At the October 21 Special Town Meeting, voters will be asked to approve Article 14, which requests $50,000 for ‘Sandra Pond Reservoir Watershed Maintenance.’ What many people may not know is that the article encompasses a significant amount of timber harvesting – the cutting of trees that are then sold as timber product - on town conservation lands. This will be done under the auspices of several controversial ‘forestry management’ and tree cutting plans. The first phase of tree cutting took place in 2011 around the greater Sandra Pond reservoir and involved the removal of a substantial number of healthy trees by a commercial timber company. The results were distressing to many residents. The article’s proponents contend that the tree cutting is essential for a ‘healthy’ forest, but in fact the benefits of this approach are debatable – it is a choice rather than a necessity according to one of their own experts. In my opinion, there has not been adequate input from the community on this issue.
The timber harvesting program has unfortunately become entangled with an important public works project involving the repair and maintenance of storm drainage infrastructure in the Sandra Pond Watershed area, and has been portrayed as essential to the protection of the town’s water supply. It will of course be necessary to remove some trees to protect drainage infrastructure and create access roads to sensitive areas, but the timber harvesting component of the article is a separate matter, and is being used as a way to subsidize other parts of the project. The timber company will sell whatever product has marketable value and will be paid an additional $15,000 by the town.
Protection of our water supply is of critical importance, but the stewardship of our conservation areas is important as well. These issues deserve to be discussed and decided separately on their own merits. I urge voters to defeat this article in its current form, with the request that the watershed project be delinked from timber harvesting and presented again for consideration at the spring Town Meeting.