Q&A with Forest Society President Jane Difley

By Jack Kenny, NH Business Review

Forest Society President/Forester Jane Difley.

Forest Society President/Forester Jane Difley. Photo by Karla Cinquanta.

Only the fourth president/forester to lead the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests since its founding in 1901, Jane Difley has a long history in the fields of conservation and forestry. The Worcester, Mass., native is a former vice president of forestry programs and national director of the American Tree Farm System. She is also the first woman to be elected president of the Society of American Foresters.

Prior to joining the Forest Society in 1996, she was executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. She currently serves on the Leadership Council of the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance.

Q. When and why did you set your sights on a career in forestry?

A. I was an undergraduate studying English on the first Earth Day and I was interested in the environment, and I was especially interested in doing something practical, something applied. I wasn’t very interested in research. I wanted to be involved with people and with the natural world. And I went to forestry school.

Q. What inspired the creation of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests way back in 1901?

A. I was to protect the White Mountains. There had been extensive logging and a lot of slash left on the mountains. There were trains in the forests carrying out the logs, and sparks from the trains lit the slash and caused big forest fires. That had huge impacts on the Merrimack River downstream and to the commercial mills in Manchester and all along the Merrimack River, because the trees in the mountains were no longer holding onto the water. The mills south of the mountains were experiencing the slash and getting a lot of dirty water brought into their work. It was really not good for the mills.

Q. What is the overall importance of New Hampshire’s forests to the state’s economy?

A. It’s huge. A couple of the economic engines of New Hampshire are the tourist economy and the forest products industry. The forests are crucial to the tourist industry because of their beauty and their ability to provide clean air and water and habitats for wildlife and opportunities for recreation. And then of course, the forest products industry uses wood from our forests. Most people don’t realize that most of the land in New Hampshire is privately owned. So landowners, if they practice sustainable forestry, can receive income that allows them to keep their land in forests. So we think of good forestry as a way to practice conservation.

Q. What is the Manchester Waterworks project?

A. We are purchasing a conservation easement around Tower Hill Pond. It means that land will never be developed, but that Manchester Waterworks will still own and manage it and will continue to protect the water quality of the lake.

Q. If Manchester Waterworks owns the land and it’s their responsibility to protect the water, why do they need the Forest Society to purchase an easement? Why can’t they just protect the land and water themselves?

A. They could, but by having us as a partner it assures that they will have someone that will not allow them to develop the land. Because Manchester Waterworks, as a city department, could change its mind and decide to develop that land at some future time. And the money they’re going to get from this is money they’re going to use to protect other lands in the watershed. I think the water from that watershed goes to about 660,000 people.

Q. What is the Stillhouse Forest Project?

A. That’s protected land along the Merrimack River in Northfield and Canterbury. We’re buying the land instead of a conservation easement, and it’s going to become one of our permanent reservations.

One of the neat things about that reservation is that it will have public access from the river. The Stillhouse Forest is on the Merrimack River, and the river has figured prominently in the role of the Forest Society since our founding in 1901. We have a renewed focus on the Merrimack since the U.S. Forest Service a couple of years ago declared the Merrimack River one of the most threatened watersheds in the nation from conversion of forests to other uses. The good news is we still have an opportunity to protect the river, the water quality, the beauty and the wildlife habitat and the access to the river if we act now.

Q. How much land is currently in Forest Society reservations and how much additional land is under protection?

A. Reservations are about 56,000 acres and there are somewhere around 130,000 acres of land that we helped protect but hold no interest in. There are somewhere around a million acres, including the White Mountain National Forest, that are protected lands in New Hampshire.

Q. The society has announced the rather ambitious goal of protecting an additional “1 million acres of New Hampshire’s most significant lands” in the next quarter century. Why is that necessary?

A. I think it goes back to some of the things I said earlier. If we protect an additional 25 percent of New Hampshire, there’s still a lot of land left for development. But the thing about protecting the forest is that we’re protecting water quality for human and wildlife use; we’re protecting large blocks of forestland; we’re protecting wildlife habitat; we’re protecting agricultural land and lands that are important in communities. And all of these really add up to what the quality of life is in New Hampshire.

And of those million acres, we don’t expect to protect them all on our own. There are other land trusts and community and state agencies, all of whom have capacity to protect land.

New Hampshire has about 5.8 million acres and currently, including the White Mountain National Forest, about 30 percent of the state is protected. And the goal, really, is to protect 40 percent or more, which still leaves a lot of land available for development. And when we talk about protecting land, we’re not talking about locking it up and throwing away the key. We still practice sustainable forestry. On the agricultural land, people can still practice agriculture. And most conservation lands are open for public access.

Q. Why is the Forest Society so determined to “bury Northern Pass”?

A. When we buy or are given land for reservation or conservation easement we agree to permanently protect that land from certain kinds of development. This is about scale. The towers are going to be twice as tall in some places as they currently are and the plans call for winding wire through 192 miles. And some of that, particularly in the North Country, is in places where no wires currently exist. And there are very few benefits to New Hampshire. This was not a project called for by the grid. It was all about making money.

Q. What are some of the recreational activities the Forest Society offers the public?

A. Certainly hiking, viewing wildlife and nature; paddling. Many of our reservations have fishing and hunting opportunities. Where there are state-designated snowmobile trails, we allow those trails to continue. People walk their dogs on our land. We provide education, hikes. We own land on the Seacoast and all they way up the mountains. There is a great diversity of things to do on our land.

Q. The Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests is over 100 years old. What do you envision New Hampshire’s forests will be like 100 years from now?

A. Because of the work of the Forest Society and our many sister land trusts in the state, along with the U.S. Forest Service and state and national parks, much of New Hampshire will look the way it does today. And I think part of that is because the land is protected, and part of it is because New Hampshire has a long tradition of supporting the environment and understanding that New Hampshire’s quality of life and its economy depend on the natural world and our forests.