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OPINION: Forest management plan: Let’s be intelligent

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Bill Ashe

Intelligent, productive land-use management, or an uninspired and lackluster land-use program.

You decide.

On Aug. 22, Boston Globe West included an article that described what Weston is doing with its 1200 acres of town-owned land (mostly forest, it appears.)

Under the inspiration and direction of a knowledgeable citizen, who is a professor of environmental studies at Brandeis, Weston has set up a long-term monitoring and inventory program to refine its forest-management activity, to gather data for more effective land use decision-making, and to determine wood volume for wood product use.

Weston know the essentials of sound land stewardship, and is doing something about it.

About three years ago, on my own as an interested town resident, I attended a Conservation Commission meeting and suggested they develop a detailed management plan for Harvard’s 1700 (give-or-take) acres of town-owned land. Not only did my suggestion encompass what Weston is now doing, but the benefits would be improved forest species composition, more productive wildlife habitat, education benefits for our young, increased recreational uses, increased forest-fire protection, and better ways to counter forest disease and pest problems.

Finally, but certainly not lastly, in these tough financial times, there is the question of forest income. Most forests in New England have income potential. Our Harvard land certainly does. My observation over 35 years of town residency tells me our forests (the commercial timber thereon) are growing at a rate of 250 to 400 board feet/acre/year.

When I met with the ConsCom three years ago, my rough estimate of annual income from town land would be $75,000 to $125,000. Given the vagaries of local, regional and national conditions, actual annual income would be $0 some years, say $300,000-plus other years. (That’s simply the way the pine cones and acorns fall.)

My question asks: Is the above, all of it, something the ConsCom ought to investigate? Or should our town of Harvard continue to wander in the forest wilderness?

Planned to end the letter here, but my wife and good friend of 60 years, Betty, who is also my most demanding critic and strongest advocate, suggested I present some personal background information.

Briefly, here goes.

My educational background is forestry and wildlife management. Worked for a short time with the Forest Service fighting fires in Montana and Idaho, then a long career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working all over the U.S. Began as a forester, ended as a regional administrator. Now retired. Was an elected Harvard town official for 25 years.

Professionally, I am comfortable commenting on land-use issues in Harvard. Whether ConsCom will accept my recommendations, given some three years ago, is up to them. But it’s something. Be as intelligent, and progressive, as Weston.

BILL ASHE

Harvard