Sawdust in Their Veins: Tree Farmers Have Their Day

Forest Journal

Dave Anderson | September 28, 2014

Bob and Jennie French. Photo by Laura French.

In New Hampshire, forests cover 4.8 million acres. That's 84 percent of the state, as anyone who has flown over it can attest. Northern hardwoods - beech, birch and maple - make up more than 53 percent of statewide forest cover. Private individuals, extended families and businesses collectively own more than 76 percent of the forest land statewide. Private ownership of forests that provide much public value is an important concept.

Lack of built infrastructure doesn't mean the land is unproductive or empty. In fact, the reverse proves to be true. Ask any New Hampshire Tree Farmer!

Far-sighted families own and proudly manage forestland enrolled in the New Hampshire Tree Farm Program. Certified Tree Farms provide myriad public benefits, including clean air, improved wildlife habitats, recreation - such as hiking, hunting and fishing - all while protecting regional water quality and scenic values.

Tree farms also produce timber. Tree farmers grow and harvest homegrown wood products while following the tenets of progressive, sustainable forestry.

The American Tree Farm System, started in 1941, is a nationwide program that encourages private forest owners to actively manage their forests for multiple values. Certified Tree Farms are privately owned, well-managed forests whose owners demonstrate a commitment to good stewardship of their woods.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests first brought the Tree Farm Program to the state in 1950. Today the program is co-sponsored with the Timberland Owners Association, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and the Granite State Division of the Society of American Foresters.

The French family 

The 2014 "Outstanding Tree Farm of the Year" award was presented at the Farm and Forest Expo in Manchester in February to Robert L.V. French, owner of Greentree Forest and the Meadowsend Sawmill in Hopkinton and the proud patriarch of a family with a long history of hardwood lumber enterprises.

French family members collectively preside over a hardwood lumber and forestry empire spanning several states and five generations.

The family lumber business began with the former Atlantic Lumber Company of Boston, which had timberlands in Tennessee and Kentucky and a sawmill in Quebec. After the sale of Atlantic in 1970, Bob French founded Northland Forest Products (NFP) at a former chicken farm in Kingston. NFP mid-Atlantic operations are based in Troy, Va. Since 1987, Northland has been run by Bob's son Jameson "Jamey" French.

Bob's son Steve is president of Abenaki Timber Corp., another company Bob founded after the sale of Atlantic Lumber. Steve French is also a managing partner of Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. (MTL) of New London, which owns more than 30,000 acres of forestland in northern New England and manage another 30,000.

Passion for conservation

Nearly half the 30,000 acres owned by MTL are permanently conserved - protected by conservation easements held by the Forest Society or other regional land trusts. Bob French was an early proponent of conservation easements that allow private forestland to remain in family ownerships while permanently protecting the most important public conservation values - wood, water, wildlife and recreation. The relationship between conserved, working forests and healthy, vibrant wood markets is mutually beneficial.

New Hampshire's annual Tree Farm Field Day was recently held at the French family's home tree farm, Greentree Forest in Hopkinton. The nearly 2,400 acre forest surrounds Sugar Hill and includes tracts in both Henniker and Weare. It's one of the largest privately owned tracts of forestland in the Granite State.

The Meadowsend Sawmill Inc. is located on Greentree Forest, which includes 30 acres of ponds and 120 acres of wetlands, including a heron rookery and Black Gum swamp. There are also 140 acres of working agricultural fields and 20 acres of wildlife openings created in the forest.

In the last 15 years, 30 timber harvests have produced more than 3 million board feet of high-quality timber and 20,000 tons of pulp and fuel wood. Ownership objectives for Greentree Forest include state-of-the-art timber harvesting, working with local logging families and following sustainable, ecosystem-based forest management practices.

More than 2,100 acres - 90 percent of Greentree Forest - are permanently protected via a conservation easement held by the Forest Society. The property is adjacent to public land including the Hopkinton-Everett Lake, Audubon Chase Sanctuary and Hopkinton and Weare town forests. Collectively, the property and surrounding public lands comprise 10,000 acres of contiguous conservation land less than seven miles from the city of Concord.The gathering of the Tree Farm clans at Tree Farm Field Day is a great annual tradition.

A tour of a mechanized timber harvest at Meadowsend Farm. Photo by Laura French

The Greentree Forest field day included both mechanized and traditional chainsaw and cable skidder timber harvest tours. Experts demonstrated logging, grading hardwood sawlogs and a sawmill. A pig roast and chicken barbecue lunch was served under a tent with stunning views of Mount Kearsarge. Old friends and new acquaintances celebrated their connections to New Hampshire forests and forestry.It's fun when longtime tree farmers assemble at this annual event. The collective expertise and passion for forestry is palpable as is the fierce independence of members in this subculture.

When Bob French reflects on his own family's five generations on the land, in the woods and in the hardwood lumber business he quips: "I guess you could say my family has sawdust in its veins."