“Currently there is no environmental ethic focused on meeting wood needs locally and little criticism of consumption behavior. Instead, an anti-logging ethic reigns and degradation of the global environment ensues. A new environmental effort is needed to expose this illusion of preservation.”
- From The Illusion of Preservation: A Global Environmental Argument for the Local Production of Natural Resources

In March 2009, under pressure from anti-logging groups, the state of Massachusetts placed a moratorium on management activities on 311,000 acres of public forestland, then set to work crafting a long-term management plan that would placate the interest groups. The results just came in: 60.7 percent of the state forestland in question is now considered “parkland” or “reserve,” where commercial timber harvesting is forbidden. Forty percent will be managed as “woodlands,” allowing selective tree harvesting that creates minimal openings, with an exemption for patch cuts up to five acres in size (in certain cases after “careful consultation and review”).

As might be expected, not everyone was happy with the way the Department of Conservation and Recreation split the baby. Many in the forest products industry feel that years of good forest management have now been wasted and jobs are sure to be lost; some on the anti-logging side feel that any logging is too much, that state land should be for growing hiking trails, not sawtimber.   

Missing in most analyses of this decision is any sense of the larger environmental picture beyond the specific fate of the parcels in question. So let’s look at some numbers – some food for thought in the style of Harper’s Index. We hope these statistics will encourage discussion of the role of land stewardship in Massachusetts, and help to connect local resource use to the global environmental picture.

Below, you can access the sources to each statistic by clicking on the number, which will link directly to the stat’s online source. Find a full list of the source websites following the index below.

Number of forested acres in Massachusetts: 3,015,000
Percent deemed suitable for timber production: 93
Ratio of annual growth to harvest: 12.7 to 1
Percentage of total forestland in public holdings: 34
Percentage of annual growth harvested pre-moratorium: 17
Percentage of forestland in private ownership: 66
Mean size, in acres, of private forest holdings in Massachusetts: 7
Conventional wisdom in forestry circles on minimum acreage needed for serious forest management: 25
Percentage of landowners who identified firewood as an important reason for owning forestland in a 2008 survey: 2 
Percentage who identified timber harvesting on their land as important: 1
Individual town bylaws that regulate timber harvesting beyond state requirements: >35
Number of sawmills in Massachusetts in 1996: 96
Number of sawmills in Massachusetts in 2010: 15
Percentage of wood used in Massachusetts that’s grown in Massachusetts: 2
Percentage of energy generated by fossil fuels and nuclear: 80
Percentage of energy generated by wood: 1
Gallons of heating oil used per year in Massachusetts: 818,841,000
Percentage of every dollar spent on heating oil that does not stay in regional economy: 78
Money exported from regional economy when heating oil’s at $4.50/gal: $2,874,131,910
Acres of timberland converted to non-forest uses annually: 20,000

Sources for the statistics above include:

The Illusion of Preservation: A Global Environmental Argument for the Local Production of Natural Resources by Berlik, Kittredge, and Foster

Northern Woodlands’ The Place You Call Home: A Guide to Caring for Your Land in the Upper Valley

US Forest Service: Massachusetts’ Forest Resources, 2010

An Assessment of the Forest Resources of Massachusetts by Avril de la Cretaz, et al.

New England Wind Fund

Gulf of Mexico Offshore Oil and the Northeastern United States’ Dependence on Heating and Oil by Dr. William F. Strauss

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Residential Heating Oil Prices: What Consumers Should Know

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation

Massachusetts Directory of Sawmills and Dry Kilns


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