It has been billed as a native forest restoration project unlike any ever seen, aimed at promoting biological diversity and preventing catastrophic wildfires while improving the health and appearance of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
But for Island conservationist Robert Woodruff, several key issues need to be addressed before the first tree is felled in the new plan to clear away more than 500 acres of dead and dying pine trees from the heart of the Vineyard.
"This is our forest, and we should have some input into how it is managed," Mr. Woodruff said yesterday. "There are a lot of concerns over exactly what and how much of it should go, and the state hasn't even brought their plan to the Island community. If the state wants to move on this project, then why not come down and talk to the people who use the forest," he added.
The new plan for massive clearing in the state forest was confirmed by state environmental officials last week.
Mr. Woodruff, an 11-year former executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society and also a former chairman of the advisory committee for the state forest, agreed that the plan to clear the dead and dying red pine plantations is important, and long overdue. But he questioned the proposed plan to remove healthy spruce and white pines, calling it unnecessary and potentially detrimental to a host of rare species. Among other things, Mr. Woodruff cited the migration of the morning warbler as an indication of good forest health.
"It's a rare thing when a nonnative bird has sought out what it feels as home," he said, adding: "We need to examine the vitality of that habitat.
"I think they are rushing the project, there's just no urgency out there."
While Mr. Woodruff opposes the outright removal of the white pine plantation, he said he does advocate thinning the cluster to preserve the health of the species. If properly managed, Mr. Woodruff said the harvested trees could be used for a variety of uses.
"What about implementing a wood-fired boiler at the high school, where students could harvest the wood themselves in their own backyard?" he asked. "The kids could learn about energy utilization and ecology at the same time. And while I know there is not enough to supply the entire Island community, surely some of the wood could be used in the marketplace.
"I do believe there are options," he added.
State environmental officials say the white pines are vulnerable to the heavy winds that come with northeasters and hurricanes, but Mr. Woodruff looked to the last 13 years as proof of their durability.
"What has happened since Hurricane Bob in 1991 is astounding," he said. "Some of the white pine stands have grown over 20 feet since then. You can't manage a forest based on storms that may or may not happen."
While arguing against clear-cutting as a form of forest management, Mr. Woodruff endorsed the concept of returning part of the forest to a sandplain habitat, which he said would embrace a wider range of lesser habitats, or micro-habitats, once the red pine was extracted.
"Red pines never worked here, and there is no use for them," Mr. Woodruff said. "Most of them are dead anyway, so it's a nonissue. A sandplain habitat would encourage a return to more native ecology, including pitch pine barrens and scrub oak stands. I think that has its own merit."
Mr. Woodruff said more public dialogue is in order before the logging trucks begin to rumble into the state forest.
"This is a major resource for the Island," he said, concluding: "There are 12 miles of bike path and it is a habitat to many important species of plants and animals. To put this project out to bid without local input is not becoming of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."