Change is Hard, Often for Best.

June 23, 2011

The Donas J. and Margaret Reney Memorial Forest in Grantham was purchased by the Forest Society in 2002 from siblings Everett “Mike” Reney and his sister, Lena Cote. The Cote & Reney families had operated the nearby commercial sawmill and retail lumberyard for three generations.

This particular woodlot was purchased as a “working forest” – a forest managed for timber production since the early 1900s. The forest was preceded by a working farm landscape of open pastures, hay fields and tilled cropland high on Barton Hill. The cellars of the Barton Farm replete with a mossy, stone-lined well and remains of a sugarhouse foundation are hidden deep in the woods. The Reney Forest is laced with old log skidder trails and stonewalls that reveal how the land was utilized.

Like most rural landscapes, the tract has a long history of farming and logging operations over two centuries. Today there is larger timber and more diverse wildlife habitats on the tract even after a century of continuous management. The forest contains many different ages, sized and species of trees. A new chapter will soon unfold when a timber harvest occurs on a 140-acre portion of the 413-acre tract this summer.

 In advance of a July 24 public tour, I accompanied my colleague, forester, Wendy Weisiger along with Meadowsend Timberlands consulting forester, Jeremy Turner and Matt Tarr, UNH Cooperative Extension Wildlife Specialist, on a pre-harvest reconnaissance. We hiked to remote areas where trees are marked for removal with blue forestry paint and where selected “crop trees” to be protected during the harvest are flagged with pink survey ribbon. Crop trees will grow for several more decades after the timber harvest. The skidder trail layout is marked by hanging orange survey tape. The combined effect of paint, ribbons and flagging particularly in areas marked heavily at the boundary of different logging prescriptions is that of a temple of forestry, prayer flags fluttering.

 Why all the survey ribbon and blue paint?

“Walking the logging crew” is Turner’s terse reply. Logging crews walk through the area with the consulting forester to review trees to be cut and removed and also which types and ages are favored for “release” from the shade and competition. Trees left behind will comprise the desired residual stand, the future forest. Care is required to protect them from damage during the logging operation.

Communication is mutual, loggers review the forester’s suggested layout of main and secondary skidder trails – all careful and intentional in crossing hiking trails, historic roads and stonewalls while avoiding wet areas or special habitats. A logger’s job is to carefully cut and skid trees to the landing to be sorted into various grades of products – logs for lumber, pulpwood, firewood, biomass chips – all transported off site. Loggers convey how their machines can most efficiently operate the areas to be cut. They know the limitations imposed by steep slopes, wet soils and the mechanical capabilities of their diesel-powered heavy equipment. They must avoid pulling loads uphill or for long distances.

A forester’s job is to protect and to grow the next forest. Trees selected to be left behind will grow faster and produce more seed to regenerate new seedlings in temporary sun-lit openings. We don’t plant trees after logging. Natural recruitment of seedlings is sufficient to re-stock a forest with millions of new trees – particularly this year where a heavy crop of periodic ash and maple seeds are poised to rain onto the forest floor by late summer.

Matt Tarr, the wildlife biologist on our reconnaissance stopped to review each new treatment area where forester, Turner explained his thinking about which trees were marked to cut and asked “what do you think?” Tarr would nod in agreement and cite specific wildlife considerations, for example how fallen rotting logs and heavy branches provide cover for frogs and salamanders at the edge of a wet sedge meadow with beaked hazelnut shrubs. Tarr noted mature beech trees with bear claw marks, dead snags for woodpeckers and cavity dens, tall pines for winter turkey roosts and where the moose are browsing on striped maple. He talked about the role of yellow birch bark texture and the foraging efficiency of insect-gleaning songbirds. The hike highlighted how regenerating stands of young trees in the new patches of sunlight would soon provide thick cover and diverse food for newly-fledged songbirds and openings for flycatchers and bats. 

In short, the timber harvest on the Reney forest will provide more diverse wildlife habitats for a wider array of native species. Communication and an intentional approach to the coming changes are the hallmarks of a carefully-managed, working forest landscape. The timber harvest may look disruptive but it’s not destructive. Each natural resource professional brings knowledge and expertise to enhance the quality of the forest and the opportunities for the wildlife of Barton Hill who continue to call the Forest Society’s Reney Memorial Forest their home.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Director of Education and Volunteer Services for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears once a month in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at or through the Forest Society Web site: