Review of forest cutting plans
MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) reviews timber harvesting projects when treatment areas coincide with Estimated Habitat and/or Priority Habitat. The review determines whether the proposed activities will result in harm to state-listed rare species or their habitats, termed a Take under the MESA. Forestry projects are exempt from the standard MESA project-filing requirements, provided they have an approved Forest Cutting Plan as required under the Forest Cutting Practices Act (M.G.L. c. 132 sec. 40-46) and its implementing regulations (304 CMR 11.00).
Forest Cutting Plans are submitted to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for review and approval. If the forestry project is within Priority Habitat, DCR staff forward the Forest Cutting Plan to NHESP for review. Staff then review the plan to determine whether the proposed activities will result in a Take of state-listed rare species.
If the project site is only in Priority Habitat, there is a 10-day deadline to issue a determination to the DCR. If the project is within both Priority Habitat and Estimated Habitat, the deadline is 15 business days.
The determination letter is then sent to the DCR Service Forester indicating whether any modifications are necessary to avoid potential harm to rare species or their habitats. The Service Forester then modifies the plan to incorporate the NHESP’ recommendations before final plan approval.
Streamlining the MESA review process
In collaboration with the DCR, the University of Massachusetts Extension Service, and the our own Forestry Program, MassWildlife’s NHESP developed specific guidelines for working in habitats of state-listed rare species which most frequently present potential challenges for forestry activities. The guidelines, called Forestry Conservation Management Practices (CMPs), provide guidance for developing and executing a Forest Cutting Plan that will reduce or eliminate harm to the state-listed rare species and their habitats.
Specifically, Forestry CMPs:
- identify and describe potential impacts of forest harvesting to state-listed species
- provide specific guidelines to avoid or minimize impacts, whether direct (e.g., physical injury or death of individual animals) or indirect (e.g., alteration of habitat in a way that reduces overall reproductive success of a local population)
- are based on scientific knowledge of the habitat requirements, reproductive strategy, dispersal ability, survivorship, and other ecological factors that influence population dynamics of the species
- aim to maintain adequate opportunity for sustainable management of timber products in Massachusetts
CMPs benefit both state-listed species and forest management by:
- improving the predictability and consistency of review of Forest Cutting Plans by NHESP
- providing detailed guidance to landowners and foresters for developing Forest Cutting Plans that have high probability of being approved by NHESP without modification
Rare plants in the forest
Rare plants can represent both a unique challenge and a potential conservation opportunity. For some plants, timber harvest activities can have positive impacts, but in others, the plants must be avoided in order to reduce potential harm. Most plants can be identified only at certain times of the year. Depending on when the Forest Cutting Plan is submitted, this has potential to cause delays in the harvest timeline. Submitting a plan well in advance of the proposed start date can mitigate much of this delay. Use the Information Request Form below to start the process. Additionally, we have developed guidance for projects which occur in rare plant habitat. Please review the Rare Plant Guidance document for details.
Forest Cutting Plan information request form
you are interested in forest management and would like to know what rare species are present on the subject property, submit a Forestry Information Request Form.
If you would like us to write a letter of potential impacts to rare species, please be sure to include the supporting documentation (see form for details) with the form and filing fee.
Request a pre-filing consultation
For large projects (multi-year, have a long-term goal with known future activities, include multiple types of management, etc.), contact NHESP early in the planning stage to discuss potential MESA-related considerations. Pre-filing consultations are free, save applicants time and expense, and ensure a more efficient review process by the DCR and NHESP. Such consultation can be especially beneficial in the design of Chapter 61 Forest Management Plans and Forest Stewardship Plans. Pre-filing consultations allow foresters to design stand prescriptions and associated rotations with rare species in mind, helping to avoid having to mark timber twice (in case changes are required) and to plan around any timing restrictions that may be required to protect plant or animal species. To request a pre-filing consultation before formally filing a plan with the DCR, please submit the following (via e-mail) to Rebekah Zimmerer, Endangered Species Review Biologist, at Rebekah.Zimmerer@mass.gov:
- locus map with project property boundaries clearly identified
- preliminary stand map
- a brief description of what you would like to do and when you would ideally like to start
Within 2 weeks of receiving this information, a Review Biologist will contact you to discuss your plans and provide additional information and comments. This can but does not necessarily need to be done in conjunction with the Forestry Information Request Form referenced above.