IN THE AIR OVER SUCCESS, N.H. – In winter, the slopes of the White Mountain National Forest are dressed in alternating stands of evergreens and leafless hardwoods, punctuated by snowy peaks and ravines. But in the private timberlands to the north and east, large patches of forest are raked in white by snow-covered networks of logging trails.

Some patches were virtually clearcut after a huge ice storm in 1998 that snapped trees in half like matchsticks. But some are new, done by companies that have bought vast tracts of land in the North Woods in the last two years and begun logging it hard.

The fast pace has some people across northern New England worried there won’t be a working forest here in a generation. Others are concerned about destruction of wildlife habitat and the tradition of allowing public access to private lands for hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling and blueberry picking.

Charles Niebling, policy director for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, says the view from the air shows “just how extensive and far-reaching the cutting has been.”

“Trees grow back in New Hampshire,” he says. “But you’re not going to have a mature forest resource for another 40, 50, 80, 100 years.”

The catalyst for the debate is T.R. Dillon Logging Inc. of Madison, Maine, which bought 22,500 acres last year in Success, an unincorporated township east of Berlin. Owner Thomas Dillon also has bought more than 8,000 acres in Berlin, 5,000 acres in Errol and 642 acres in Northumberland over the past two years.

“He’s liquidating the land,” says Robert Brown, a member of the Berlin Planning Board who frequently walks Dillon’s land in Success. “When this guy Dillon is gone – and I don’t blame him personally – the land’s going to be worth nothing. He’s going to subdivide it. We know that, and it’s tearing people apart up here.”

Dillon cheerfully agrees he is removing most of the commercially valuable timber on part of his Success acreage. But he denies he’s overcutting and says he plans to pass the property on to his son, Scott, who works with him, as a timber lot.

“I’m just doing what I need to do as a businessperson and pay my bills and pay my people,” he says. “But say you did want to sell it – it would be sold as a working forest. To go in and completely butcher it would defeat your purpose, so it would be bad business.”

Berlin Mayor Bob Danderson defends Dillon as a provider of good jobs in the forest and wood products industry, the mainstay of Coos County’s economy. Dillon sells most of his pulp-quality hardwood to the Fraser Papers Inc. pulp and paper mills in Berlin and Gorham, which employ 600 people but are struggling to stay open as wood prices rise.

Dillon also is cooperating with city leaders on economic development projects, including an all-terrain-vehicle park and land for a federal prison, Danderson says.

“Dillon is a logger through and through. He’s looking at logging not only for now, but for the future of his family, because his son is in the business. I trust that,” Danderson says.

Henry Snow, chairman of Wagner Forest Management Ltd. of Lyme and the state chapter of the Nature Conservancy, is skeptical. He also doesn’t think the state should buy land Dillon has logged.

“I don’t like states picking up the carcasses of land that somebody’s been able to rape and pillage,” he says.

Two yardsticks show the logging in Success is without recent precedent.

One is the harvest rate compared to the growth rate of the forest. Foresters say on average, the area’s forests grow about a half-cord per acre, per year.

Dillon’s forester, Ted Tichy, who also is chairman of the state Fish and Game Commission, hopes to cut more than two cords per acre a year for three years, then drop back to half a cord a year. Tichy says that’s sustainable because more than half the timber on the land is mature or past its prime and there’s good regeneration.

Even after three years of heavy cutting, half the mature trees and more than half the acreage will remain untouched, Tichy says.

Niebling says what Dillon is doing is not sustainable – it’s “very aggressive liquidation of the timber resource.”

“It’s not forestry, as much as they’d like to have you believe it is,” he says.

By contrast, Dartmouth College harvests about one-third of a cord each year on 24,000 acres in Second College Grant, a few miles north.

Dartmouth forester Kevin Evans cuts some trees of all ages in each stand, except for a few small stands of spruce and fir in shallow soil, where clearcutting is an accepted forestry technique. Over time, commercial clearcutting decreases regeneration and the quality of the wood, he says.

“The forest will collapse after a while,” Evans says.

Timber-yield taxes are another yardstick. The county, which collects the tax for unincorporated areas, requires landowners to file annual “intents to cut” so it can estimate tax revenues, says county tax collector Gail Purrington.

Over the past decade, county income from the tax has averaged about $240,000 annually, higher in the three years after the 1998 ice storm. This year, the county is estimating that figure will more than double to $573,000.

The yield tax estimate on Dillon’s land in Success is $178,388, dwarfing the previous record for the county of about $42,000, Purrington says.

Estimated yield taxes on two cuts by other companies also would break the record, if realized: $101,000 in Millsfield and $56,000 in Cambridge.

Wood prices are rising, increasing yield tax revenues, but the estimates still took Purrington’s breath away.

“I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen this before,’ so I thought maybe I’m just not reading this right,” she said. “I call them and say, “Are you sure you’re giving me the right figures? … They were the right figures.”



On the Net:

Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests: http://www.spnhf.org/

Second College Grant: http://www.dartmouth.edu/(tilda)doc/secondcollegegrant/management

The Nature Conservancy: http://nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/newhampshire/

AP-ES-04-13-05 1357EDT


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