By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
PITTSBURG – Executive Councilor Joe Kenney said he met recently with the new owners of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters tract to convey his concern about their ownership objectives and impacts to logging in the Great North Woods.
Executive Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, also expressed concern about habitat changes and impacts to the environment if the land is not logged.
“It’s no good for the wildlife,” Wheeler said, following the state’s Executive Council meeting.
Various elected officials and state government leaders are responding to local concerns raised by the change in ownership and potential impacts to reduced logging.
It comes when the Conn. Lakes Headwaters Citizen’s advisory committee is meeting Sept. 27 at 10:30 a.m. at the Pittsburg Ridge Runners Clubhouse at 17 Dickson Lane in Pittsburg. It is open to the public and the issues of changes are likely to be discussed.
Kenney, a Wakefield Republican, said he is concerned that Bluesource Sustainable Forest Co., the new owners of the 146,500 acre tract, are focused on selling carbon credits and leaving the forest to grow rather than logging it.
The land is in Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown.
Kenney said the public paid over $45 million on an easement which protects the land from development but it was also intended to secure the land for logging and recreation.
And Wheeler, a Milford Republican, said he has concerns for the change in habitat.
The two spoke following a meeting of the state’s Executive Council Wednesday at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge.
Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said Bluesource officials plan to sit down with her office in October to give them an updated, revised annual operating plan, a forest management plan and have “some real conversation about what the impacts are.”
Among those are loss of timber tax benefits to the towns particularly to the Town of Pittsburg which receives almost $175,000 a year or 10 percent of its taxes from timber logging, and other impacts to the state from a loss of revenue from road use when the land is logged.
Also U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH has reached out to the company to convey local concerns that the land was conserved 20 years ago in part to protect local logging jobs and the recreation-based economy of the Great North Woods.
Kenney said he was told by the company it plans to reduce by 50 percent its logging for the coming year.
A meeting was held in Ossipee recently, he said.
“It’s more what I had to say to Bluesource. You walk into centuries of harvesting culture, people who work off the land and are good stewards of the land,” he said.
While he said the representatives of the company, based in Utah, noted that they oversee 1.7 million acres in other states, “I said but this is New Hampshire. This is the Live Free or Die state and people really do have livelihoods at stake by decisions that you make. Their plan is to not harvest 50 percent of it next year and that is going to impact what I understand is the easement fees that they pay to the state to maintain the roads,” he said, in addition to loss of local revenue.
Officials for Bluesource were not immediately available for comment Thursday.
However, in an Aug. 25 letter to Shaheen, Jamie Houston, chief executive officer for Bluesource, said. “the lands under discussion have been managed as a carbon project since 2013 at which time changes were implemented from the previous practice. The changes that will occur under (our) management plan will build on the practices in place…we also want to reinforce that we have been and will continue to abide by the letter and spirit of the easement.”
Kenney said “this whole carbon credit thing is something that is not well understood” but that there may be ways to exact some new fees if that is how the land is to be managed.
He said he believes Shaheen met with Bluesource officials a day after his meeting and was told she “scared them with the idea of maybe assessing carbon tax credits…to support the local community… They all went silent, apparently,” he said.
Kenney said Shaheen’s North Country assistant Chuck Henderson met with Pittsburg Selectboard’s Steve Ellis and officials for the Department of Environmental Services because of concerns about the roads around Lake Francis where the dam is located.
Complicating the matter is the fact that the state owns many of the main roads in the tract and that the owner pays to use them when they log them.
Over $1 million has been allocated to improve roads on the tract in the coming biennium.
Kenney said he is focused on job loss and creation as a result of the change in business objectives, noting there was no such thing as a carbon credit market 20 years ago, but now, owners of large tracts can get more money than they can for logs, keeping the trees growing.
“I asked about the creation of jobs,” to replace the ones lost from logging, shipping and processing wood, he said.
Councilor Wheeler, a keen observer of issues related to the New Hampshire and Game Department, said the whole concept of carbon credits is not good for some species like moose.
In fact that is correct, said Henry Jones who is New Hampshire Fish and Game’s Moose Project Leader.
He said, “If you stop cutting trees it is not going to be good for moose.”
The iconic species are most abundant in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire and rely on a conifer cover that connects to forests with diverse age classes. They need a new forest for forage and an old forest for protection and food.
Jones said it is not just moose but warblers, grouse, snowshoe hares, fishers and pine marten that depend on an early successional forest habitat.
He said he plans to provide input as the state looks at the logging objectives of Bluesource, which assumed the land as part of a corporate merger with The Forestland Group last October.
The Forestland Group did sell some carbon credits on the tract but also had logging contracts which are now coming to an end.
Bluesource has indicated it plans to write extensions on some of those contracts in the coming year, but mills in both Milan and Beecher Falls, Vt. have been counting on both softwood and hardwood respectively from the tract for years and could face either going farther afield to supply their mills or layoffs.
And the change impacts loggers, foresters and other businesses which rely on their business including local banks.
Kenney said ultimately, Bluesource might find that this tract might not be the land for them, as they are accustomed to taking over industrial tracts that do not have such easements.
“They were hit from many different angles, ” Kenney said of Bluesource, and “I was pretty hard on them.”
“I said you know what your problem is, your own environmental groups…don’t even know what a carbon tax credit is and they don’t know the economy behind it, that you’re an equity firm,” he said. “No one knows what you are doing. I mean, educated people don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve got to educate your own audience,” Kenney said.
The state does have the right of first refusal on any sale but because this was part of a merger with The Forestland Group, there was no exercise of that right.
Charles Levesque, a member of the citizens advisory committee and one of the architects of the 2003 conservation easement for the land is also owner of Innovative Resource Solutions and has a camp on land owned now by Bluesource.
He gave locals a bit of a primer on what carbon credits are in a meeting Aug. 8 in Pittsburg.
He wrote in The Northern Logger, a logging industry publication, recently that while carbon credits have not significantly impacted the economy of the woods for now, because too few of the woodland owners are taking advantage of that, there may be signs that is changing particularly with the Conn. Lakes Headwaters tract in an article here https://www.northernlogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/LOGGER_SEP23_LEVESQUE.pdf.
He notes that in recent years, between 25,000 and 30,000 cords of wood have been harvested on this tract and that it will be hard for local mills to source that much wood as Bluesource’s stated objective is, as it describes itself “focused entirely on climate mitigation.”