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Success rarely seems swift to those who toil and struggle to follow through on a vision and a dream to make it a reality. For Steve and Renee Patten, owning and operating Pine Tree Lumber in Lempster, N.H., has been a labor of love.
The first sawmill was installed on the property by owner Ernie Johnson in the 1950s. Ernie operated the mill mainly as a hobby, sawing wood for his own use and for friends and neighbors in the area. In 1978, Doug Fournier purchased the mill and operated it for 19 years before closing and selling off all of the equipment. But less than two years later he regretted that decision and bought all “new” equipment from all over New England to rebuild the mill, which is the structure that still stands today. Steve likes to call it a “state of the art 1979 sawmill. It’s not very efficient, but it works.”
Steve Patten worked for more than 23 years as a logger before he found himself working part time for NHTOA during a difficult time for former program director Eric Johnson. Steve also worked at the sawmill for Doug Fournier during this time. When Doug passed away unexpectedly on May 16, 2016, Steve went to the mill the next morning to see what he could do to help. He advised Doug’s wife not to sell the mill immediately as Doug had indicated she should do. Steve then spent the next 18 months operating the mill, paying down the debt, and seeking a buyer. He developed a strong attachment to the mill and to the outstanding crew who stood by him and the operation during this time.
One day, during a casual conversation about the mill, a longtime friend of Steve’s from high school asked, “Why don’t you buy it?” Steve and Renee just looked at each other. After tossing the idea around, they “couldn’t come up with a reason not to try it.” Renee says that Steve knows the ins and outs of the forest industry, from logging to NHTOA. “He knows a lot of people, understands everything, and is good at it. It’d be a shame for this mill to disappear from Lempster, Sullivan County, and the forest products industry, as so many other local sawmills have and not to have these guys working.”
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the 26 miles between Newport and Keene used to be known as “sawmill alley,” with 10 mills in operation along the way. Pine Tree Lumber is the only one left.
Steve and Renee closed on the mill in June 2018. They have 50-60 suppliers, each delivering one to two loads per week from smaller, generally non-mechanized operations within a 15-mile radius of the mill. Steve says, “They seem to like what we’re doing. They can bring mixed loads, and we have a use for all of it.” Those uses include grade hardwood lumber, pallet grade, crane mats, railroad ties, custom work, and “other special projects as they come along.” There are also many niche products such as mixed, dense hardwood like beech and birch for repairing and constructing 8x8x4 cranberry baskets for Ocean Spray, and hemlock “mushroom boards” which utilize low-quality hemlock. The hemlock boards may have defects and cracks, but they provide a good medium for cultivating mushrooms on elevated floors covered in compost. The boards are replaced with each crop rotation. As Renee says, “We try to find a use for every part of the tree.” Steve and Renee enjoy this diversity in the market and feel it strongly contributes to the success of the mill. “We sell products around the world and around town,” Steve says with a smile. “We try to keep everybody happy.”
With their daughter Morgan living and attending college in Cape Cod, Mass., Renee has the time and desire to be involved as much as possible. She enjoys getting to know suppliers and customers, keeping things organized, monitoring finances, and recording the numbers when Steve is scaling wood.
Steve is proud to point out that Pine Tree Lumber is the largest year-round employer in Lempster, with a total nine employees. While the sawmill has been in operation on and off for more than 60 years, it has seen its greatest and swiftest success under the guidance of this year’s Outstanding Forest Industry Award winners, Steve and Renee Patten. Pine Tree Lumber lives up to their slogan, “The little sawmill that can.”
Sullivan County seeks bids for wood chips to burn in its biomass heating facility located at the Sullivan County Complex in Unity, N.H. Annual wood chip volume is estimated at 2,000 tons (+/- 20%). The facility operates throughout the year with weather-influenced demand. Several types and sources of wood chips will be considered for heating fuel for the facility, including screened bole chips, straight bole chips, screened whole tree chips, and straight whole tree chips.
To read the full Request for Proposal, click here.
Northern New Hampshire and Vermont are speckled with the name Bunnell: Bunnell Brook, Bunnell Notch, Bunnell Mountain — and Bunnell logging. The Bunnell name has been associated with working in the woods for at least four generations. Heath Bunnell, proprietor of HB Logging and son of well-known Monroe, N.H., logger Rocky Bunnell, is the fourth generation.
“We’ve always seemed to have been around here,” says Heath, who, unsurprisingly, grew up wanting to be a logger like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather — well, a logger, and a fisherman in Alaska.
Right out of high school he bought his first skidder and began working with Rocky and independently. But the call of the cold, churning Alaskan sea was too much to resist, and in 1992 young Heath sold that skidder and went to the far north to try his hand at commercial fishing.
“I loved it, actually. It was incredibly hard work, but I loved it,” he says. But on a visit home in 1998, when he was trying to decide whether to buy a share of quota on the boat he had been working on, the ice storm of 1998 pummeled northern New England. There was a lot of salvage opportunities for loggers in New Hampshire. Despite pleas from his boat’s captain, Heath decided to stay in his home state (he grew up in Monroe) and bought another skidder.
“My dad didn’t really want to travel a lot, and southern Vermont after the ice storm was good territory for a cable skidder,” remembers Heath. “So that’s where I went.”
HB Logging today, with a crew of 12 employees, has diversified into excavation and trucking beyond logging. Two years ago HB bought a horizontal grinder, following that purchase with an excavator and grapple saw to work with the grinder. HB Logging also runs three skidders now, a feller-buncher, and delimber, in addition to other equipment. Heath will sometimes subcontract with other loggers when demand outpaces the capacity of his feller-buncher.
The range of jobs HB Logging will work is impressive, from clearing homesites to large clearing jobs for commercial projects. In May, HB will begin a clearing job at the airport in Bennington, Vt. Often, two or three jobs are occupying HB Logging at the same time, but they all share the hallmark of an HB Logging timber sale, says Heath, which is “professionalism. We’re fully insured, and we work hard to maintain our reputation. Virtually all our work comes to us through word of mouth; we don’t even have a website.” That reputation and professional approach to work has earned Heath not just a place in his family’s legacy as well as the respect of fellow loggers and colleagues in the industry, but also the 2019 Outstanding Logger Award from the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.
Heath will also buy timber himself on occasion, and though HB Logging typically doesn’t do a lot of contract logging, the company has a relationship with Meadowsend Timber Co., where Heath works often with Meadowsend’s Jeremy Turner.
Mud season finds Heath, who has settled with his family – his wife Tricia and daughters Sofia and Zoe – in Kirby, Vt., about 20 miles north of Monroe, far away from the forests of northern New England. Every April he returns to a home he bought a few years ago in Moab, Utah, where he spends his time mountain-biking with friends. “I lived in Crested Butte, Colorado, for several years and did a lot of skiing and mountain biking there, and then we kind of gradually moved on to southern Utah. I finally pulled the trigger and bought a home out there so we’d have kind of a base of operations.” Heath is also an avid tracker and hunter.
Being honored as Outstanding Logger for 2019 is “definitely special to me, and I think it’s also special to my dad,” says Heath. Rocky Bunnell is also an Outstanding Logger honoree, in 2007. “This has been our family’s business for as long as I’ve been alive, and long before that. It’s a great business, and it’s great to have it in the family.”
House Bill 543 seeks to establish a 50-foot protective buffer adjacent to all wetlands and a 100-foot buffer adjacent to “high value wetlands.” “High value wetlands” is a proposed new category of wetland that is based on:
- Presence of natural heritage elements (rare, threatened, endangered species, or a species of interest);
- Within a tier 3 stream (drains 640 acres) floodplain;
- Forested wetland greater than five acres where more than 50 percent of the soil is very poorly drained; and
- Any wetland in a floodplain subject to flooded soils.
In both cases (50-foot and 100-foot buffers), the buffer is to be maintained in a “…natural condition, without any disturbance to or removal of vegetation…” In addition to removing large blocks of land from productive forest management (e.g., every 435.6 feet of buffer to a “high value wetland” removes one acre of land), the restrictions in this bill will make timber sale layout (especially if the property contains wetlands or a stream) extremely difficult and expensive.
Moreover, the New Hampshire Department or Environmental Services (NHDES) just concluded the public comment period on a five-year wetland rule rewrite. This bill would turn this rulemaking effort on its head, as it will dramatically expand NHDES’s wetland regulatory jurisdiction into upland areas.
At a public hearing in February on HB 543, some of the most compelling testimony came from the State Forester, who is concerned that this bill expands the NHDES’s jurisdictional reach into upland areas, which raises a host of questions (e.g., landowners having to hire wetland scientists to map wetlands on their property before conducting a timber harvest, impacts on existing basal area laws, and what additional costs will the state incur managing state-owned property).
We continue to ask NHTOA members to submit comments to the committee. Below is a brief description of the bill and instructions for sending emails to the committee. Please note that because some NHTOA members have had trouble with the committee-wide email address, you should include the chairwoman’s, vice-chairman’s, and clerk’s email address.
Here is the committee contact information and the talking points:
Address your email to:
Representative Suzanne Smith, Chairwoman
N.H. House of Representatives Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee
New Hampshire Legislative Office Building, Room 305
Concord, NH 03301
Send your email to:
In your email:
- Introduce yourself and company:
- Town where you own timberland in (include how many acres of land you own);
- Town your timber-related business is located in, and towns where you work;
- # employees (gross payroll figure would be good).
- Thank Chairwoman Smith and the members of the committee for the opportunity to comment on HB 543.
- Clearly state you oppose House Bill 543. 3.
Talking points for why you oppose HB 543:
- It will remove timberland from forest management (merchantable timber Red Maple, Spruce, and Eastern White Pine all can grow in what is technically defined wetland);
- HB 543 will increase the complexity of timber sale layout and planning (e.g., How can I cross wetland if I can’t “disturb the vegetation”?);
- The bill will impact sawmill saw log availability as timberland is removed from production and timber sales become more costly to operate;
- HB 543 fails to recognize the thousands of hours of public comment and staff time put into the NHDES’ five-year wetland rulemaking process; and
- HB 543 fails to recognize that NHDES already regulates upland areas adjacent to wetlands through the department’s Alteration of Terrain permitting process (the intent to cut form serves as the permit application for forest management projects).