Judge dismisses Wendell State Forest Alliance members’ lawsuit

GREENFIELD – People who sued the state Department of Conservation and Recreation over logging on public lands are frustrated by what they feel is a judicial failure to set precedent after Superior Court Judge Richard Carey dismissed their case.

Twenty-nine members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance were co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit, alleging that several state laws and regulations were broken with the logging of 100-year-old oak trees on an 80-acre stand in Wendell State Forest in the summer of 2019.

In mid-September, plaintiffs and defendants delivered statements pertaining to the state’s motion to dismiss and Carey took it under advisement.

The other defendants are Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Commissioner Leonard Roy; and William Hill, director of the state’s Public Lands/Management Forestry Program.

The logging was completed a year ago.

Co-plaintiff Glen Ayers, a Greenfield resident, said he is disappointed but unsurprised by the dismissal.

“We raised some very significant and substantive issues in our complaint, and none of those issues were resolved,” he said, adding that that is why the judicial system exists.

The co-plaintiffs argued the logging exacerbated the effects of climate change and that a lack of any meaningful due process for citizens to appeal decisions regarding public forests made it unjustly difficult to challenge the work, which alliance members insist was illegal.

Gia Neswald, a co-plaintiff who also lives in Greenfield, said the alliance proved the logging caused personal harm because it escalated climate change, which she said affects everyone on the planet.

“(The dismissal is) obviously very disappointing. We put a lot of energy into this case and … had reason to be both hopeful and less than optimistic, I’ll put it that way,” she said. “Now we know what new turns to take in this path, the path to protecting public forests throughout … Massachusetts.”

Ayers said the dismissal makes it clear taxpayers have no say in how their public land is handled.

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The 29 co-plaintiffs are also defendants awaiting sentencing in an Orange District Court case. The Wendell State Forest Alliance’s protests began in the fall of 2018, when demonstrators held signs along Route 2 protesting the then-proposed logging project. Protesters held rallies at the forest, circulated petitions and sent letters to the governor over the following year.

Once logging began that summer, many protesters tried to physically stop the project by standing in the way of loggers and equipment, and by chaining themselves to trees. This led to more than 30 arrests.

The Wendell State Forest Alliance is not represented by a lawyer, and the group were not seeking any money in the suit. They said they wanted a declaration or recognition that the DCR’s actions were wrong, so a similar project wouldn’t happen in other forests.

Author: Going Green

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