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Between the Lines: Not So Clear Cut

Who knows what’s best for our forests?

Comments (5)
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Northampton? Progressive? Chris Matera mocks the idea, at least when it comes to the environment and the city’s stewardship of public lands, including its water supply and the watershed that feeds it.

“How can a ‘progressive,’ relatively wealthy city like Northampton, with widespread sentiment for protecting public forests and a desire to do something about global warming, force its citizens to subsidize cutting down its own important public forests while expecting poor third world countries to protect their forests… ?” Matera writes in a recent screed (maforests.org) lambasting Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz for allowing logging on water supply land.

When I spoke to Matera, he said, “Northampton is putting out the same boilerplate timber industry propaganda” the state uses to justify commercial cutting at the Quabbin Reservoir. (Beginning on page 9, we’ve published four letters responding to a March 6 guest column by Ellen Moyer calling the Quabbin forestry plan into question.) Matera called the city forestry plan a “sales job” driven by an industry seeking untapped resources on state land. While he didn’t criticize the city’s hired forester specifically, he said all foresters have a bias: “A forester is not out there to protect the forest; he’s there to produce timber.”

Matera, a key activist in the fight against biomass power in the state, points to scholarly abstracts and public comments from leading forest scientists such as David Foster at Harvard Forest in Petersham and Harvard’s Eric Chivian to support his own contention that public forests ought to be left alone. Chivian publicly objected to the state’s forestry plan for Quabbin and other watersheds, arguing that it failed to show selective cutting won’t cause more harm than good. Matera quotes Foster making a similar point: “In many situations… the best management approach is to do nothing.”

Matera’s stark and combative approach may draw attention, but are his claims credible?

Mayor Narkewicz told me that Matera has pressed a publicity campaign “heavy on hyperbole” without giving the city a chance to discuss and defend its plan. “I think Chris cares more about press releases than dialogue,” Narkewicz said.

Nevertheless the mayor said he will respond to Matera’s “misinformation” by putting out more details to the public, including a presentation to the City Council this Thursday, March 20. The mayor said Matera’s tactic of showing photos of small areas of logging surrounded by vast forest was “highly misleading.”

When I spoke to David Foster, the highly regarded forestry expert said he hadn’t reviewed Northampton’s plan. “I don’t know the issues on the ground,” he said. He was, however, very familiar with the licensed forester who developed the Northampton plan, South Deerfield’s Michael Mauri. “He does some work for us at Harvard Forest,” Foster said. “Mike has a good reputation and he’s a thoughtful guy. In general, I have a lot of respect for Mike.”

I asked Foster about Matera’s use of his quote about leaving the forest alone rather doing something to it.

“Chris could just as easily have quoted from another paper I wrote called ‘The Illusion of Preservation,’ which says there’s a powerful environmental argument to be made for harvesting of local resources,” he said. “While there are powerful arguments for leaving them alone, there are also strong arguments to be made for managing forests. What I like to see is a well-formed plan that can be discussed and defended.”•

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This was bit of a hatchet job Tom. People expect better from you.

How you could report this quote below from the mayor without pointing out that we asked for and were denied a meeting with the mayor at least four times?

Mayor Narkewicz told me that Matera has pressed a publicity campaign “heavy on hyperbole” without giving the city a chance to discuss and defend its plan. “I think Chris cares more about press releases than dialogue,” Narkewicz said.

How could you not mention that the city has banned the public from even walking in their forest to see for themselves what their tax dollars subsidizing commercial logging is doing to their lands?

Regarding David Foster, what can I say, all I did was quote his own words and report that says logging is worse than leaving forests alone and recommending leaving drinking water protection forests alone.

David Foster even tried to get the state to stop logging the Quabbin, where he gets his water, but is fine with Northampton cutting its drinking water forests?

His running from his own words may have something to do with concerns about slowing down the increased logging train. This is a recent quote from him:

"As we at the Harvard Forest are putting together our facilities budget and NSF research proposal for Long Term Ecological Research we are working with USFS, EOEA, Harvard University and many others to develop plans for a biomass plant that will heat the majority of our buildings with wood harvested from our land as part of our long-term management activity. The intent is to undertake a complete assessment of the carbon dynamics, energy use, transportation and environmental consequences of what will become a sustained effort to increase our use of local resources."

Local resources, is forests. There is a large effort to log more forests in MA, and Harvard Forest is much behind that.

Too bad David Foster did not have the integrity to point out loud and clear that his own study demonstrated that that logging does not help the water quality, which is what this debate is all about.

Posted by Chris Matera on 3.19.14 at 17:14

"While he didn’t criticize the city’s hired forester specifically, he said all foresters have a bias: 'A forester is not out there to protect the forest; he’s there to produce timber.'”

Yes, foresters do produce timber- that's part of the job- but the job includes doing it with minimal if any damage to the forest. They produce timber because people like wood. As for Foster's study suggesting that logging does not help the water quality- I don't think he has done any research showing it hurts the water either. So if as Chris says, that this "is what the debate is all about", not about the public enjoying mature, uncut forests, then we need to see evidence from the critics that there is damage to the water!

Posted by Joseph Zorzin on 3.21.14 at 5:21

And, as for "boilerplate timber industry propaganda"- every single industry, business, profession, trade union, government agency, NGOs and religeous organization has their own propaganda. That doesn't mean they're all bad- only they're trying to present themselves as well as possible, often ignoring or denying their darker sides. So, the critique of propaganda doesn't say much. I've been a forester for 40 years and I'm one of the biggest critics of timber industry and forestry profession propaganda because I believe such propaganda isn't necessary to justify high quality forest management. Much of what passes for forestry is indeed poor quality work but what we need to do is focus on improving forest management, not stopping it. It's a fair consideration for some people to propose no forestry management on certain public lands but if the officials, through a public process such as the state's "forest vision" effort of a few years ago, concludes that forest harvesting on some public lands should continue, the critics ought to find another battle to fight, such as stopping the far more destructive solar and wind farms which the forestry critics ignore, that being their dark and naive side.

Posted by Joseph Zorzin on 3.21.14 at 10:24

Another angry, off-putting comment from Chris Matera. If he has a point, it's hard to know what it is. His rage cloud obscures everything. I can't take the man seriously because of his lack of respect for others.

Posted by valley citizen on 3.24.14 at 6:24

Anonymous Valley Citizen...

If you are not angry, you are not paying attention...or rather, maybe benefitting from the injustice?

Posted by Chris Matera on 3.24.14 at 8:05
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