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An overflow crowd of 150 people packed the Community Room at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon, N.H., last night to listen to representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) describe expansion plans for the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge and to voice concerns with those plans.

(From the Concord Monitor, January 16, 2016)

By David Brooks

Monitor staff

Lack of frozen ground hasn’t slowed the logging operation on land owned by St. Paul’s School and New Hampshire Audubon Society, nor has the presence of many trails throughout the property.

“By the end of next week they’re going to be mostly finished – maybe not all the logs hauled, but they’ll be done cutting,” Swift Corwin said Thursday. Corwin, of Calhoun & Corwin Forestry in Peterborough, has been a consulting forester with St. Paul’s School for decades and is overseeing the current harvest.

The roughly 60 acres being logged covers the southeast corner of the 2,000 acres owned by St. Paul’s School, between Clinton Street and Silk Farm Road adjacent to the Audubon Society’s Silk Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. It is jointly managed by the Audubon Society and the school.

The logging operation, which began Jan. 1, is designed to improve forest health by harvesting marketable logs, mostly pines with some hardwood, from throughout the property, while some parts of the cutting are aimed at improving wildlife habitat by removing all trees so that brushes, shrubs and grasses can grow.

“There’s one area with crooked, short pines. Phil (Brown, director of land management for New Hampshire Audubon Society) wanted to cut that all out, 1½ acres are clear-cut, to create early successional woods. They’ll follow up with putting in some shrubs, plants,” he said.

The property is heavily used by the public, although it is closed during the operation for safety reasons, which has complicated matters.

“I just walked the entire piece; I’m thrilled with the way it’s coming out,” Corwin said.

“It’s a complicated job because of the trails . . . and the Audubon land is even more complicated. It’s a small area and it’s just criss-crossed with trails. There’s a tree house in there, a ropes course, it’s really a gauntlet and threading the needle,” he said.

Winter logging operations are best done when the ground is frozen because that makes it easier to move heavy equipment through the woods, and many have been slowed by this year’s unseasonably warm weather. Corwin said it hasn’t been much of a problem on this job.

“It’s decent – there are a couple of muddy spots out there, but it’s not a real problem,” he said.

The land is open to the public, and people are welcome to walk, run, hike and cycle on the trails from dawn until dusk. No hunting is allowed.

Like much of New Hampshire, this land was largely open at the beginning of the 20th century and began growing back after farming left the region.

Since the early 2000s, it has been managed as part of a grassland habitat restoration program that seeks to break up mature woodlands with fields and young woodlands, to encourage more wildlife diversity. On St. Paul’s School land, that includes summertime grazing by cattle.

 

Facts

New Hampshire is the second-most forested state in the nation, with 84 percent of the state’s land mass covered by timberland.

76 percent of New Hampshire’s forests are privately owned.

Just over half of New Hampshire’s forests are northern hardwood trees. Softwood trees such as Spruce, White and Red Pine make up 20 percent, and the remainder of the state’s forests are composed of Aspen/Birch and other miscellaneous species (e.g. Hemlock).

New Hampshire’s forests are growing. Currently, forest growth exceeds harvest by 49 percent.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, growth is expected to exceed harvest through 2023 (the extent of their projection).

Approximately 3.3 million tons of wood is harvested every year in New Hampshire (72 percent is low-grade wood for papermaking or energy – biomass).

Forest Economy

The forest products industry:

  • Employs approximately 6,139 individuals
  • Produces an annual payroll exceeding $242 million.
  • Total annual value of the forest products economy output = $1.39 billion
  • Forestry, logging, and timber trucking employment = 1,433; payroll = $83.5 million.
  • Sawmills employment = 1,996; payroll = $62 million.
  • Paper mills employment = 1,100; payroll = $61 million.
  • Secondary wood products manufacturing (furniture and related) employment = 1,140; payroll = $36 million.
  • Wood energy power plants employment = 470

Forest-based Recreation

  • Employs approximately 10,800 individuals
  • Total annual value of the forest-based recreation economy output = $1.4 billion

 

* data comes from The Economic importance of New Hampshire’s Forest-Based Economy 2013, published by the North East State Foresters Association, and Economic Contribution of the Logging Industry in New Hampshire (2014), prepared by Plymouth State University Center for Rural Partnerships

Last night, in a full auditorium at the Keene Public Library in Keene, N.H., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) held the second public hearing on its proposed expansion of the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge. The Service heard concerns from the public about the economic and land use impacts the proposed 107,838-acre expansion of federal ownership will have on local tax bases, jobs in the forest products industry, and loss of traditional land uses. Worries were also raised that USFWS may use eminent domain to take land.

 

Similar concerns were expressed Monday evening at the first public hearing, held in St. Johnsbury, Vt. At this hearing, USFWS heard overwhelming opposition to the proposed expansion from an audience of 60 individuals and local businesses.

 

Established under the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Act of 1991, the Refuge currently covers 7,571 acres in New Hampshire and 26,600 acres in Vermont (far exceeding the original plan’s proposed 1,200 acres). This week’s hearings are part of a legal process to gather input on a proposed Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

 

“I really hope the Service takes the public’s comments to heart and does a better job at getting local input from the communities, businesses, and local land use partners and organizations.” said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA). “A message we all heard loud and clear at the Keene hearing was a concern for the economic impact this expansion of federal ownership will have on the local economies and what it will mean for traditional land use.”

 

A concern raised by area selectmen, land use partner organizations, and others attending Thursday’s meeting was that the USFWS has done a poor job soliciting public input from all stakeholders, and that many affected parties (e.g. select boards, land use partners, N.H. state agencies, and citizens) are still just learning about this comprehensive and complex proposal. Several selectmen testifying at the hearing in Keene said they had only very recently heard about the proposal and thus have not had the time to review the 300-page CCP/EIS. This is an important point, since this proposal could shift as much as 30 to 40 percent of the land in some communities to federal ownership. The USFWS needs to put the brakes on their expansion plans and get more public input.   

 

This comment came after photos of USFWS refuge signs were presented showing that the USFWS has already begun acquiring interests in land in Canaan and Dorchester, N.H., before the public comment period had even begun.

 

“The USFWS needs to do a much better job reaching out to all the stakeholders affected by this proposal, and to look at options other than federal ownership.” said Stock. “New Hampshire’s history of working with local land trusts and local communities through the use of working forest conservation easements is a cost-effective way to protect land and wildlife, keep the land on the tax rolls, allow traditional land uses, and enable the land to contribute to the local forest products economy. The federal government can’t manage what they already have, so why are we even talking about more federal ownership?” The NHTOA has noted that for the past decade, the federal U.S. Forest Service has failed to achieve its forest management and wildlife habitat management goals in New Hampshire’s White Mountains National Forest.

 

The USFWS, which manages the lands in the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge, is now updating its 15-year management plan, with four alternatives for expanding the Refuge. Click here to read a description of these alternatives on the NHTOA website and why NHTOA opposes the expansion.