More Popular Than Watching Trees Grow

February 5, 2011

Public Tours of Forest Society's Working Woodlands

Forestry and logging professionals work to manage our state’s forestlands for the long term. Public tours of active timber harvesting operations on working woodlands have proven to be an effective way to provide education and engender greater public understanding and appreciation for good forestry.

The Forest Society owns and proudly manages 170 individual tracts of forestland totaling 50,000 acres statewide. When we conduct timber harvest tours, it’s a perennially popular field trip. Each winter when the ground is frozen and the snow is deep, we invite our neighbors over to tour some of our working woodlands – just when we’re in the process of making a bit of a mess; albeit temporarily

My forestry colleagues are quick to point out that cutting timber is not what “good forestry” is all about any more than harvesting corn is epitome of all farming. Foresters patiently remind me their goal is not merely removing trees, but growing trees. Yet our field trips to watch trees grow have not proven nearly as popular as the logging tours!

Foresters are trained to envision change in woodlands over long time frames – usually several decades. People are visual creatures. We think more in the present tense and tend to view forest disturbance and visual chaos negatively. This creates a fundamental challenge for forestland owners and managers: people are unaccustomed to the scale of change when loggers are cutting trees and using skidders to pull logs while leaving behind the waste “slash” of non-merchantable tops.

Logging may seem disruptive but it isn’t necessarily destructive. Two things people are not comfortable with: change and mess. Yet there’s no way to “thin the garden” of weed trees while harvesting quality saw-log timber without creating a bit of both. A timber harvest is one important tool to regenerate young trees and to provide greater wildlife habitat diversity. The key for the forestry community is to provide more public education opportunities so people can see carefully planned and executed timber harvesting operations.

During one recent field trip, 40 people hiked into the interior of the 1000-acre Yatsevitch Forest Reservation in Cornish. The first stop was a silvicultural clearcut established last winter to benefit wildlife and to regenerate sun-loving trees. The wildlife biologist shared specific wildlife habitats recommendations he had made for this larger opening in the surrounding woodland matrix to create a wildlife nursery and magnet rich in insect protein, fruits, acorns and lush vegetation. We could see how sprouts from cut stumps are providing wildlife browse and cover. The forester then explained the goal to regenerate sun-loving aspen, white birch, cherry and white pine. The area cut represents less than one percent of the entire Yatsevitch tract

Statewide, our long-term goal is to keep forests as forests. The opportunity to use logging as a tool to regenerate desirable trees, improve wildlife habitat and generate revenue to pay forestry expenses, local timber taxes and municipal property taxes is essential to keeping the state’s private forests economically viable

It’s true that harvesting isn’t “farming” any more than logging is “forestry.” Yet harvesting is as much a part of farming as planting, cultivating, weeding, watering, thinning and growing crops. Anyone with a backyard vegetable garden understands the analogy. The fundamental difference between cutting corn vs. pine is we don’t eat lumber

Yet domestic consumption of forest products - ranging from lumber, pulp for paper, cellulose, cordwood, fuel-wood chips for biomass energy or for manufacture of wood pellets - fuels robust markets for locally-grown NH forest products. Burning organic, free-range, locally-grown cordwood doesn’t engender the same warm-fuzzy as buying produce at local farmer’s market. But it should!

Now consider: on average NH farms are 55% forested by land area. Many of the largest farms in the state are as much as 70% forested. As Robert Frost wrote in his poem Gathering Leaves - “…a crop is a crop”

 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: