There is a plan to have twenty one towns in Franklin and Berkshire Counties, Massachusetts designated as a national forest. A group of people have been meeting and have come up with a draft proposal. Are the best interests of taxpayers, our environment, the public's health, and our towns being represented and best served by this proposal?
We have provided a copy of the draft proposal, as well as questions, comments and studies from experts and interested citizens who did not participate in the proposal. We believe that having more than one point of view will be valuable to citizens and policy makers who will decide whether or not this is the right plan for us.
The centerpiece of this proposal includes a wood pellet manufacturer in the region, and burning wood pellets in every school. "Protecting" and "conserving" land in the proposal, in large part really means harvesting and burning wood pellets. Is this where tens of millions of dollars of the public's money should be going?
The Law to Enact the Partnership is currently in the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The Committee is considering the Bill and may change the Bill's language. If you have concerns about this project, please contact the Committee.
Chair Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 617-722-2210 fax: 617-722-2238
Sen. Anne M. Gobi , email@example.com
Phone: 617-722-1540 Fax: 617-722-1078
Sponsors of the Bill
Rep. Stephen Kulik Stephen.Kulik@mahouse.gov
Phone:617-722-2380 Fax: 617-722-2847
Rep. Paul Mark Paul.Mark@mahouse.gov
Phone: 617-722-2304 Fax: 617-626-0249
Senator Adam Hinds firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (617) 722-1625 Fax: (617) 722-1523
Also local Senator Stan Rosenberg Stan.Rosenberg@masenate.gov
Phone: 617-722-1532 Fax: 617-722-107
PLEASE GO TO " GOALS OF THE BILL ARE NOT ACHIEVABLE" for a reality check
Recorder, The (Greenfield, MA)
January 15, 2015
After working for more than a year with woodlot owners around Franklin County and finding a need for help building
up forest health, the regional government will join 11 other organizations in a conservation project to help region’s economy — one that could even lead eventually to a wood pellet factory to help
schools and municipal buildings convert to locally produced wood heat, federal, state and regional officials announced Thursday. As its match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $638,000 Mohawk Trail Woodlands Sustainable Forestry and Energy Partnership project, providing technical
assistance to enhance habitat for at-risk bird and other species, deal with invasive plants, and increase carbon pollution sequestration, the state Department of Energy Resources is funding a
$750,000 study to examine the sustainable supply and need for a wood-pellet factory to supply heat for schools, town buildings, and potentially businesses.
“This is a tremendous way to get started,” said the state’s new Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton in his first public appearance since taking office this week. “There’s so much opportunity out here to build not only on our forest stewardship ... but also the economic opportunity that comes with this, that’s just tremendous.”
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the three-year effort will bring together the state Conservation and Recreation, Fisheries and Wildlife, Energy Resources departments together with the Mass. Forest Alliance, Mass. Woodlands Institute, Mass Audubon, Franklin Land Trust, the COG, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Mount Holyoke College and the National Resource Conservation Service. That will add another $922,000 in contributions as well as making it easier for farmers and other forest owners to access conservation programs and creating a model to demonstrate how sustainably managed forests can enhance carbon sequestration to combat climate change.
Involved would be Audubon’s program to enlist 140 landowners in implementing practices to increase habitat for ruffed grouse, white-throated sparrow, wood thrush and other bird species in decline.
The project area incudes 20 towns in Franklin County — stretching westward from Leyden, Shelburne and Conway, as well as northern Berkshire County, plus eight additional Hampshire and Berkshire hilltowns that hold priority habitat for at-risk species. It is 84 percent forested, with 34,000 acres on over 300 upland and valley farms that are mostly forested. About 24 percent of the region is conserved, with 12,000 acres of agricultural easements and 90,000 acres of protected forests.
The need for the partnership, one of the first roughly 110 funded under a new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program for which there were 600 applications, grew out of discussions with private woodland owners in the 20-town area on getting federal protection to conserve forest land. Owners described a need for a streamlined process for getting technical assistance as well as for forest-based economic development in the region, according to Franklin Regional Planning Director Margaret Sloan.
That effort, which began looking at a new form of privately owned, national forest designation, is continuing with $149,000 in state funding and an advisory committee that plans to make recommendations to the 20 towns on how to proceed.
Meanwhile, as part of the state’s match for the federal program, the Department of Energy Resources is studying what are the available low-grade wood resources in the designated region that could be sustainably harvested, what would be the market potential for schools and municipal buildings to burn that wood and what would be the air quality implications, according to Robert Rizzo, DOER’s renewable-thermal program manager.
“We also want to get an idea of what’s been harvested over the past 10 years,” said Rizzo, adding that lands under the state’s Chapter 61 reduced tax program would be the main focus. “We’re really interested in what we can sustainably remove from the forest to improve it for many of its functions, from timber to wildlife and water quality. We also want to look at what does that mean as far as the forest’s ability to sequester carbon,” blamed for climate change.
Using a successful Vermont “Fuels for Schools” program as a model, DOER would then study the economic viability of developing a wood-pellet plant and a program to help schools and other town buildings convert from their oil- and propane-burning furnaces to wood pellets from a new factory that could be developed under a number of different ownership models and conceivably supply businesses and homes as well.
The state’s pelletization study could probably be completed within a couple of years, Rizzo said, and could provide for “community scale economic development potential.”
Increasing the economic viability for landowners to keep the land forested and using practices that also enhance water quality, watershed and habitat protection was an overall theme of many praising the new federal-state-regional partnership Thursday.
“Foresters keep telling us there’s a lot of low-grade wood, and that there’s a market for that,” said Sloan, speaking before the announcement at the John W. Olver Center in Greenfield. “Vermont has had a very active program, and on average it’s saved 48 to 50 percent of schools’ heating costs. That could be significant help to school budgets in West County.”
The 20-town region contains the most significant concentration of high-value forest for climate resilience in Massachusetts, as mapped by The Nature Conservancy.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said “This project is so exciting. It’s really heartening that a program of the federal government fits so well with what’s gone on here for decades.”
Jonathan Healy, a Charlemont tree farmer who also was a state agricultural commissioner and USDA Rural Development regional administrator, said the need for resource-based economic development in the region is real.
“If you go a mile or two on Route 91 and you watch the number of log trucks that go north every day, thousands of dollars worth of logs, thousands of jobs to Canada, China, and the state’s approach, from my perspective, has been a little bifurcated,” Healy told the new energy and environmental affairs secretary. As landowners and the largest tree farm that’s privately owned in Massachusetts, we love birds, we love wildlife conservation, we love water conservation, but the bottom line sometimes comes down to whether we can afford to keep going in terms of our operation and sell the land for other purposes. I’m hoping that you, and the legislators and others can take a look at this lost opportunity for real, good rural economic development and help us focus on how we can create more jobs out here. ... Hopefully this partnership will help in that area.”
You can reach Richie Davis at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269
Copyright, 2015, The Recorder, Greenfield, MA