Making Wise Use of New Hampshire’s Forests
On the forestland owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the timber is growing in age, in volume, and value every year. We also conduct harvests annually—last fiscal year we conducted a dozen operations on 620 of our 56,000 acres, producing more than two million board feet of high value timber and 25,000 tons of low-grade wood. Half of the low grade was used to generate electricity at in-state biomass plants.
As part of our sustainable forest management, those harvests facilitated wildlife habitat improvements (adding diversity) and will over time upgrade the quality (and economic value) of the trees left to grow. As a conservation organization, we do this to model “wise use” of forest, which we have long believed helps keep forests as forests.
Statewide, the volume of standing timber five inches or larger has increased from about 10.8 billion cubic feet to about 11.2 billion cubic feet since 2005. Over the same period, according to the USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA), carbon sequestered above ground by New Hampshire’s forests increased from 139 to over 146 million tons.
This good news contradicts rhetoric you may have heard claiming that timber harvesting has meant the degradation of our forests. The fact is that here in New Hampshire we can use wood, a renewable resource, to construct buildings, make furniture, make newsprint, and, yes, heat and power our homes and businesses while growing trees and storing carbon.
Nearly three-fourths of New Hampshire’s forestland is privately owned. Those private lands provide filtered drinking water for all of us. They purify air and provide critical wildlife habitat. They reduce flooding by storing water during spring snowmelt and in heavy rain events. They support rural economies, recreation and they store carbon.
We believe that when private landowners can derive income from the sustainable sale of forest products, including higher-valued sawlogs and lower-valued firewood and wood chips, they will be less likely forced to permanently convert their forests to some other use in order to help pay property taxes or other needs.
However, sustainable forests require stable markets for wood products. Demand for quality hardwood and softwood for lumber remains steady, but markets for low-grade wood are rapidly declining with the loss of many of the region’s pulp and paper mills. In fact, about 40 percent of this low-grade wood harvested across New Hampshire in recent years has been used at the biomass power plants in the state.
While we know some groups oppose the burning of wood for energy, we also know that wood harvested from a sustainably managed forest and burned for energy is renewable, in a way and in a timeframe that conventional fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are not. Over time, the carbon dioxide emitted from wood burned for energy will be recaptured by new growth in a sustainably managed forest. Yes, that recapture takes time but it has clear advantages over burning fossil fuels.
Which brings me to House Bill 183, legislation designed to provide support to six of New Hampshire’s biomass plants. Because of complicated legal challenges at the state and federal level and because of a gubernatorial veto this summer of HB 183, the biomass plants have stopped regular operations. The loss of such a significant market has caused deep uncertainty among private owners about the long-term management of their forestlands.
The New Hampshire Legislature can ease this uncertainty by overriding the veto when it returns to session on September 18. The N.H. Senate unanimously approved HB 183 in May and the N.H. House approved it with broad, bipartisan support so clearly our legislators recognize the value the forests play in the quality of our lives and livelihood.
HB 183 is admittedly a short-term step to addressing the challenge of keeping working forests as forests but it is one that is necessary. The Forest Society is committed to advancing the resilience of New Hampshire forests and the vitality of the forest products industry. We appreciate the work the Legislature has done over the last several years in support of the state’s forests. We would urge it to continue these important efforts by overriding the veto of HB 183.
Jane Difley is the President/Forester of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.