Opinion: Benefits of timber harvesting

Ann Davis of Wilmot is the former president of the NH Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA) and received the Association’s Kendall Norcott Award in 2016. She is a life-long birder and a graduate of the NH Coverts Class 2005. She and her husband are the NH Tree Farm Committee’s 2022 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.

With about 85% of its land cloaked in forests, New Hampshire is the second most forested state (after Maine) in the United States.

Well-managed forests make a positive contribution to the state’s biodiversity and economy, and its ability to sequester carbon. These forests also provide myriad hikers, hunters, anglers and others with an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

Development, not timber harvesting, as was written about in a recent Monitor My Turn, is the most significant threat to New Hampshire’s forests. The impact of forestry on the landscape is temporary; development is permanent.

To ensure that their land continues to be a forest for future generations, many landowners extinguish the development rights on their property by donating or selling a conservation easement to a land trust.

According to the 2020 NH Forest Action Plan, more than 1.68 million acres of forested land in New Hampshire, or 95% of all protected lands in the state, are permanently conserved through various methods. This is one of the highest percentages of land protected through easements east of the Mississippi River.

Since 2007, Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust has held a conservation easement on the Woods Without Gile, property of my husband and I own in Springfield, New Hampshire. This ensures that our property will never become a housing development or a shopping center.

A study completed by Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, LLC in 2020 for the NH Timberland Owners Association, the statewide organization that represents the forest products industry, shows that private landowners own 76% or 3.42 million acres of the forests in the state. Public entities, including municipalities, the state of New Hampshire and the federal government own about 1.14 million acres.

Many of these woodlands are managed. This means the owner plans timber harvests, often years in advance; provides recreational opportunities for the public; creates a diverse habitat that benefits plants and animals; and protects water resources. These are the tenants of the New Hampshire Tree Farm program. In New Hampshire, more than 1,500 landowners, including me, are enrolled in this voluntary program.

Working with our licensed consulting forester, we set goals and objectives for our woodlot that are codified in a management plan. For us, timber harvesting is never an arbitrary exercise.

Our goals center on improving the quality of the trees that grow on our land while also opening views, establishing meadows and creating trails that are open to the public. The 1998 ice storm damaged most of the hardwood trees on our property. With crunched crowns, these trees were alive but could not thrive. During our four timber harvests we extricated some of these trees. When we do, the resulting growth of young trees is stunning.

Enhanced carbon sequestration is another significant benefit of a well-managed forest. Older trees sequestered carbon decades ago. Young to middle-age trees, 30 to 40 years old, sequester the most carbon, today and in the future, when we need it most.

Annual forest growth in New Hampshire exceeds removals (harvesting and land-use change) by almost 2 to 1. This means that every year our forests contain more wood and the trees capture more carbon than they did the previous year. Researchers have been tracking this trend since just after World War II. More information about the science behind carbon sequestration is available at northforestcarbon.org.

Many songbird species are declining in New Hampshire. Loss of habitat is among the reasons for this. The best source for specific details about bird population change in New Hampshire is the “State of NH Birds” by Dr. Pam Hunt, senior biologist, Avian Conservation, for NH Audubon. This document provides a data-driven summary of current bird population changes and a habitat-by-habitat look at how bird populations are changing.

When we bought the Woods Without Gile in 2002, I asked the forester who was walking the land with me why we were not hearing songbirds. “The crown closure is too dense,” he said. “To create openings and edges, habitat that many songbirds require, you’ll need to cut some trees.”

We did. The results have been dramatic. More birds and a greater variety of species now inhabit the Woods Without Gile.

To provide scientific data to corroborate what my husband and I have observed at the Woods Without Gile, we engaged two professional biologists to survey the pre- and post-timber animal and plant species on the property. The goal of this science-based project is to ascertain the impact of timber harvesting on our land.

When the work is complete in 2026, we will share the findings with landowners, foresters and scientists engaged in important research about forests in New Hampshire.

Rather than wanton destruction of the land, a timber harvest, guided by clear objectives, enhances biodiversity, provides many recreational benefits and supports the local economy.

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