House bill would restrict commercial logging in Massachusetts forests

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PITTSFIELD — Arguments for and against a bill that would restrict logging in Massachusetts state forests will be heard Tuesday in Boston by a panel led by a Berkshire County lawmaker.

The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, co-chaired by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, will take testimony starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday on H. 897, "An Act Relative to Forest Protection." The committee will convene in Hearing Room B-1 in the Statehouse in Boston.

According to its proponents, the bill, filed by state Rep. Susannah M. Whipps, D-Athol, would help address climate change by eliminating the release of carbon through forest cutting that produces wood used for fuels. They argue that the measure would help preserve large blocks of publicly owned land that provide "safe havens for wildlife and humans alike" and work to maintain biological diversity.

The bill is expected to draw opposition from companies that rely on state forests as a source of timber.

Supporters say the bill would end commercial logging on public forestlands that represent 20 percent of the total forest area in the state — and 11 percent of Massachusetts. It would designate 610,000 acres of state forest as parks and reserves.

State Rep. Paul W. Mark, D-Peru, is a co-sponsor, along with 14 other lawmakers, including several from the Pioneer Valley. They include state Sen. Joanne M. Comerford, and state Reps. Natalie M. Blais and Mindy Domb.

Among the bill's supporters is Edward O. Wilson, an emeritus professor at Harvard University and prominent biologist. In a February letter of backing, Wilson said the measure would help biodiversity, writing: "Many decades of research have convinced me and many other conservation scientists that we must save at least half of the Earth from industrial exploitation if we hope to avoid catastrophic plant and animal extinctions."

The measure includes exceptions in the case of public safety and health concerns. For more information on the bill, visit savemassforests.com.

— Larry Parnass

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