The Associated Press

Report: Unchecked Development Could Threaten Future Of Mass. Forests

BOSTON — A new study is warning that if left unchecked, the ongoing loss of forests in Massachusetts will undermine land conservation, threaten water quality and limit natural protections from the harsher aspects of climate change.

The two-year study released Wednesday by researchers at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution projects how the state’s forests could change over the a 50-year period under four different scenarios.

The researchers used computers to look at the state acre-by-acre and model changes over time for each of the scenarios.

The study concludes that best scenario for both Massachusetts residents and the natural environment is one where forests are actively managed and protected from encroaching development.

The study’s lead author Jonathan Thompson said the study is the first of its kind for an entire state.

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  • Frank411

    The concept of Forest as Infrastructure is an important way to think about the value of forest resources in Massachusetts from a number of perspectives.

    Unfortunately, the Study posits a number of counter-factual alternative futures, and ignores other important energy, demographic, employment and economic trends, which undermines its claimed predictive power and undercut the potential power of what could have been a visionary document.

    Since WBUR was too lazy to analyze the Study for its listeners, let’s dive in.

    The Study contrasts four possible futures for forest lands in Massachusetts, which it calls (1) Recent Trends (really a straight-line extrapolation of land use patterns from 1999-2005, which doesn’t seem all that “recent” anymore), (2) Opportunistic Growth (which posits the elimination of ALL wetlands regulation in Massachusetts, in violation of Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, and, effectively, the elimination of all zoning in Massachusetts, which is equally outlandish), (3) Regional Self-Reliance (immense energy cost spikes result in the clear-cutting of Massachusetts forests, even in suburban Boston, to grow heirloom vegetables and to stoke wood-fired power plants despite all the MADEP regulations against such biomass conversion), and (4) Forest as Infrastructure (picture the forest-planet of Endor in Star Wars populated with occasional furniture makers harvesting cherished back-40 oak trees for working and sale to some unspecified high-end consumer market).

    The Study more or less ignores all of the following: (A) the ongoing Great Recession, likely to linger for years if not decades to come, (B) the acceleration in technological innovation which is rendering 80% of the population economically irrelevant (the book to read is Brynjolfsson’s & McAfee’s Race Against the Machine) — it is hard for unemployed or underemployed people to buy or consume as much as the Study thinks they can, (C) the emergence of the United States as the world’s leading producer of oil and, especially, natural gas, which is driving the cost of energy down, not up, a trend likely to continue for 50-100 years given recoverable deposits, (D) the ongoing failure of urban schools in Massachusetts to educate students for economically useful futures, meaning no parent in his or her right mind wants to raise their kids in an urban location, (E) the rising sea levels and increased intensity of storms from climate change, which will, before 2050, overtop the Charles River Dam, flooding out Back Bay, MIT, much of East Cambridge and Somerville up to Union Square, Quincy, etc., and flood both the Central Artery / Third Harbor Tunnel and most of the MBTA tunnels (see the Boston Harbor Association report, which is thoughtfully done), effectively forcing retreat from some of the densest urban areas of Massachusetts into the suburbs, and (F) the significant, long-term, world-wide decline in fertility rates, which is manifest even in Mexico.

    Worse, when you compare many of the impacts under the various scenarios, it turns out that the quantities of forest removal under the “bad” sprawl of “Recent Trends” are not that different from the quantities of forest removal under the utopia of Forest as Infrastructure.

    In short, the analysis is simultaneously trendy, dated and un-rigorous.

    The Study does have beautiful photography and is very tastefully laid out. It would make a nice addition to a coffee table in, say, Wayland, Williamstown or a Commonwealth Avenue pied-a-terre.

  • MikeLaBonte

    Questioning the assumptions of any report is fair, but a key point is unlikely to prove untrue: all four scenarios including RecentTrends result in deforestation. The only question is how much. The deforestation rates given by the report vary from 10% to 26% through 2050. How is that OK? If it is only 10%, that means half the forest in 259 years, a point in time when we will want more forest, not less.

    “I hope to be able to convince you that the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function” — Dr. Albert Bartlett

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