Farming Magazine - July, 2011

WOODLOTS

Environmental Education

Timber harvest tours promote forest management message
By Patrick White

In some cases, it's not enough to educate only landowners on sound forest management practices. To help prevent protests over timber harvests, the public at large also needs to understand the basics. That's why David Anderson, director of education with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), says he needs to be "bilingual." He explains: "I need to be able to talk to people who work in the forests, and those who rarely visit them." Anderson doesn't just talk to people about forest management, he often brings groups out in the woods to see a harvest up close.

SPNHF (www.forestsociety.org) has existed for more than 100 years and boasts more than 10,000 members that support its mission to "protect the state's most important landscapes while promoting the wise use of its renewable natural resources." The society oversees 170 properties, totaling more than 50,000 acres throughout the state, and holds conservation easements to 679 (and counting) properties representing 106,000-plus acres. Its staff is busy managing and enrolling these properties, tracking legislation that impacts the forest industry in the Granite State, conducting extensive research and mapping to better understand the state's natural resources and much more. Perhaps the SPNHF's more visible efforts come in the form of public education. Key among these outreach efforts are the regular "timber harvest tours" conducted at society properties.

When the program first started, the approach was to bring groups into the woods prior to the start of a harvest. "We found that preharvest tours just didn't work very well," Anderson recalls. "We found that it's sort of esoteric to have people walk around and try to explain where there's a lot of flagging and blue paint. It just doesn't resonate with the audience. What does resonate is when there's an active timber harvest going on. The loggers are there, the machines are there, there are piles of logs."

Still, Anderson doesn't start these tours next to the piles of logs on the land; he begins in the back end of the property. "If you start by talking about dollars and logs, it's hard to get back to forestry," he explains. "Instead, we walk to the back of the job. Along the way, people get a chance to see areas that have been cut, to see muddy roads, to see slash and patch cuts. Then we look at stumps and explain how the trees were felled."

He shows them culverts that have been installed, water bars, how wetland areas have been crossed according to regulations, explains the concept of "bumper trees" left along the skid trail to protect other nearby trees, how skid roads have been laid out to promote efficiency while avoiding sensitive areas, and so on. Next, he tries to show those in attendance an area that's been marked but not yet cut, to talk about what trees are being cut and which are being left, as well as the value of opening up areas to more sunlight. The complexity of the planning that has gone into the harvest is often a surprise to those who might have assumed that loggers simply went in, cut trees and hauled them out.

Finally, the tour returns to the landing, to see the logs that have been removed and sorted into various piles depending on market. "One of the biggest questions people have is: 'What are trees worth?' And that opens up a whole discussion of markets and transportation and how trees are sold - stumpage or roadside or cut-and-haul or a lump sum sale, etc.," Anderson says. He explains how various markets work; how people all along the chain from the forester to the logger to the mill get paid; the local 10 percent stumpage yield tax required in New Hampshire; the federal income taxes due on timber harvests; and more. Again, the complexity of these issues surprises most people on the tour, he says.

In many workshops, the SPNHF partners with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension personnel to explain to woodlot owners that written contracts are required by law when harvests occur, and to emphasize the value of working with a licensed forester. "If there's one thing we could tell landowners it's not to do a handshake deal - that's illegal now - and a forester's job is to protect your fiduciary interest," Anderson points out. Any contract should stipulate not only what you'll be paid, but also details about what condition the woodlot roads, landing, etc., will be left in when the job is complete, he advises.

When Anderson talks about these types of details - whether it's slash or water bars or the seeding of landings - woodlot owners and others on timber harvest tours begin to realize that there's more to logging than they may have thought. "I explain that loggers are buying and selling timber in very complex markets every day; they have one hand on the joystick in the skidder and the other hand on their cell phone to figure out what the markets are doing. Most of the foresters and loggers I know are on the phone every night after a long day in the woods trying to figure out what loads are going where, and what they're going to get paid," says Anderson. "I tell landowners that they're probably only going to sell timber once in their lifetime, and it's an asset that's taken decades to accrue; they don't have the experience to know what their trees are worth." He points out that a veneer-quality oak might be worth 1,000 times more when sold into that market than it would be if chipped for biomass use. At this point it becomes clear that working with qualified professionals is a must.

One of the highlights of these tours typically is the chance for people - often for the first time - to meet and talk with a logger. "People are courteous when I'm explaining different aspects of forest management, but as soon as the logger starts to talk about the machinery and demonstrate the machinery and talk about the work they do, they steal the show every time," says Anderson. "Most people have never heard a logger talk about their work, and it's an eye-opener for them. I try to create those opportunities."

Not only is the experience valuable for landowners who might themselves be contemplating a timber harvest, but it's becoming increasingly important for neighbors and the public in general to learn about logging. "Most people have such a negative connotation of logging. They see that it creates a big change, and that it creates noise and a mess," says Anderson. That's all true, he acknowledges, but explaining the more subtle aspects of forest management and timber harvests can create a more educated, less reactionary public.

Anderson states that one key demographic he tries to reach is those living in the increasingly urban southern portions of New Hampshire. There, the number of woodlots is dwindling, and a simple timber harvest can raise the hackles of well-intentioned but not-well-informed neighbors, who protest the operation or attempt to pass local restrictions on logging. Preventing a woodlot owner from responsible harvests that help support the costs of the land only make development more likely, Anderson points out. In that event, woodlots can disappear altogether.

That's why he feels so strongly that bringing the public out into the words to learn the facts about forestry and logging is so important. "A timber harvest creates a teachable moment - an opportunity to bring the public in to learn about what trees are being cut and why, and what trees are being left and why," he explains. "It's a chance for them to kick the tires of a skidder and meet a logger. And, it turns out that for all of their anti-logging feelings we end up talking about a lot of things like harvest plans, silviculture objectives, forest management prescriptions and so on." A little education, it turns out, can go a long way.

Patrick White is a freelance writer based in Middlesex, Vt. Over the past 10 years, he has covered a wide range of agricultural operations around the Northeast. He is always on the lookout for unusual stories and cutting-edge installations. Comment or question? Visit www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.