Massachusetts State Forests & Parks Stewardship
The commonwealth of Massachusetts owns and protects 650,000 acres of conservation land - extensive forests interspersed with wetlands and waterways, fields, beaches, and unique habitats like calcareous fens. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) manages 450,000 of these acres as our state parks, urban parks, and public watersheds, attracting over 35 million visitors annually. DCR’s mission is:
To protect, promote and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources.
These lands are critical to protection of natural habitats and wildlife that call them home. At least 68 different natural communities occur on DCR lands, supporting nearly 300 state-listed rare endangered species and thousands of other plants and animals.
The DCR State and Urban Parks system encompasses over 300,000 acres and is the ninth largest park system in the nation.
It includes some of the most intact and remote large tracts of forest in the state as well as many recreational sites for swimming and camping. DCR is required by law to protect natural and cultural resources while providing recreational opportunities and also to conduct sustainable forestry practices. Balancing all of these responsibilities is a challenge, especially as budget cuts over the past decade have reduced visitor services and routine maintenance.
Forest and Park Management Plans
DCR’s lands are diverse and have many values and uses. By law, DCR is required to develop management plans for all the state forests, parks, and reservations that:
provide for the protection and stewardship of natural and cultural resources and shall ensure consistency between recreation, resource protection, and sustainable forest management.
All management plans are developed with public input.
Vision for State Forestlands
Following public concerns regarding some of the forestry practices on state lands, DCR undertook a year-long public engagement process to define a new Forest Futures Vision issued for enhanced stewardship of state forests and parklands. Mass Audubon participated in and supports the policy changes flowing from this process:
- Designation of 60% of the land as reserves and parklands where no commercial timber harvests will take place;
- Higher sustainable standards for forestry on the remaining woodlands;
- Focusing on forest stewardship to protect all of the values of public lands including
- Wilderness and scenery
- Wildlife habitat
- Recreation and tourism
- Forest products
- Carbon sequestration and resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Implementation of the Vision will also lead to a more integrated approach to land management planning, and enhanced public involvement in how your state lands are managed.
As part of the Forest Futures Visioning process, DCR has adopted a new land designation system for all of the 310,666 acres in the state forest and parks system. Following adjustments made based on public input, the final Landscape Designations are:
Recreational access is allowed in all designations, with trails and uses appropriate to the designation and the local resources. Mass Audubon supports these designations.
- 77,331 acres of parklands managed for public recreation opportunities and the protection and appreciation of natural and cultural resources
- 111,227 acres of reserves – large blocks of forest managed primarily by natural processes; and
- 122,108 acres of woodlands where sustainable forestry will be practiced.
During the public comment period, Mass Audubon submitted comments on the draft selection criteria for the landscape designations, the draft designations and management guidelines, and the final guidelines as well as revisions to the land stewardship zoning guidelines. We encourage the public to stay engaged, as DCR develops property-specific management plans with opportunities for public input.
In November 2012, DCR proposed six forest management projects under the new forest management system. Mass Audubon provided comments (pdf) on these projects.
Mass Audubon comments on DCR Resource Management Plans
- Blue Hills Reservation – 6,116 acres that contains a wide array of natural and cultural resources, and supports natural community types ranging from dry Ridgetop Pitch Pine/Scrub Oak to Atlantic White Cedar Bog. Mass Audubon manages the Blue Hills Trailside Museum (February 2011)
- Myles Standish State Forest –12,500 acres of globally significant habitat in Southeastern Massachusetts, with the second-largest remaining example of a Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak natural community in the world supporting dozens of rare species (December 2010)
- Middlesex Fells Reservation – One of the oldest state reservations in the Commonwealth. At 2,575 acres, it is also one of the largest urban wilds in the metropolitan Boston area (November 2010)
The Division of Water Supply Protection manages the watersheds around the Quabbin, Wachusett, and Ware River water supplies serving over 2.2 million people. The primary focus of land management on the watershed lands is protection of the water supply. Recreation is allowed to the extent it is consistent with the watersheds’ primary purpose. For more information on the watersheds and their management and public access rules, see http://www.mass.gov/dcr/watersupply/watershed/shed.htm.
Mass Audubon submitted comments (pdf) on DCR’s Science and Technical Advisory Committee report issued at the end of 2012 on the watershed forestry program.
FSC Green Certification
The commonwealth's publicly owned forestlands were certified for sustainable forestry practices by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) until 2009, when the Certification lapsed. Mass Audubon submitted comments (pdf) to the certification audit team on the 5-year renewal review, and more recently to DCR (pdf) on the scope of certification and other concerns. The new Vision needs to be implemented, allocating land among large and small forest reserves, parklands, and managed woodlands, and then new management plans must be developed. Once that work is completed the state can consider whether to reapply for FSC Certification or take other steps for outside oversight of its forest management practices.
New Rules on Burning Wood for Energy
In recent years there have been several proposals to burn wood to produce electricity. This has raised concerns about the large amounts of wood required to fuel these plants. Harvesting of wood from public lands to fuel biomass plants is particularly controversial. Recent studies show that some methods of burning wood for energy produces even more carbon and other air pollution than coal, while other, more efficient methods may be helpful in reducing pollution. In response, the Commonwealth is revising the rules on biomass eligibility for renewable energy credits. Mass Audubon supports these efforts to direct financial incentives to biomass projects that will actually combat climate change and protect the forests from which wood is harvested. View the full position statement for more information.