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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., are seen Monday Aug. 9, 2010 in Concord, N.H. after meeting with landowners, timber industry representatives, conservationists and state officials discuss the challenges facing New Hampshire's private forests. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Answers among the trees

CONCORD – To put into perspective how badly foresters are struggling, Dave Tellman broke it down into simple dollars and cents.

In the late 1990s, Tellman, a forest landowner in Whitefield, was getting anywhere from $6 to $9 for a ton of pulp, a product used for making paper. However, the market for pulp has dried up, and Tellman said selling wood chips for fuel hasn’t come close to replacing the revenue. Just last week, Tellman signed a timber harvesting contract to sell wood chips for $1 a ton.

“My point is we do expect some return,” said Tellman, a member of the New Hampshire Board of Foresters. “The resource is out there, but unless we’re compensated fairly, that resource is going to stay in the woods.”

Tellman was one of several panelists at a public discussion Monday at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. The event was one of dozens being held around the country, part of President Barack Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative. The goal is to build a forest conservation and recreation agenda by reaching out to people around the country who are fighting to keep forests intact for future generations.

Forests occupy 4.8 million acres, 84 percent of the Granite State, the second-highest rate of forestation in the country, behind only Maine. According to the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, the area of forest land in New Hampshire has declined by 134,500 acres (2.7 percent) since 1983. Forestry is at about the same level as it was in the state in 1948.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack moderated the panel discussion. Since the initiative launched April 16, there have been 18 similar public forums held around the country, he said. Vilsack said 53 percent of the lower 48 states’ water supply comes from forests and said outdoor recreation and tourism adds approximately $730 billion to the nation’s economy.

“Conserving our forests isn’t just something we should choose to do, it’s something we must do,”

Vilsack said he has heard about the importance of local partnerships to conserve large landscapes, as well as calls for the federal government to provide more technical assistance, consistent financial help and innovative tax incentives. Forestry needs to be economically viable or else many landowners will be forced to sell, he said.

Vilsack said one of the most consistent concerns expressed to him has been the need to connect children with the outdoors.

That concern for more education was echoed by many of the people taking part in the panel discussion Monday in Concord.

“There needs to be a requirement that at least one day of the school year, the teachers take the students outside into the woods or onto a farm and learn about outdoors that way,” Tellman said.

Vilsack said feedback from the sessions will be compiled into a report and presented to Obama. Vilsack said a report to be released this week found that 57 million acres of privately owned forest land in America could be in jeopardy. The loss of that forest land would have a devastating impact on several facets of our daily lives, he said.

“Our clean water, our forest products, our wildlife and our recreation,” Vilsack said.

Panelists were asked what they would tell Obama their biggest concern is. Roger Milliken, chairman of the Nature Conservancy’s board and a Maine forest owner, said he would ask the president for flexible and ample funding to promote collaborative solutions among organizations promoting conservation.

“Conservation is about protecting a life-support system that supports all of us,” Milliken said.

Jane Difley, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said there are still bright spots. She told the story of how her organization helped to preserve 1,750 acres of forest in a small northern New Hampshire town. But it was the support of the residents that impressed Difley. People held bake sales to support the cause and in the end, Difley said 3,000 acres could be saved after neighbors began donating adjacent land.

There’s a lot that can be done with inspiration, she said, but there are still many challenges facing forest conservation.

“When we lose forest land, we’re not just losing a piece of landscape that’s pretty, we’re losing opportunities for the future,” she said.

Will Manzer, CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports, said more needs to be done to market the economic benefits of conservation. There are too many people now who think it’s just a bunch of “ex-hippie tree-huggers,” he said.

“It’s really about communication and education, because it’s just not getting through,” Manzer said.

Gov. John Lynch and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also spoke about the importance of preserving the state’s forests. Shaheen said outdoor recreation and tourism employs thousands of people in the state and generates $4 billion each year in retails sales and services, which accounts for 8 percent of the gross state product.

Several hundred people attended the event, representing a host of organizations throughout the state and across New England. After the panel discussion, attendees broke out into groups to talk about things like conservation incentives and strategies.

Alaina Smith, 21, from Lyme, is taking part in a program this summer called Student Conservation Association. The program has college students spending their summers engaged in conservation projects. Smith, a student at Green Mountain College in Vermont, is spending her internship removing invasive plants from Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt.

She and other members of the Student Conservation Association who came out the event agreed that more needs to be done to educate students about the importance of conservation, especially in high school.

“Growing up in New Hampshire, it’s something I’ve always been passionate about,” she said.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.