Hardwood forest in Massachusetts
Reserves allow people to experience and to understand how forest ecosystems function when timber and other wood products that are normally extracted for human use remain in place. While it is important to have the great majority of forestland open to the sustainable harvest of wood products in order to support human society, it is equally important to retain portions of our forested landscapes in a condition where all components of the ecosystem remain in place. Forest reserves allow us to more fully assess human impacts on harvested sites, and may provide insights into how extractive management of harvested forestlands can be improved.

Most private forest landowners can ill-afford to forgo harvesting of large sawtimber and to allow sawtimber trees to be blown down and remain in the forest. Revenues generated from harvesting on private lands also make it economically viable to retain private forestland in forest use. State-owned forestlands are generally able to provide more accumulation of large woody debris than private lands, but in order to meet a range of existing goals, the sustainable harvest and commercial sale of renewable wood products is appropriate on most state lands. At the same time, it is also appropriate to establish reserves on state lands that will provide unique environments where all woody biomass remains on site.

Reserves will likely support substantially higher densities of certain species of moss and lichens that typically occur only on older trees (Selva 1996). Feather flat moss (Neckara pennata), lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), and shaggy fringe lichen (Anaptychia palmulata) are examples of species that do not typically occur on harvested sites in Massachusetts. Some beetle species which occupy the forest-floor appear to be more abundant in old-growth than in managed forests (Flatebo et al. 1999). Certain forest songbirds (e.g., Blackburnian warbler, Magnolia warbler, and Solitary vireo) occur at substantially higher densities in forest reserves than in harvested forestlands (Haney and Schaadt 1996). Forest reserves provide potential refugia for unique species assemblages, and may provide habitat for invertebrate wildlife and soil micro-organisms that have not been well studied to date. Reserves will provide unique recreational, aesthetic, and educational opportunities for the people of Massachusetts.

Forest reserves provide reference sites for objective assessment of the sustainability of forest management practices (Norton 1999), and are essential for practicing adaptive resource management (Walters and Holling 1990). Reserves create opportunities for connectivity within the landscape, conservation of species and processes, buffering against future uncertainty, and other hard to measure but valuable functions (Hunter 1996). While no forestland in Massachusetts is free of human impact from ubiquitous influences such as air pollution and invasive, exotic organisms introduced by people, forest reserves can still help ensure that representative examples of biodiversity indigenous to an area are more likely to be conserved since wood fiber is not extracted and invasive plant species are less likely to be introduced in reserves.

Natural disturbance processes will, to a large degree, determine the structure and composition of the forest ecosystem in reserves. Reserves will provide valuable late-seral forest habitat for wildlife that may ultimately support species assemblages and abundances that do not occur on the sustainably harvested sites. Long term ecological monitoring (LTEM) is planned on reserve sites to document the composition of plant and animal communities over time. EEA has contracted with researchers at the University of Massachusetts Department of Natural Resource Conservation to design and implement comprehensive LTEM in reserves. The results of LTEM may eventually aid in refining management practices on harvested sites to enhance conservation of biodiversity across all forestlands.

Reserves can be used to conserve small, isolated resources (e.g., rare species habitats or sites with fragile soils), and to establish extensive areas that represent the diversity of forest ecosystems that occur in Massachusetts. A combination of small (patch) reserves and large (matrix) reserves will be created on state lands to insure that all elements of biodiversity are represented across Massachusetts' forestlands.

Reserves will be imbedded within the extensive, working forest landscapes of Massachusetts, where the great majority of land is open to commercial harvesting of renewable wood products. Together, sustainably harvested sites and reserves will provide a range of ecological and recreational opportunities on state-owned forest lands.

This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Policy, Land and Forest