The Working Forest - April 19, 2009 The Working Forest By...

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The Working Forest By ROBERT SULLIVAN Over the winter, David Foster wanted to cut down some trees. His neighbor didn’t want him to. Foster is the director of the Harvard Forest, a 3,500-acre experimental forest in the middle of Massachusetts. When you are the director of an experimental forest, people aren ’t sure you should be cutting down trees. “We’re cutting an acre of forest, nonnative conifers,” he told me calmly on a day in February, while grabbing some snowshoes. A forest ecologist will tell you that if you cut down some woods — not all the woods, but some of them — a new forest will quickly replace them. There’s a joke in Massachusetts that if you forget to cut your lawn, you will have a forest. For an ecologist, tree-cutting can be a stimulus plan that actually works. This cycle of forest succession is an observation that Foster attributes to Henry David Thoreau; when Foster is walking in the forest, something he does a lot, he will spot some young white pine trees, for example, in a freshly cut field and say, “There’s Henry Thoreau for you!” The forest is back in New England. It returned, counterintuitively, while the population increased: Massachusetts, the third most densely populated state, is on the Top 10 list of most forested states. The forest is back to what we think of as Thoreauvian levels, even though, as Foster will tell you, the woods had been cut down by the time Thoreau was writing. “When Thoreau wrote ‘Walden,’ ” Foster likes to note, “New England was at the peak of deforestation.” Meanwhile, the forest no one knew existed is threatened, not just by the ax this time but by parking lots and housing developments. According to Massachusetts Audubon, between 1971 and 1999 the land considered developed increased to 24 from 17 percent of Massachusetts, while “wildlife habitat,” which is defined as forest, wetlands and open water, declined from 70 to 64 percent. The second chance to save the returned forest has concerned Foster for the past few years, and now a plan he helped develop, called Wildlands and Woodlands, or W & W, has been moving through conservation circles like an aggressive invasive species. It suggests preserving 2.5 million acres in Massachusetts, or half the area of the state, from development. As opposed to old-style conservation, which primarily establishes protected public lands, W & W proposes conserving large, aggregated chunks of private land. Radically, it proposes that the land stay in private hands, allowing it to be used for limited purposes, like logging or recreation, as a way to encourage land stewardship rather than strip malls. “This isn’t restricting development,” Foster says. “It’s directing it.” Foster is an ecologist and an environmental historian — a paleoecologist — concerned with the long-term processes that have shaped the land, like fires,
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This note was uploaded on 10/16/2010 for the course ESPM C12 taught by Professor Garrisonsposito during the Spring '10 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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The Working Forest - April 19, 2009 The Working Forest By...

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