Our Opinion: Logging in a time of climate crisis

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"I can't believe we can't find a way forward," state Sen. Jo Comerford said following a tense hearing on a bill that would essentially ban commercial logging on state land. Surely, a way forward can be found but it will be a challenge; both sides are passionate and believe their arguments are environmentally sound.

The Northampton Democrat is co-sponsor of "Act Relative to Forest Protection," which would classify all state land as parks or reserve and commercial logging would be virtually eliminated ("At forest bill hearing, passionate timbres resonate," Sept. 26). Berkshire County contains thousands of acres of state forest, and opponents claim that the ban would hurt towns that raise revenue through logging and argue that their practices don't hurt the environment, as the bill's proponents maintain. (See also: "Inside the debate over timber-cutting on one state forest tract in Northern Berkshire, Eagle, Sept. 22.)

Both sides were in Boston on Tuesday for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, which is co-chaired by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat. Proponents point out that trees draw in and hold carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, and must be preserved to do their job.

Susan Masino of Peru, a Trinity College professor who attended the hearing, and William Moomaw of Williamstown, an internationally recognized climate scientist, wrote a paper recently asserting that "mature forests trap more carbon than younger ones — and are thus a crucial tool to fight global warming." At a Berkshire Eagle Conversation Series event in July, climate scientist Kim Cobb, a Pittsfield native now based in Georgia, recommended that people support legislation promoting forestation, adding that the last thing communities should be doing is removing trees.

Opponents like the Massachusetts Forest Alliance argued Tuesday that logging is already restricted and regulated on state lands and loggers engage in practices that protect the forests they make a living from. "We feel we're choosing the right balance," said Christopher Egan, the executive director of the Forest Alliance.

Drawing overwrought analogies between the destructive fires in the Amazon and logging in Wendell State Forest, as did one environmental activist Tuesday, does not contribute to finding that balance. The former is a global climate tragedy, the latter is an issue to be debated.

Based on her research, the state is losing money on its logging operations, Susan Purser of Becket said Tuesday. Logging is permitted with restrictions and supervision on land owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation which should continue if the state can assure profitability. If the logging business is unprofitable or on the way to becoming so, the debate may simply come to an end. This may be the way forward on the issue of logging on state land.

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