Good luck to the new commissioner of DCR!

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Great column by Taylor Armerding in the Eagle Tribune today (We ‘interfere with natural processes’ in everything we do) on the attitude many within DCR have toward human management of the environment. The hands-off, let it lie naturally philosophy is, as Armerding underscores, a moral position–and one that makes it hard for the Department to do its job. Even when they make the right choices, they can run up against the local talent (ConComs). Armerding:

I am living in fear that somebody from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, or perhaps from the Rockport Conservation Commission, will visit me and declare my very existence to be interfering with a natural process.

And these people are pretty authoritative on the topic. Those at the state DCR, following the big April nor’easter, refused to allow any of the dunes at Salisbury Beach that the storm ate away to be replenished with sand, until state Sen. Steve Baddour started threatening legislation to take away some of their authority. Now, the DCR, since there is some federal disaster money on the table, is allowing a portion of those dunes to be “nourished,” but still contends it is bad to interfere with a natural process.

Over in Rockport, people who would like to go to Long Beach now that summer weather is here are having trouble because the tides from that same storm washed a bunch of big rocks over Seaview Street, the access road to the beach. The Department of Public Works, after exhaustive research, concluded that the way to solve the problem is – surprise – to remove the rocks.

But, not so fast, says the local ConsCom, which apparently believes that the ocean put those rocks there, and it is up to the ocean to take them away. Chairman Alan MacMillan says even the existence of the road on the beach means, “we are interfering with a natural process.”

The current mission of DCR is “To protect, promote and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources,” all of which is great. But it needs either to understand that 90% of “enhancing” the resources is managing them well. Perhaps a change to that mission statement would help — but such things set off firestorms among the various trees in the agencies, all of whom stand tall for their beliefs (which is great), but some, maybe even many, of whom lose the forest for the trees.

Good luck to the former Mayor of Westfield Rick Sullivan, the newly minted Commissioner of DCR. We wish you focus and a lot of stamina. That’s one tough assignment.