timber sales for FY11 until this review is concluded. Habitat management practices will be reviewed in coordination with the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) as part of a broader statewide effort.
- Increase review and oversight of all existing timber sales to ensure strict compliance with all standards.
- Implement new transparent process with cutting plans posted online and increased public input opportunities for planned projects.
For DFG/DFW Wildlife Management Areas
- Review: DFG/DFW will conduct a 10 year review of its existing "Forest Management Guidelines for Wildlife Management Areas" in the context of the 2006 State Wildlife Action Plan, and as part of a larger review of its statewide land protection and habitat management. DFG/DFW will conduct a public process on recommendations to update the Guidelines in the context of a review of overall land protection and habitat management effectiveness. One goal of the process will be to align, coordinate and integrate forest stewardship on all state lands.
- Maintain transparency: DFG/DFW will continue to post online information about any active forestry management sites to make this information easily available to the public, and will invite interested members of the public to view and tour agency sites where active management has occurred.
"This new approach to land stewardship is the biggest change in a generation and will benefit people and wildlife for many years to come," said Laura Johnson, president of Mass Audubon. "These lands encompass an incredible variety of natural features within large areas of forest that provide clean water and air, all the more important as we experience a rapidly changing climate."
"The Forest Vision will expand forest reserves and return missing, and crucially important, old growth forest to the MA landscape", said Wayne Klockner, Director of the Massachusetts Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "The Vision also provides for sustainably managed forests, which are crucial for both locally produced forest products and wildlife species, some in decline, that are dependent upon young forest growth. The Vision strikes the right balance between preservation and sustainable use, between economic benefits for people and the Commonwealth's wildlife; our children and grandchildren will benefit from this vision of responsible forest stewardship."
"Our state forests and parks contribute greatly to the quality of life in Massachusetts and they also help support a $14 billion tourism industry. The Forest Futures Vision recommendations put us on a path to ensuring that these precious resources are something the state can be proud of and will continue to attract visitors from around the country and the world," said George Bachrach, President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "In order to realize the full potential of our parks, however, we need to make sure that DCR has the resources it needs."
"Quality close-to-home outdoor recreation areas are critical the health of local citizens, and the new vision for DCR's forest lands is a positive step toward providing first rate public parks," said Andrew Falender, President of the Appalachian Mountain Club. "We are pleased at the breadth of this vision, which will also protect habitat and ensure that public forests are managed to adapt to an uncertain climate future and contribute to local economies."
"From globally rare pitch pine/scrub oak forests of the Cape to old-growth stands nestled in the Berkshires, the Commonwealth's forests offer invaluable opportunities for habitat protection, recreation, tourism, and a broad range of necessary eco-system services," said Dan Proctor, chairman of the Massachusetts Sierra Club. "DCR's new Forest Vision provides a framework for much-improved stewardship of these natural resources and we look forward to cooperating with the public, the legislature, and the Administration to ensure that the Vision is adequately funded, implemented, and enforced."