America's Great Outdoors: A look at the Future of New England's Working Forests

NWF's Northeast Regional Center participates in a discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing working forests on private lands

08-26-2010 // Chris Hilke, Climate Safeguards Program Coordinator, NWF Northeast Regional Center
NH AGO Listening Session

On August 9th, I represented the National Wildlife Federation's Northeast Regional Center at an America's Great Outdoors Listening Session in New Hampshire.  The listening session was one of several to occur in the Northeast, and number 18 of 25 in a nationwide effort by the Obama Administration to gather input for a 21st century conservation agenda focused on reconnecting Americans with the outdoors.
Conservationists, timber industry officials and landowners gathered in Concord to discuss ways to facilitate a sustainable future for New England's working forests.  This particular listening session was unique in that it focused on the "green infrastructure" of New England's working forests, including its ecosystem services, renewable energy, forest products, travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation opportunities.  With 38,105,372 acres of private forest in the four state region (ME, NH, VT, NY), there was a specific emphasis on examining working forests on private lands

A Panel of Distinguished Guests

The event kicked off with opening remarks from New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Governor, John Lynch and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.  Opening remarks were followed by an interesting round robin panel discussion with stakeholder representatives that was moderated by Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.  Panelists participating in the discussion included:

Jane Difley, President of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
Brad Simpkins, Acting New Hampshire State Forester
Roger Milliken, The Nature Conservancy
Peter Stein of Lyme Timber Co
Dave Tellman, a NH family forest landowner
Will Manzer, CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports
Walter Graff, Vice President of the Appalachian Mountain Club
Jamey French, President of the Hardwood Federation and Northland Forest Products.

NH AGO Listening Session

The Take-Home Points

There were three primary messages that were repeatedly addressed by members of the panel throughout the course of the discussion.  The first included the need for additional funding and support to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  Tom Vilsack initiated the sentiment, stating early on that LWCF funding had been a theme common to many of the previous listening sessions.  The point was later reiterated by several of the panelists during the course of the discussion.  The second included an increasing cultural and societal prerogative to get children currently glued to their TVs outdoors, and reconnected to the natural world.

Walter Graff commented that "it's a generation that we're losing right now" and "that generation is the conservationists of the future".  Dave Tellman followed the point by saying that teachers should devote one day a week to outdoor led activities.  Brad Simpkins responded that "kids learn about what's going on in tropical rain forests before they learn about whats going on in their own backyard". 

The final points that were repeatedly emphasized during the panel discussions revolved around the declining state of forest material economies including, the loss of jobs among loggers and pulp mill workers, the need for federal subsidies supporting forest industries, and a greater emphasis on collaborative initiatives that preserve New England's working forests.

The Breakout Sessions

Government officials led five breakout sessions following the panel discussion.  The workgroups were charged with providing administration representatives with feedback regarding the successes and future needs specific to the topic areas.  The discussion topics included:

1) Promoting markets and providing incentives for traditional wood products and new markets for working forests.
2) Providing incentives, investments and polices to support the strategic conservation of working forest landscapes.
3) Providing incentives, investments, and policies to re-connect Americans, including outdoor recreation and educational experiences, to working forests.
4) Maintaining and managing working forests in the face of climate change.
5) Engaging youth to be the future conservation leaders of working forests.

I attended the session focused on maintaining and managing working forests in the face of climate change.  While the session was attended by a diverse number of interests that provided a wide range of feedback, the difficulties and opportunities associated with the implementation of regional forest carbon markets was a predominate theme throughout.  Jad Daley (Trust for Public Land) and Michael Goergen (Society of American Forests) both presented compelling arguments for carbon markets and the role that forests can play in mitigating carbon emissions. 

What's Next

Several more listening sessions are planned across the county and I encourage everyone to attend one if they can.  Attending one of the sessions, and giving voice to what you see as working and what's in need of support is akin to voting.  My hope is that the comments that the Obama Administration receives from these listening sessions will truly provide the scaffolding for a new conservation agenda based upon feedback from local on-the-ground successes and needs.  I will next be attending a Listening session in Bangor, ME on September 2nd, and I look forward to sharing my experiences from the event.  See you there.

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