Patrick-Murray Administration Marks Earth Day with Continued Commitment to Land Protection, Sets 500,000-acre Forest Conservation Goal
BOSTON - April 22, 2011 - In celebration of Earth Day and reflecting the Patrick-Murray Administration's precedent-setting commitment to land conservation, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. today announced a 500,000-acre goal for two programs designed to "keep forests as forests."
To meet this forest conservation goal over the next four years, the Administration will work with private woodland owners and professional foresters to augment approximately 420,000 acres of forest already protected from development. Land owners who place their properties under professional forest management plans and enter into long-term commitments to keep their land forested receive property tax incentives.
During the past four years, Governor Deval Patrick has led an unprecedented land conservation effort, resulting in the permanent protection of 75,000 acres of land - 84 percent of which is forested. Partnerships with private and community organizations have also been instrumental in safeguarding the Commonwealth's most undisturbed large forest landscapes - 14,000 acres in ten premier forest habitat reserves.
"There are over two million acres of private forest lands in Massachusetts. On this 41st anniversary of Earth Day, it's important to remember how fortunate we are to have such a rich natural landscape and to renew our commitment to conserve and protect it by supporting private working forestland owners and communities," said Secretary Sullivan.
The two state programs crucial to the Administration's new 500,000-acre goal are the Massachusetts Forest Tax Law Program (Chapter 61) and the Forest Stewardship Program.
The Forest Stewardship Program provides state funding to professional foresters to develop ten-year forest stewardship plans for private forest landowners. Owners commit to keeping their land in forests and implementing the practices called for in the plans for the ten-year period. In addition, the plans qualify owners for additional funding and assistance to implement wildlife, trail and forest product improvements on their forests.
The Massachusetts Forest Tax Law provides property tax incentives to land owners of ten or more contiguous acres of forest land who maintain their property as working forests for the purposes of long-term, sustainable timber production. Properties are taxed only for the value the land has for forestry, not for the land's development potential - resulting in significant property tax savings.
"The forests across Massachusetts are a huge and important part of the beauty and vitality of this Commonwealth," said Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Commissioner Edward M. Lambert Jr. "The Governor's efforts to preserve our forest lands are laudable."
Jay Szaro, a Westport resident, will celebrate the centennial anniversary of his family's farm this summer. Under these forestry programs, Szaro said that his family has a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment that the farm's forest area will be sustained for all family members to use and enjoy.
"It will be easier to see the entire resources available on our farm as we look at the various trees and determine what areas should be preserved and protected, what can be harvested for wood products and what areas of the property can be returned to field status for active farming," Szaro said.
Several of the environmental and economic benefits of forest management plans include:
- Protecting working forests protects some of the most valuable wildlife habitat and water supply lands in the state.
- By removing low-value trees and leaving high quality high-value trees, landowners can multiply the monetary value of their forest over the next 30 to 40 years.
- By increasing the supply of forest products from private forests in harvests done to the highest level of forest management, more foresters and harvesters are employed.
- By working with a professional forester and gaining periodic income from forest management, landowners recognize the economic and environmental benefits of the long-term conservation of the land.
Over the past two years, enrollment in the Forest Stewardship Program has increased by 23 percent and enrollment in Chapter 61 by 15 percent.