61 Law
 61A&B Laws
 Practices Law
 Licensing Law
Laws & Regulations

Massachusetts Forestry Laws and Regulations

The pages for the different laws relating to forestry are shown in the blue navigation bar on the left.  The first four of these pages also have sub-pages with the regulations that implement the laws.

The Carrot

Massachusetts has both "carrots" and "sticks" to encourage good forest management.  The "carrot" is Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 61.  This is a use value assessment law, which requires that qualifying land be assessed at a "use value" rate instead of a development value rate.  The idea is to give landowners an incentive not to develop their land, and to conserve open space for forestry uses. 

In the case of Chapter 61, the use value is only 5% of the normal Chapter 59 development value (based on recent sale values of land in the town).  But an 8% stumpage tax is due when timber or wood/pulp is sold.  If landowners withdraw land from Chapter 61 classification, they have to pay their past tax savings plus interest at 14%.

Chapter 61A (for agricultural land uses) and 61B (for recreational land uses) may apply to forestland that is part of farms or recreational properties.  These laws also reduce assessed values for qualifying properties, but according to different procedures.

The Stick

The "stick" is MGL Chapter 132 Sections 40-46.  The purposes of the Cutting Practices Law are stated in Section 40.  Whether it actually achieves these objectives is a subject of considerable debate.  While the cutting practices regulations are effective in reducing damage to wetlands, they have very little influence on silviculture which is applied on only about 15% of the forest land in the state.  Anyone can write a Chapter 132 cutting plan.  The only requirement is that you know how to write.

The fact that only about 15% of the forest land in Massachusetts is under management could be seen as an indictment of the effectiveness of Chapters 61 and 132.  In order to really accomplish the purposes of Chapter 132, major reforms are needed in the laws and their administration.  Simply changing the current Cutting Plan into a Silvicultural Plan would go a long way in this regard.


Timber harvesters are required to have licenses under MGL Chapter 132 Section 46.  Foresters will soon be required to have licenses under Chapter 132 Sections 47-50.  The primary purpose of these sections is to set professional standards for people who want to call themselves foresters.  

State-required forest cutting plans can still be prepared by anyone--no forester license required.  Therefore you don't have to be a licensed forester to perform what should be the official function of a forester.  You just have to be a licensed forester to call yourself a forester.

This bizarre law and its implementing regulations are testaments to the power and influence of certain industrial and bureaucratic interests that do not want real forester licensing.  Some of the former interests see real forester licensing as a threat to their freedom to cut our forests however they want; some of the latter interests see real forester licensing as a challenge to their raison d'etre.   

Notice that the second purpose under the regulations is to "assure a minimum standard of care for the Commonwealth's forests and associated natural resources."  Apparently our forests don't deserve a "maximum standard of care," or even a "moderate standard of care."  This has been the case for centuries, and apparently there's no compelling reason to change it now.

Compare the forester licensing law with the laws for registration of engineers and surveyors,  and architects.  These professions have boards of registration under the Commonwealth's Division of Registration.  Their boards are made up of practicing professionals.  Forester licensing is under the Department of Environmental Management (see below), the only profession in the state not under the Division of Registration--other than medicine and law, which have their own private registration bodies.  Only a small minority of the forester licensing committee is practicing foresters.

DEM Bureau of Forestry

The Department of Environmental Management consists of several divisions and bureaus.  The bureau responsible for administering all the various forestry laws and regulations is the Bureau of Forestry.  The implementing legislation for this bureau is found in MGL Chapter 132 and Chapter 21.

Sections 1, 6 and 33 of Chapter 132 describe the duties of the Director, also known as "the forester," the "service foresters" and the "management foresters."  Despite clear statements of their duties in these sections, current practices of Bureau of Forestry personnel violate these sections in several ways.

The Director is not a forester as required by Section 1.  Service foresters do not charge fees for their services as required by Section 6.  Management foresters do not  manage the state forests as required by Section 33.  There is obviously a need to either change these sections to make them conform to current practices, or change the practices to make them conform to the law. 

Copyright 1999 by Karl Davies.  Permission is granted to freely copy (unmodified) any documents on this web site in electronic form, or in print if you're not selling them.  On the web, however, you must link to the documents here rather than put up your own pages.