On Friday, Aug. 24, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire toured timber sales on New Hampshire Audubon Society wildlife preserves in Deering, N.H., and learned of the critical role the woodchip market supported by N.H.’s biomass energy plants plays in wildlife management.

The Deering timber sales would not have happened without the market for woodchips, N.H. Audubon’s Doug Bechtel told the Senator. “Without that market, this could be the end of how we do wildlife management,” he said.

A viable market for woodchips allows timberland owners, including institutions and organizations such as the N.H. Audubon Society, to clear out low-grade wood on their properties to promote high-quality timber growth and to create openings for wildlife habitat. Don Hardwick Jr., one of the loggers on the Audubon sale in Deering, told Sen. Shaheen that most of the trees felled in the sale were low-grade and had not value for lumber. “This sale would not have happened without biomass,” he said.  

The woodchip market is under grave threat due to the vetoes by Gov. Chris Sununu of Senate bills 365 and 446. Both bills passed both houses of the New Hampshire legislature by overwhelming bipartisan majorities — a fact noticed at her office in Washington, D.C., Sen. Shaheen pointed out — but the governor vetoed both pieces of legislation, mistakenly claiming they would raise electricity prices for New Hampshire ratepayers. In fact, the cost of replacing the energy lost to the New England grid if N.H.’s six independent biomass energy plants close — a strong likelihood of Sununu’s vetoes are not overturned — is nearly the same as the cost assigned to SB 365. Additionally, there would be costs to the state from the hundreds of jobs lost if the biomass plants close. 

The state legislature will meet on Sept. 13 to vote on the vetoes. Overturning the vetoes requires a two-thirds majority of each house of the legislature of all the senators and representatives present for the vote. While she will not be part of the vote as a U.S. Senator, Sen. Shaheen told board members of the New Hampshire Timberland Association who were at the Deering tour that she is optimistic the legislature “will do the right thing” and overturn the vetoes. “It’s right for our timber industry, it’s right for our forests, and it’s right for our state,” she said.

N.H. Audubon’s Doug Bechtel said that at first he did not understand how the legislative battle over woodchips and biomass would affect the Society’s properties. “I asked my forester, Jeremy Turner of Meadowsend, ‘Why should we care?’ Boy, did I get an earful!,” Bechtel said. “Now I realize that without those biomass plants, we won’t be able to manage our wildlife reserves the way we want to.”