FROM THE PROPOSED BILL
The purposes of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership are:
(1) to support and expand sustainable forest management to enhance public benefits, including but not limited to, outdoor recreation opportunities, air and water quality, watershed management, soil conservation, biological diversity, carbon sequestration and storage, fish and wildlife habitat, forest products and forestry related jobs and to increase the resiliency of forests to threats such as fire, ice, wind, insects, disease and invasive pests and plants;
(2) to increase forest land conservation through conservation restrictions that encourage and support sustainable forest management practices and intact forest ecosystems;
3) to support and increase sustainable natural resource based economic development and employment;
(4) to support and provide comprehensive education and visitor information programs to increase public understanding of and appreciation for the ecological, recreational and economic benefits of forests;
5) to support and promote the long term social and fiscal sustainability of the Participating Communities in the area; and
(6) to create a long-term partnership between towns and cities, regional and other organizations with a presence in the region, educational institutions, the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, and the United States Forest Service.
SOME CONSIDERATIONS OF THE PURPOSES IN THE BILL
1) Sustainable Forest Management: There is no agreed upon scientific definiton of "sustainable management". As written in the proposed budget, there would be a total of $150,000 (over five years) for "Forest Management Incentive Grants". This is .5% of the budget of $30 million. It will amount to 50 cents per forested acre dedicated for this goal. The Partnership will otherwise have no authority over how private forests are managed, making this purpose meanlingless. Our Department of Conservation and Recreation could easily perform this function.
2) Increase forest conservation: The plan is to use 10% of the money to put .7% of the areas forested land into conservation restrictions. This would be 2,100 acres, or an average of 100 acres in 21 Towns. Priority would be for land already under Chapter 61 and with a history of active forest management. Committee members have acknowledged that land conservation is not a Partnership priority. Looking at the simple facts, one would have to agree. Forest conservation programs already exist. The Partnership would have close to no effect on land conservation.
3) Support Natural Resource Based Economic Development: The major focus of the Partnership has been to promote jobs creation through a wood pellet facilty. The plant would have provided 15-30 permanant jobs. The bill now prevents the actual funding for this main part of the jobs creation. Otherwise, the Partnership can still promote biomass burning. There is no indication that an increased market for low grade wood leads to any significant number of jobs in the forest industry. There are few if any other plans afoot in the Partnership that would lead to much in the way of jobs except tourism. Increase tourism has and will occur without the Partnership, and the Partnership has little in the way of a plan to directly increase tourism.
4) Education and a Visitor's Center: Educators are not a represented interest in the plan or the bill. Will the public visit a visitor's center displaying local wooden bowls and flooring be worth millions of dollars of public funds? Will the public want to visit a demostration forest where trees are being harvested "sustainably", for which there is no defintion. The state already uses 112,108 acres of our state parks and forests to exemplify "best forest practices" that are open to the public to visit. We already have Visitor Centers staffed by volunteers. There is nothing is the bill about forests for optimizing green house gas sequesting. Ecolological benefits include promoting plans to clearcut forests in the name of wildlife habitat. And harvest for biomass to get rid of "bad" trees. Money would be better spent simply giving the money to the towns.
5) Increase social and fiscal sustainablity: The plan is to give $20,000 annually to each town for Partnership related expenses like emergency services. This is the plan. Do we need legislation for this?
6) Long term Partnership with state agencies and the federal government: This will be ensured, because with no input from the towns, the five member executive committee of the Partnership will be represented by one member of US Forest Service, one member of a regional agency, and one member from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The two other members will represent the towns. Other voting members ensconced in the law and without towns' input are two forest industry groups who sole interest in the bottom line of the forest industry. There are no provisions for voting these outside or special interests off of the partnership board or the executive committee. Who do we want making decisions for our towns?
1) Democracy; There will be a mininum of 11 towns for the Partnership to be created. This compares to 14 permanent interested entities. The town members will be outnumbered. Is this is what the framers of the Partnership mean by a "grassroots effort?"
2) Exit Clause; If a town votes to join the Partnership, there is no way to unjoin.
3) Biomass Pellet Plant has been prohibited; Citizens and environmental groups petitioned for comprehensive language to prevent biomass promotion through the Partnership. The proposed language was : "No funds or resources of the Partnership, including administrative support and other overhead expenses, shall be expended on forest-derived bioenergy including, but not limited to, wood fuel use, harvest, or production; wood energy research and development, promotion or sponsorship; or equipment or installations for woody biomass thermal, electric, or combined heat and power production."
The language now reads: No funding received or expended by the partnership shall be used for the construction or operation of a wood pellet or biomass manufacturing facility.
The Partnership was never going to build a pellet plant. But it did, and still could, promote harvesting for biomass and biomass burning, including in our schools, while meeting this standard in the law. This is not saying "no biomass".
About the US Forest Service; The framers of the Partnership hope to get $24 million from USFS. This will influence public policy for our Massachusetts forests. USFS has a track record of clear cutting our national forests and promoting sending wood pellets from the US, including clear cutting in our Southeastern states, to Europe and calling it carbon neutral. Is this who we want interfering in our land use in Western Massachusetts?