Fighting for forests
In February, DCR will host five forums, including two in the Berkshires, to discuss recommendations for the stewardship and management of forest lands within the state park system. The public can give its input before the plan is finalized.
"I do expect that it's going to be a pretty open and wide-ranging discussion with the public," said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr.
Locally, DCR's forestry practices have come under fire by environmental advocates. In particular, DCR had been criticized in recent years for poor oversight, vague contracts and allowing destructive machinery that led to clear-cutting a tract in the Savoy State Forest.
The first Berkshires-based forum will be Saturday, Feb. 6, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the North Adams Public Library. The second will be held later that day from 2 to 4 p.m. at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield.
An advisory group of stakeholders and a technical steering committee, made up of 20 forestry experts, have been looking into ways to find an appropriate balance of recreation, tourism, aesthetics, renewable forest products, habitat diversity and landscape ecology.
And though the draft recommendations won't be made public until late January, Sullivan said "significant change" will come from the proposals.
"I expect that there will be recommendations that will have us looking very differently at our forests -- and the future of our forests -- than we have in the past," said Sullivan.
Sullivan said DCR acknowledges past mistakes, and these forums will be a step to foster better management of the land.
"As a department we have held ourselves out to criticism, and some of it is justified," said Sullivan. "We have also asked people to -- while it's fine to come in and be critical -- we've also asked for their suggestions and inputs on how we can be the best stewards to the forests going forward."
And with growing interest in state forests for environmental, economical and social reasons, the changes also mean striking the proper balance of uses of state land.
"There is a lot of passion around that, including the people that make their living from forest products," said Sullivan. "It is a very passionate citizenry, and I do think that the passion for the forests over the last couple of years has really come to the forefront and will help shape forestry practices going forward."
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