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A Sad Irony

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The construction site of the new vocational school endangers a local forest on the International Day of Forests

  This Tuesday, March 21, is the International Day of Forests. It would seem ironic to spend the day contemplating cutting down yet another forest in our area when there is already plenty of built-upon land that could be repurposed.

  Not only is this a great loss of trees, but also displaces the community of wildlife, including the microorganisms that make forest soils so diverse and nutrient rich. Science is still discovering the value of these soils and how long it takes to rebuild them, let alone the obvious value of the trees and how long it takes them to grow.

  Most deforestation currently occurs in tropical areas. Much of the intentional deforestation is due to logging and clearing land for agriculture, but in developed areas where there are already a lot of buildings, removal of remaining forests is often done in order to clear sites for even more construction. Additional forest loss worldwide occurs from fires. For the last several years we have been hearing of significant fires in the western parts of this country, and last summer it hit very close to home when approximately 20 acres burned in the 600-acre Breakheart Reservation in Saugus.

  The UN General Assembly in 2012 established the International Day of Forests to encourage people to thinking carefully of the ways in which forests benefit the world, and from its first celebration in 2013 member nations have made efforts to encourage people to appreciate the importance of maintaining forests in all parts of the world.

  Forests help preserve biodiversity, improve air quality, sequester carbon, cool the earth surface (especially in the summer months when deciduous trees have leaves), provide homes and food for wildlife and offer many other benefits. Studies in the last decade have shown that people benefit from living close to forests, and longer lifespans and better mental health often results from living in proximity to forests and other natural areas.

  Here on the town boundary with Saugus, Wakefield is on the verge of allowing deliberate destruction of a significant historical wooded area adjacent to Breakheart Reservation that is scheduled to be destroyed very soon for the construction of the new vocational school.

  On March 22, the day after International Day of Forests, Wakefield’s Zoning Board of Appeals will be considering whether to permit a variance for constructing the four-story building in a residential zoned neighborhood. This is one of the last steps before the destruction begins.

  Despite our thinking that there are legal protections to vernal pools and water quality, it does not appear that there are enough legal protections to prevent the destruction of this forest. Already the trails have been blocked off from the parking lot, and power lines have been installed for the cutting and blasting equipment. While many people, including me, are in favor of having a new updated school built, the proposed location on the forest site seems to be the worst option.

  There are 12 towns, including Saugus, that send students to this school, and there are other locations that would be far preferable where building could be done on already disturbed ground. The vocational school has acreage, including pavement and playing fields, that could be more appropriately put to use as the school building site without disturbing the buffer between the school and what is now Breakheart Reservation.

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