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The War in the Woods?

So, let’s talk about water.  (Excuse me, but didn’t you title this the War in the Woods????)  I’m glad you asked.  This is really about water though.

We decided to try a new gate, Gate 37 at the Quabbin Reservation. The old guidebook said that if we followed the abandoned road for maybe less than a mile, we’d cross the West Branch of the Fever Brook, on it’s way to the Reservoir.  So down the road we went, through the autumn forest. (Click on the images for a better view.)

Finally, we saw what looked like a bridge.  We got to the bridge, turned right, and saw once again that the water was low.  The Brook looked pretty anemic.

But then we turned to our left, and this particular view struck us, almost literally.

After working at this location for a bit, we decided to head back along the Fever Brook, to see what we could find.  We had already bumped into the Fever Brook on a previous photo shoot in the Federated Women’s Club State Forest, just north of the Quabbin Reservation itself.  It’s not a large river, but it’s nevertheless important.  Boston, in two years, this will be your drinking water.

So we walked further to the northwest, and came upon a remarkable feat of engineering.

Note the two foot drop in the water level.  The beavers had done their thing, to good effect.  The Brook will be fine, and there are many ecological benefits to beaver ponds (at this end of the Reservoir, away from the tunnels that take water to the public where beaver engineering is not considered desirable).  Turning to head back, however, we came upon another feat of engineering.

This was a logging site and exit road. I’m guessing the site is several years old, though it’s hard to tell.  Let me stress going forward that I’m not anti-logging.  As a business school professor I’m very concerned about the health of business opportunities.  But the Quabbin is a complex ecosystem and what we as a society have to find is a way to balance a variety of competing interests, for the long-term.  This particular logging activity appears to have been actually closer to the Reservoir than I had ever seen, and certainly closer to the Brook than the 400 feet which I believe is the customary protective zone in which all logging activities are prohibited. But here’s where we pick up the talk of war.

We can thank Channel 5, WCVB for doing, what is the word I’m searching for here…oh yeah, actual journalism, in a series of pieces that they developed for Chronicle.  At this point, you’ll be tested as to your level of interest.  If you’d like to know about the challenges of managing those competing interests in the Quabbin, have a look here, for starters, at segment one of The War in the Woods (about five minutes long).

If you made it through segment one, you’ll immediately note that we’ve got lots of tough issues here, many of them having to do with important scientific questions.  What do we do with this incredible resource, our forests?  If you want to dig a bit deeper, I’d strongly suggest that you have a look at an important document developed at the Harvard Forest, just north of the Quabbin Reservation, Wildlands and Woodlands, A Vision for the Forests of Massachusetts .  I’ll give you a very brief overview of some of their recommendations (from page 5 of the report).

1.  We should hold approximately 250,000 acres, largely state-owned, as wildland reserves, with minimal human intervention, only passive recreation (no ATVs) and no commercial logging.  These acres would be approximately contiguous so as to create opportunities for wildlife habitat.

2.  We then would be left with 2.25 million acres, public and private, on which active recreation and sustainable forestry could take place.

So the bulk of our forests would actually be available for sustainable commercial purposes, while a smaller portion would be set aside for almost total protection.  They suggest that the Quabbin be a part of the wildlands for a variety of reasons that you can read if you’re so inclined.  I find their notions interesting in that, if implemented, the needs of most stakeholders would get some attention.  But I said this was about water didn’t I. Have a look at segment two of the War in the Woods .

I had actually seen this piece several days prior and I knew where Mr. Wacaluc (I hope I’m spelling his name right, apologies if I’m not) was standing in the report.  It’s a very well known location, inside Quabbin Park on the south side of the Reservoir.  It’s marked by an old foundation and cellar hole maybe 100 feet from the road.

It wasn’t hard to find the Japanese Barberry to which he was referring. Here’s a shot of the so and so..

Can you believe that this stuff is still available for purchase?  (Please don’t.) If you’re not sure whether or not it represents a threat, here’s a report from the University of Maine.

So here’s the punch line.  By the side of the logging activity we found at Gate 37, nearly twenty miles to the north of Quabbin Park, we found, you guessed it…

Japanese Barberry.  (If you’d like the coordinates for this find, send me an e-mail.  This image was geotagged.)

Those of us who live in an around Worcester are pretty sensitive to the problem of invasive species.  The Asian Longhorn Beetle has decimated thousands of fine old trees throughout entire neighborhoods of the City. Being concerned about invasives doesn’t represent political extremism in my view, but the shameful state of political and policy discourse in this country makes it hard to explore such critically important issues scientifically.  Is logging related to the growth of an invasive species at the Quabbin?  Clearly this particular invasive is there.  I’m not a biologist but if logging, or certain types of logging practices, are effectively an “accelerant,” that should give us all pause.

This is about our water, as well as our forests.  The Quabbin watershed extends far beyond the borders of the Reservation.  Forests throughout the state help to purify our water supply, while also providing us opportunities for recreation, learning, reflection and economic activities such as tourism and forestry.  An ecosystem cannot be parsed into water and forest.  It’s a system. No forests. No water. Efforts to sustain the system overtime require that we keep an eye on the system, and perhaps even intervene through appropriate forest management practices.  (Indeed, there are likely situations in which timber harvests are necessary to stop a disease or invasive species. Logging per se isn’t the villain here.)

The State is I think actually trying to do a better job of dealing with this terribly important but complex situation (though you might not know it from these two video clips). Again, the questions don’t succumb to easy answers.  Should the Quabbin be a wildland or reserve?  That would seem to be one simple solution, but a counter argument can be made on ecological grounds as well.  The forest at the Quabbin is to a significant degree a human creation. Thousands upon thousands of pines were planted there for instance during the late 30’s and 40’s.  These trees are all similar in age, and in many places, as one can easily see, they are quite close together.  Are they more vulnerable as a result?  Do they need to be thinned to maintain their health? If you’d like to know more about State efforts, I’d suggest you check out  the current administrations Vision document for moving ahead with parsing out the use of public forest lands. But their work is not without its critics, including Massachusetts Forest Watch .

Importantly, there will be a series of public forums sponsored by the Division of Conservation and Recreation in the coming weeks on State Forest and Landscape designations.  The first meeting will take place on Monday evening, November 15 at Union Station in Worcester, beginning at 6:30.  If you care about the forest, and the water, I hope I’ll see you there.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sandra #

    Your pic of the running water is lovely. My fav today is your pic of the field stone foundation, such a perfect contrast of people and nature. Thanks.

    November 10, 2010
    • jameshuntphotography #

      Thanks Sandra. I like the Fever Brook picture as well, the combination of messiness and beauty, typical of a forest that’s left fairly undisturbed.

      November 10, 2010

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