State Logging Moratorium Finally Ends

State Logging Moratorium Finally Ends

The moratorium on timber harvesting on state-owned forestland has finally come to an end after 18 months.

The moratorium began as agencies pulled back forest management projects after the November 2022 election, even before the Healey-Driscoll Administration took office. It stayed in place except for a single public safety project in Erving and the completion of projects already awarded in early 2023. It was formally in place during the seven months the Climate Forestry Committee (CFC) worked on its report, and then, while officially lifted in early January, actually continued for five more months until the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) released its response to the CFC Report, which finally happened last Monday after months of promises that it was coming soon.

The response, which the administration is calling a “work plan,” is a 20-page document that can be downloaded by clicking here. The purpose of the response was to state how the Administration would choose to implement the recommendations from the CFC Report. Here’s what’s in the work plan:

  • Better communication/transparency on forest management projects on state lands, including more information about the work being done and its rationale.
  • Expanded data collection and public access to information, including a new online dashboard to explore data on the state’s forests collected through the Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI), whose data collection points will be expanded.
  • A significant increase in permanent forest reserves to 10% of forestland, up from the current 3.5%, by 2030. This will happen on both state and privately-owned forestland. Note that the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farms, and Communities group called for the same 10% goal… by 2060, not 2030.
  • An expansion of the Forest Reserves Science Advisory Committee to include wildlife biologists and others, and an expansion of their oversight to reserves on DWSP and MassWildlife lands.
  • A decision to rely mostly on passive management, with less than 1% of state-owned forestland actively managed each year. While low, this isn’t far from the situation in recent years and doesn’t represent much of a decline.
  • A reduction in salvage logging, which the CFC was fervently opposed to. However, transitioning Depression-era monoculture plantations in poor health to release the native, mixed-species forest regenerating underneath will continue. New guidance for agencies regarding salvage logging are being developed.
  • Addressing invasive pests and diseases with active management will happen more selectively. Many areas will be simply be allowed to die and create more snags and coarse woody debris over time (but public safety will be an important factor). More policies will be developed over the next year to guide treatment decisions.
  • The CFC asked MassWildlife to significantly reduce its plans for early successional forest habitat. We (and others) pointed out that this required MassWildlife to violate the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. The work plan is relatively noncommittal about a reduction, and instead will examine a number of strategies for effectiveness and costs.
  • Some CFC members were dismissive of the Division of Water Supply Protection’s forest management work, but the CFC was split overall. EEA said the science was split as well. Given that the Quabbin has award-winning water quality, DWSP will largely be able to proceed, given their proven results.
  • A revised BMP manual will be released next year.
  • EEA will propose changes to Chapter 132 to strengthen the enforcement ability of service foresters.
  • They are also examining Chapter 61 to decide if a new reserves program should be introduced, or if existing programs (Chapter 61B) are sufficient to encourage reserves. We have pointed out that the vast majority of private forestland is effectively in reserves already without any incentives.

As a result of the work plan, EEA looked at 66 “paused” projects. They determined that 29 could proceed as planned, 18 could proceed with changes that have since been made, 10 would wait for new salvage logging guidelines, and 9 would be cancelled entirely.  Therefore, 47 projects will be going out to bid in the short term.

There are still unanswered questions as a result of the work plan, and many elements that will be worked on over the next year or longer. We will continue to engage with EEA to make sure your voice is heard and your input made into changes going forward.