WARWICK — Selectboard members signed a letter to Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, expressing concern with how House Bill 897 (H.897), An Act Relative to Forest Protection, would affect the rural town and climate management.
If passed, the bill would classify all 650,000 acres of state-owned conservation land as “parks” or “reserves,” based on designations currently used by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Selectboard Vice Chair Jim Erviti and Selectboard Clerk Todd Dexter signed the letter. Selectboard Chair Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne did not sign the letter as he was absent from the Nov. 25 meeting. The letter was sent Nov. 26.
“We oppose efforts to stop logging and forest management in general on state-owned Department of Conservation and Recreation lands,” the letter reads. “Half of Warwick is state-owned.”
According to the Warwick Selectboard’s letter, modern forest management, including creation of open patches, increases the forest’s rate of growth by a factor of over four-fold compared to having no management. The forest growth helps capture carbon and when forest products become used lumber, the carbon is not released. Rotting wood releases the same amount of carbon as burning wood, but burning wood releases the carbon at a faster rate.
“This proposal is very suburban in its view and, as such, is out of step with our community, our region and its history,” reads the letter.
The Warwick Selectboard say the forests are an important part of the local economy and should remain so. The town used to be home to many residents who made their living working in the woods, or related mills over the past 100 years. Today, the logging roads provide recreational opportunities for hiking, biking, birdwatching and skiing, as well as forest and brush firefighting.
The state undertook a process of zone classification that resulted in forest zoning of public lands a few years ago. The letter says, at that time, six Warwick committees unanimously recommended the Department of Conservation and Recreation change the proposed designation, so that the town’s most productive forests in the northern half of town would be managed. The state agreed.
According to the letter, the state came into possession of land surrounding Warwick early in the prior century after “absentee landlords stopped paying taxes after taking a thorough harvest of everything merchantable, leaving the town with increasing forest fire danger.” The town petitioned for the state to acquire the land at this time. Subsequently, towns like Warwick received a payment in lieu of taxes that were competitive with those received from private forest landowners in the Chapter 61 program.
The Selectboard said it does not support the idea the ban “provides a laboratory to study what happens when we do nothing.” Instead, the letter says the Selectboard proposes Warwick take over state forest management in the town and return a part of the proceeds to the state. Additionally, Warwick’s hazard mitigation plan is soon to expire, and the town is in the process of beginning a municipal vulnerability study.
The letter concludes, stating “in the interest of public safety, aesthetics, economic development, science and in support of creature comforts like phones and working electric utilities, we respectfully ask that you consider out strongly held views.”
Zack DeLuca can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.