PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
PITTSBURG – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, is stepping in to help ensure the future of the big “working forest” she helped conserve more than two decades ago with the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Conservation Easement.
Shaheen reached out Aug. 24 to Bluesource, the new owners of the state’s largest single tract of land to urge them to view their ownership as stewardship and a community partnership to protect its traditional uses and values.
The new owner is set up to sell carbon credits instead of trees, potentially impacting logging.
“This is a special place, and understandably, many in the region have expressed concern if management practices change significantly,” Shaheen wrote to Jamie Houston, chief executive officer of Bluesource Sustainable Forest Company.
“Working closely with all stakeholders provides an important opportunity to create more value for this property through more natural climate solutions, additional economic benefits and better quality of life in the region,” Shaheen wrote.
Attempts to reach Houston for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
As governor 20 years ago, Shaheen, a Democrat, worked with former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, to secure the conservation easement at the very northern tip of the state, on 146,500 acres of land owned previously by International Paper Company in Pittsburg, Stewartstown and Clarksville.
After convening a citizens task force, Shaheen, Gregg and others collected $45 million in state, federal and private funds to buy an easement on the tract.
That legal document did not require logging, said one of its drafters, Charles Levesque, but was designed to forever allow it to continue as a source of wood products for the region’s economy, recreation like snowmobiling and habitat preservation, in keeping with the historic uses and culture of the region.
According to its website, Bluesource is focused on taking former industrial timber land and selling long-term carbon credits to corporations which are interested in reducing their carbon footprint to in some cases zero emissions by a certain goal date.
It manages 1.7 million acres now from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Adirondacks and south to Florida “focused entirely on climate mitigation.”
It takes land with “a history of industrial timber extraction” into new management “for long-term carbon sequestration, climate adaptation and restoration of biodiversity,” its website states.
The private carbon credit market did not exist 20 years ago when Shaheen and Gregg worked out a plan to allow the land to stay in private hands for sustainable logging.
Any reduction due to carbon credits impacts taxpayers, local loggers, truckers, mills and regional economies, local officials say.
Officials for Bluesource, which took over ownership from the Forestland Group last October have indicated to state officials they plan to extend some contracts due to rain this year in New Hampshire.
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, said they told him their plan is to eventually reduce the amount of logging on the massive tract next year by 50 percent.
They have agreed to revise their forest plan and meet with state officials, likely in October to discuss their future plans, state officials said.
In her letter to Houston sent to Bluesource’s headquarters based in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, Shaheen said she appreciates the company’s commitment to sustainable forest management for climate mitigation, forest health, and production of high value timber, but she noted there are benefits to logging here and not pushing the issue of logging out to other places in the world.
“As you know, sustainable timber harvest can be an important tool to enhance forest health, and a viable forest products industry can provide carbon benefits because wood products require less energy than building materials like steel or concrete and play a helpful role in storing carbon,” she said.
“Given the size of the tract of land BSFC now owns and manages in the state, I hope you will give due consideration to the economic value and forest health benefits of maintaining a robust forest products industry in the region by providing locally sourced, sustainably harvested wood rather than shifting demand to create more intensive logging elsewhere and causing carbon leakage as distances to mills increase.”
Officials for both Milan Lumber and Ethan Allen said they will have to go much farther distances than in the past to source the softwood and hardwood they need, respectively. A slow down related to the tract has already caused Milan Lumber to go to a furlough this past July, officials said.
Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources said, “the company owes us an updated, revised annual operating plan, a forest management plan, and they expect to get that to us by October. And at that point, we can sit down and have a real conversation about what the impacts are.”
In an email, last week, she noted the Attorney General’s office is still reviewing the easement and the state’s rights under it to log.
She and Patrick D. Hackley, director of the Division of Forests & Lands wrote a letter to the state’s Headwaters citizens advisory committee that the state is urging Bluesource “to keep in mind the purpose of the conservation easement is to maintain a ‘working forest’ that includes timber harvesting among other important values such as public access for recreation and wildlife habitat management.”
Pittsburg is potentially losing about 10 percent of its tax revenue if the trucks on the Headwaters tract go away, said Pittsburg Selectboard member Steve Ellis.
But it may be possible that the communities could recoup some revenue through law if logging is replaced by something else.
Under RSA: 79, communities may recoup what would have been a timber tax if it is being diverted in another way, said Charles Levesque, a member of the state-appointed advisory group for the Headwaters tract in an Aug. 8 public meeting in Pittsburg. The meeting was attended by more than 80 people.
Levesque, president of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, worked on the project for the Trust for Public Land Connecticut Lakes Realty Trust more than 20 years ago.
At first, it was owned by Lyme Timber which bought the “fee” of 146,500 acres. At the same time, the state purchased about 260 miles of gravel roads within it.
It is a unique arrangement because those are the primary roads and the private landowner owns the rest of the miles mostly off-roads or minor roads and pays the state a fee to use when they are logging.
The state approved more than $1 million to work on improving those roads for the first time this year.
As part of the public deal to protect the entire 171,000 acres the state carved out about 25,000 acres. That went directly to Fish and Game in fee for habitat. Another 100 acres was shaved off and went to potentially expand Deer Mountain Campground in the future. Left was this 146,500 acre tract.
In all, $45 million was spent, with most coming from the federal Forest Legacy Program, a federal program put in $13.5 million and the $10 million came from the state Land & Community Heritage Investment Program. The rest came from private donations.
Both programs were set up to, as Shaheen wrote in her letter, “keep working forests intact to provide a multitude of public benefits including outdoor recreation, clean drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat as well as timber and other forest products.”
Lyme Timber LLC owned and cut the tract, with its easement, for about seven years then sold to the Forestland Group, another logging concern, about 12 years ago.
The Forestland Group cut on the tract but they also began to sell forest carbon credits for the first time, noted Jasen Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.
Forestland Group did not sell but merged with Bluesource, noted Shawn Hagan of Bluesource Sustainable Forest Company.
He told InDepthNH.org in July that the company planned to extend existing contracts in August when the three existing logging contracts were coming to an end. It came at a time when elected officials issued concerns that no new logging was planned.
Stewart said the company is not saying to her that they are going to stop logging altogether but that she is awaiting a more comprehensive understanding of their future plans.
Shaheen said she welcomed “the opportunity for continued dialogue and ask that you provide information that I can share with my constituents…to provide the best value for the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Conservation Easement for all of its stakeholders.”
A copy of the letter is here. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox?projector=1