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'Information vacuum' on state forest plan frustrates Massachusetts loggers

A view through the trees at Skinner State Park in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A view through the trees at Skinner State Park in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

When Maura Healey ran for Massachusetts governor, she called for a moratorium on cutting trees in state forests — and for a plan that takes into account the role forests can play to protect the climate.

During an appearance on WGBH's Boston Public Radio Friday as she approached her 100th day in office, Healey said her administration will form a group soon that will come up with a plan for managing state forests.

"Through my Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, we'll bring together a group, in short order, to sit and listen to experts, to have public discussion and hearings on this, and to come out with a forest management plan that makes sense," Healey said.

Asked for more details about the group the governor mentioned, Healey's office clarified that there was no formal process.

"In the Governor’s comments about public discussions, she was referring to our general and ongoing outreach on this important issue to determine next steps," press secretary Karissa Hand said in an email. 'We do not have additional details to share at this time, but will let you know when we do."

Chris Egan, the executive director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, said his group hasn't received much information from the state. The alliance includes timber harvesters and saw mills.

"We're just operating in an information vacuum. And that's particularly frustrating because that uncertainty is weighing on our members," Egan said. "Their livelihoods, the success of their businesses and so forth. The longer this proceeds, the more those things will be threatened."

Since taking office, an unofficial moratorium on tree cutting has been in place, according to Egan and others in the logging industry.

"The various state agencies that own forest land have have stopped issuing any new bids for forest management work," Egan said.

He said bids that were awarded before Healey took office are going forward.

Egan notes that the Healey administration is not the first to conduct this kind of fact-finding, pointing to detailed information on state websites.

As part of the discussion on Boston Public Radio, Healey responded to a comment from a listener who said habitat management on state lands is critical for biodiversity, especially for species that need the kind of habitat that's created after trees are cut.

"The benefit for for some forestry management would be more significant than what we might get out of it for carbon sequestration," the listener, Chris from Newbury, said.

Healey said forests are really important to help address climate change.

"What they do in terms of us helping to capture carbon and decarbonize our climate is really important. So my view is we should be finding ways to support that," the governor said.

Healey also said preservation of species and biodiversity is important, along with fire mitigation and safety at state campgrounds.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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