Monday, April 26, 2010

Forests for the trees

We humans are curious creatures. We crave fresh fruits and vegetables while at the same time make it increasingly difficult for local farmers to survive. We're addicted to our cell phones and iPods but don't want wind turbines spoiling our view. We take pride in our beautiful homes with their hardwood floors and lovely furniture, but we don't want to cut down trees from our forests.

We've got to figure out the right strategies for achieving sustainability and work hard to put them in place. There's a need for some serious yen-yang-inspired comprehensive design science here. (GW)

For loggers, a way of life teeters

Distressed industry hit hard by new rules on Mass. forests

By Sarah Schweitzer
Boston Globe
April 26, 2010

All his working life, Richard Hawley Jr. has marched into the forests at sunrise, hauling the equipment and the measure of stamina required to extract the stuff of his livelihood: logs of pine and ash, oak and maple.

“Some people go to a desk job and work and work, then they go get in a wood pile when they get home and get their frustration out,’’ said Hawley, a resident of Otis in Western Massachusetts whose father and grandfather before him were also loggers. “Me, I get paid to work in the woods.’’

Hawley is among the ranks of the state’s little-known forestry industry, a sector that has come into the spotlight with a state decision to more than quadruple the forested state land that is off-limits to commercial logging. Today, about 40,000 acres, or 13 percent of the forests and parks managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, are off-limits to logging. Under the new plan, logging will be banned on at least 185,000 acres, or 60 percent of the lands.

The decision is designed to tamp down the long-simmering controversy between logging and preservation interests, which have increasingly clashed. The new policy has been met with criticism from loggers and forestry workers, many of them located in Western Massachusetts.

Despite being the eighth most-forested state in the nation, Massachusetts is a somewhat minor player in the forest products industry. Its output of forestry products ranks 27th in the nation. The 16,800 residents employed in the industry ranks 28th among states, according to 2006 figures from the American Forest & Paper Association.

Loggers are slowly disappearing, from 586 in 2001 to 521 today, according to the DCR. The 100 sawmills in the state in 1987 has dwindled to 33, said David Kittredge, a professor of forestry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The state produces just 3 percent of what it consumes in wood products, according to Kittredge — a figure that makes Jim Kelly, a forestry consultant, skeptical of the new regulations.

“The human demand for wood products has not changed. People still use toilet paper. Everyone likes wood molding. If we are not cutting wood on a sustainable basis in Massachusetts, we will have to truck it in,’’ Kelly said.

He said that the needs of forests should be the first consideration when the state decides whether to thin, clear, or leave alone land it owns.

“Not cutting does not equal forest protection,’’ said Kelly, who is president of the Massachusetts Association of Professional Foresters.

Richard Sullivan, the DCR commissioner, responded, “We recognize the importance of sustainable wood products but at the same time, society places a very high value on open spaces, recreation, and property that’s held in reserves.’’

Unlike in Western states, only a small fraction of forested land in the state — just 38,000 acres, or 1 percent — is owned by the federal government, which permits some logging on its lands. About 70 percent of forests are controlled by individuals, mostly in small parcels, said Kittredge.

That means loggers and foresters tend to work on relatively small projects and are constantly scouting new ones.

Tom Anderson, a forester who lives in Granville, said he spends parts of his days calling individual landowners and inquiring about their interest in selling timber or having their forested land thinned of trees.

“Sometimes a landowner wants as much money as possible, cutting everything that is worth anything. Not leaving anything to grow. Lots of times I have been able to talk them out of cutting everything. So we can usually talk them into doing work where we’re leaving behind good-quality trees,’’ said Anderson, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Maine.

Once an owner agrees, Anderson marks the boundaries of the property and subcontracts with loggers to do the work. He checks on the loggers from time to time, as he did last week when he had three projects going, two in Connecticut and one in Pittsfield.

Loggers prefer large projects to small ones because of the expense of starting and stopping jobs; getting equipment to and from a work site can cost as much as $1,000.

Tom King, 61, of Hubbardston, has made his living harvesting DCR lands. But with the slowdown of logging on state lands, he and his son, who works for him, have been out of work for seven weeks. “It’s the first time we’ve been shut down,’’ said King, who has been working state lands for 25 years. “It’s basically a bunch of antilogging forestry people who want no cutting at all.’’

He is struggling now: two pieces of machinery worth $900,000 require a $10,000-a-month bank payment. Health insurance costs are high, as is workers’ compensation, for a job that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ranks as one of the most dangerous in the country.

“Governor [Deval] Patrick is selling us down the drain,’’ King said. “He’s promoting things that will create jobs. Well, this won’t.’’

Sullivan said that being from Western Massachusetts makes it possible for him to understand the role that sustainable wood products play in the economy.

“But the DCR properties are a very small part of the overall land that’s available for harvesting,’’ he said


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