Boston, MA --Overriding objections raised by its own staff, the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) has hastily approved a plan to begin flattening hundreds of acres in the Manuel Correllus State Forest onMartha's Vineyard right after Labor Day. Although the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is pushing the project to lower the risk of forest fires, DEM has for years resisted less costly and damaging fuel reduction methods while refusing to obtain mandated environmental review, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Both departments answer to Environment Secretary Robert Durand who ordered the project to proceed even though it violates an earlier agreement between DFW and DEM. The agreement required DEM to "produce a management plan for fire lane work with a scientific monitoring component" before a permit would be issued. No such plan is in place.
In addition, the permit was granted without undergoing the review required by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). DEM has already been slapped by both the Governor and a state superior court this year for projects on state lands (at Mounts Greylock and Wachusett) without adequate opportunity for public comment.
DEM also ignored recommendations from forestry experts decrying the "highly destructive" practices of harrowing (tilling) and bulldozing. A July 18th letter from Harvard University ecologists David Foster and Glenn Motzkin, who authored the only published study on the Forest, charges the decision was made without regard to science. The ecologists contend that the plan is motivated by only one consideration: the fact that DEM purchased an expensive harrowing machine in recent years and is looking for an opportunity to use it.
"This is another example of a state agency blatantly violating the very rules that it makes ordinary citizens follow," stated Dan Meyer, General Counsel of PEER, whose organization earlier this month urged Secretary Durand to consider cheaper, more effective and less damaging fire prevention techniques including prescribed burns and small-scale mowing. "Since DEM has previously turned down grant money to reduce fuel build-up in the Forest, theagency's sudden urgency to bulldoze some of the most sensitive habitat in the state is mind boggling."
The Manuel Correlus State Forest has the highest density of rare species per acre of any other land in Massachusetts. The project would clear more than 500 acres, nearly 10% of the Forest, and involve killing or removing up to 29 state-listed rare species.
"DEM is waving the flag of biodiversity with one hand and driving a bulldozer with the other," said Pam DiBona, Legislative Director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "Then they drove right over their own rules by not asking for public comment."