Making the Connection: Jane Difley's Remarks at Forest Society's 109th Annual Meeting

September 10, 2010

Making the Connection: Jane Difley's Remarks at Forest Society's 109th Annual Meeting

Thanks to all of you for being here at Camp Carpenter tonight. Before I do so, I want to acknowledge that all the Forest Society’s accomplishments are thanks to you, our most dedicated members.

It is thanks to you that our 2010 fiscal year was a success. I want to report to you some of the highlights of last fiscal year, some of our plans for the current year, and some of our long term goals for the years to come.

Financially, we ended the year on solid ground. We have to work harder than ever to press forward on our land protection goals, but even so we protected some 5,500 acres, adding significantly to both our forest reservations and the conservation easements we monitor.

Two weeks ago we celebrated officially one of the conservation highlights of the year, the Ashuelot River Headwaters Forest in Lempster. When we undertook the Ashuelot campaign two years ago, success seemed improbable. But as Henry David Thoreau once said, “We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.”

Well, leap we did. And thanks to more than 650 donors we raised $2.2 million dollars. Contributions ranged from a local bake sale to major gifts from national foundations. We protected not only a working forest but the peak of Silver Mountain and frontage on Long and Sand Ponds. As the foliage turns this month, I highly recommend that you visit this new forest reservation—a short hike or a paddle on either pond will earn you spectacular views. Susan Lichty, a volunteer who helped with the campaign and is now a volunteer land steward, called it a “a little piece of heaven”, which I think sums the place up pretty well.

Equally important, the momentum from the Ashuelot project has inspired other landowners in the area to conserve more than 1,000 additional acres. Clearly, people have embraced a conservation ethic, and by connecting people we are able to connect and protect the landscape.

Elsewhere, we protected a city-owned forest, key anadromous fish habitat, a favorite remote fly-fishing destination, more land around Great Bay and land destined to become part of the White Mountain National Forest. Our projects covered a lot of ground—geographically and in the range of our conservation purposes.

As you know, we are both a conservation and a forestry organization, following our original mission statement of 1904: we are “a forestry association seeking to perpetuate the forests of New Hampshire through their wise use and their complete reservation in places of special scenic beauty.” The wise use of our own forests last year included seven timber harvests yielding both sawlogs and low-grade wood. Our professional forestry staff worked closely with consulting foresters across the state and demonstrated how good forest management can help landowners to keep forests as forests.

We adhere to our forestry mission because it perpetuates a critical stewardship ethic—landowners who work with a forester to actively manage their land—not just for timber but for diverse wildlife habitat and recreation and clean water---ultimately come to understand the how all of those purposes are interrelated. Landowners who manage their land come to love and conserve it, and are fiercely proud of the public benefits their forests provide.

One of the reasons we are in Manchester tonight is because we believe that those of us who live in urban and suburban environments are no less dependent on the forests for clean air, clean water, wood and carbon sequestration. In New Hampshire, both city and country mice embrace the woods.

As members of the Forest Society, you know that we prefer to look ahead to what’s next. You know that even as the ink is drying on one successful land protection project, we’re back at your doorstep ready to talk about the next.

Well, you will soon be hearing more about our effort to conserve Black Mountain, more than 1,000 acres that constitutes the second peak of Mount Kearsarge, plainly visible from Interstate 89 as you head north. The Forest Society has a long history with Mount Kearsarge—Midge Eliassen’s article in the current Forest Notes covers some of that ground—and we firmly believe that we not only need to protect this parcel but to own it and manage it as one of our reservations.

In two weeks we’ll be celebrating the successful conservation of nearly 300 acres that make up an Oxbow on the Merrimack River in Canterbury. We’ll be closing soon on another key piece of the Belknap Mountains in the Lakes Region, and we are working to protect farmland in East Kingston and Nashua. Projects in the North Country are on the horizon.

We also recognize that the fulfillment of our mission demands that we engage people in all communities. Our existing Forest Reservations represent a tremendous opportunity to connect people to the multiple uses of the forest, including recreation, and by extension to the Forest Society. To that end you will see the ongoing expansion of our new online guide to our lands.

2011 is not only our 110th anniversary year, but it’s the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, which led to the establishment of the White Mountain National Forest. The Forest Society was founded in large part to help pass the Weeks Act. We’ll be working with our partners, including the White Mountain National Forest, Appalachian Mountain Club and others to use the anniversary as an opportunity to remind the public of what the industrialists of New Hampshire recognized a century agothe forests are not merely scenic decoration nor a resource to be indiscriminately extracted.

The key concept of the Weeks Act was the acknowledgement that the health of our rivers depend on the health of our forests. The rivers connect the forests in the mountains to the commerce and population downstream. The economy and health in Manchester depend on the White Mountain headwaters that feed the Merrimack.

A century ago it took the river being choked and unpredictable to make that connection. It took laundry hung in Manchester backyards becoming yellowed from the smoke from fires in the decimated White Mountains to get people to understand why healthy forests matter. There’s still a direct connection today, though it is less apparent—but our current generation has an opportunity to reconnect the people of cities like Manchester to the forests in a way that’s positive, and we must work harder to do that.

Finally, I want to spend a few minutes talking about the future. Long term thinking is one of the characteristics of a forester—after all, watching paint dry is a thrilling, face-paced drama compared to watching trees grow. Foresters manage the land not with the next quarter or the next fiscal year in mind, but the next 40 years. And the longer your time frame, the more there is to think about---other potential uses of the forest, invasive pests, damaging weather events and other potential casualties and opportunities. The good forester works to build resilience into the forest.

Our goal—not just the Forest Society’s goal but society’s goal—must be to build the same kind of resilience into our communities and our state. To make wise choices for the long term by thinking more broadly and more deeply.

Among those wise choices is to care about the protection of land –in perpetuity -  because that’s the longest term we can have. In New Hampshire, our forests are the key to not just our long-term quality of life, but to our long-term survival.

Wise choices start with a clear vision, and we created such a vision nine years ago in New Hampshire Everlasting, in which we call for the permanent protection of one million additional acres by the year 2026. Since then we have developed a strategy for accomplishing that vision by collaborating on regional plans that help identify land conservation priorities—we now have plans not only in the Quabbin-to-Cardigan corridor in western New Hampshire, but in the Lakes Region, the Coastal Watershed, and here in the more heavily developed Merrimack River Valley.

In the Q2C and around Great Bay in particular, we are experiencing the benefits of collaboration at the regional level. Increasingly we are seeing a similar convergence New England-wide through the efforts of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Land Protection, an initiative of The New England Governor’s Conference. After dinner, you will hear more about Wildlands and Woodlands, a New England-wide conservation vision put forward by Harvard Forest. And even at the national level, America’s Great Outdoors is a federal initiative that hopes to build on successes like those in New Hampshire and turn the national dialogue about conservation into action.

As part of this, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak recently chose to convene a conference in Concord to discuss the future of America’s working forests. I like to think that he recognized that here in New Hampshire we are already thinking long term, with vision, in an effort to make wise choices about land conservation.

But one of the big ideas we need to think about more broadly and deeply is how forestlands are managed. What will forestry be in 40 to 80 years? It’s time now to think about it, envision it, and then make it happen.

I’ve spoken about the Merrimack River tonight not only because it connects us as a state, and connects the forests to people, but because it also connects us historically to Henry Thoreau.

It was Thoreau who penned the phrase “…a New Hampshire everlasting and unfallen” from which we took the name of our own statewide conservation vision. You may recall that Thoreau and his brother traveled the river in 1839, a trip that was made famous when he wrote and published a book called A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

I want to leave you with a quote from that journal, a quote inspired as he paddled upstream along the Amoskeag section of the Merrimack not far from here. He wrote:

Thus, far from the beaten highways and

the dust and din of travel, we beheld the country privately, yet

freely, and at our leisure. Other roads do some violence to

Nature, and bring the traveller to stare at her, but the river

steals into the scenery it traverses without intrusion, silently

creating and adorning it, and is as free to come and go as the


Thank you for being here, thank you for your support, and thank you for your own conservation ethic.