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Forum, Oct. 3: Forest management is complex


Wednesday, October 02, 2019
Forest management is complex

The proposed heating plant for Dartmouth College has generated a healthy discussion on biomass and forest management. As a professional forester, I’ve spent more than 30 years in the woods. Time in the forest has helped me develop personal ethics that guide my forest management approach. It is a humble one, with the utmost respect for the land and the natural processes that support it. This approach is not unique; many foresters and forest landowners feel the same way.

Unfortunately, most present-day forests are far from what might be considered natural. While beautiful, our forests were cleared for pasture. They regrew (often with a different species mix), and many were then harvested in an exploitative manner. Now, with changing wildlife populations and a warming climate, historic vegetation patterns have been altered. The introduction of invasive plants and pathogens has also fundamentally changed the forest forever.

Modern forest management in our region rarely involves replacing natural forests with tree plantations, as some have said. Most commonly, our forests are managed in a balanced way, working to build resiliency while achieving other landowner goals, such as forest health, recreation, wildlife habitat improvement, aesthetic enhancements and income generation. Often, this approach involves partial harvesting, in which the healthiest trees are left to grow and canopy gaps are created to stimulate new growth.

While timber harvesting can hardly be described as a natural process, it is an important tool to achieve these goals. Biomass is one of more than a dozen products generated in a typical timber harvest. Many of the trees removed are not burned; they are turned into durable, long-lasting products. Think of a wooden table or flooring in a house as a beautiful and functional way to store carbon. Meanwhile, naturally regenerating trees will replace those harvested — pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for many years.

Having robust markets for a multitude of forest products makes this type of management viable for landowners.

JEFF SMITH

Thetford Center

The writer is a consulting forester with Butternut Hollow Forestry.

The invaluable biomass market

I am a 1975 graduate of Dartmouth College. I have been in and around forestry and forestry operations for more than 40 years here in New England. I write to respond to the three alumni scientists who argued against building a biomass heating plant (“Dartmouth’s planned biomass plant would only make things worse,” Aug. 9). In short, that column said, “We don’t want to cut down the forests and burn them up.”

Here are a few facts to consider:

Almost all harvesting operations in New England are integrated operations, meaning a variety of products — including sawlogs for lumber, firewood, pulpwood, and biomass — are produced from a harvest.

Biomass is mostly a byproduct of a timber harvest. Instead of letting the tops and branches release carbon through decay, utilizing the biomass displaces fossil fuels.

Harvests in Northern New England are mostly partial cuts in which 40%-50% of the forest is removed, leaving growing space for the remaining forest to thrive.

The notion that the forests will be cut down for biomass is just plain wrong. Sometimes, crooked or malformed trees are utilized for biomass as the biomass market is an invaluable tool to improve the quality of the residual trees in the forest.

New Hampshire and Vermont forests are growing wood at a rate of about double what we are harvesting every year. Indeed, surveys by the U.S. Forest Service show that wood inventory in our forests has been increasing since 1950, and continues to increase.

Thinning the forest through periodic harvesting and management avoids the overcrowding that kills a lot of trees — trees that eventually decay and release their carbon as both carbon dioxide and methane. A well-managed forest will result in an increase in solid wood products, and thus increased carbon sequestration in those wood products.

It is in the best interests of the college, the forests of New Hampshire and Vermont and the fight against global warming to build the biomass heating plant at Dartmouth.

James C. Dammann,

Hillsborough, N.H.

The writer is a licensed forester in New Hampshire.