Jane Difley: Preserving N.H.'s Forests for Two Decades

Sep 10, 2019

Jane Difley, the first female president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, is retiring on October 1, 2019, after 22 years. As a licensed forester, she has seen forest management evolve since she was a Forest Society intern in the 1970s. Her conservation leadership of the state's scenic landscapes includes establishing and getting dedicated funding for L-CHIP, as well as playing a role in the protection of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters, the Balsams, and Mount Major. The Forest Society was also a leader in the fight against the Northern Pass transmission pipeline.

GUEST:  Jane Difley, President, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Jane Difley and dog Minnie.
Credit Ryan Smith

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript and may contain errors.

From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is the Exchange.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests was established almost a hundred and twenty years ago, and over that long history the organization has had only four presidents. But now the four society is looking for a fifth. Next month, president and forester Jane Difley is retiring after 23 years, leading one of the state's oldest and most well-known environmental non-profits. Today, in exchange, Jane Difley is here, and we'll get her reflections on all the changes she's seen in land conservation, forest management and the state's overall natural environment..

Laura Knoy:
Jane, it's great to see you. Welcome to the exchange.

Jane Difley:
Thank you, Laura. It's great to be here. What's the biggest threat to New Hampshire forests?

Jane Difley:
You know, I get asked that a lot.

Laura Knoy:
I bet.

Jane Difley:
And there are a lot of different viewpoints on that. I think tops on a lot of people's mind is climate change. That's a really important one. And along with that, there are issues of increased insects and diseases that are affecting our forests. Fragmentation of the forest, you know, large blocks of forest land being broken up into smaller pieces of land and development is still a threat in New Hampshire, although not like it was during the heights of the late 90s. And that's not so much about that everything needs to be conserved as it is that the lands that are most important should be conserved and development should happen in the right places. I think that protecting our public drinking water supplies is incredibly important. And one of the most effective ways to do that is by having forests over aquifers and filtering water. It's a great way to keep our water, our drinking water clean. So those, I think, are the big ones.

Laura Knoy:
Those are big. So that's the Shoreline Protection Act, in a way. Right. Using forests and other vegetative buffers to help filter the water naturally.

Jane Difley:
Yes. And from our perspective, of course, land protection, permanent land protection is one of the best ways, one of the most inexpensive ways to protect our water supplies, because forests very naturally filter water. So when you have a big storm, the forest filter that water, so that it doesn't go immediately into water supplies. They hold that. They store it. They filter it for us or just such great workers. And they do so many things for us.

Laura Knoy:
Ecosystems systems is the term that I hear water people using these days. You know, looking back, Jane. OK. Twenty three years. You talked about all those threats to forests. Is there something affecting our forests, for good or ill, that twenty three years ago when you started this job, you would not have expected?

Jane Difley:
I don't know if this is unexpected, perhaps, but 23 years ago I think that more citizens in New Hampshire really understood forests. They had some connection to forests. And over those twenty three years, I think especially southern New Hampshire has become more urban and people are less connected to the forests around them. And so I think that's a concern. And I think the forest society is really concerned about helping people in this, particularly in the southern part of the state, become more connected to the lands around them. The forests that are right in their backyard or in the next town. Lots of people in southern New Hampshire, you know, go to the White Mountain National Forest, for example, on their weekends, and they like to recreate there. But the forests that are in and around cities and our suburban areas are just as important as those that are up in the north country where we think about them.

Laura Knoy:
Well, a couple questions out of that, and that's super interesting. So why do you think people in the more urban suburban areas are increasingly disconnected from forests?

Jane Difley:
I think that our lives these days are really complicated. Lots people in southern New Hampshire drive to Massachusetts for their jobs. They don't have a lot of time. They're shuttling children around. They're developing their careers. They're just they're very busy.

Laura Knoy:
But people have always been busy.

Jane Difley:
Yeah, but I think I think people are more busy and it's less it's less part of the culture that we get out in the woods every day. So I think that's part of it.

Laura Knoy:
And, you know, I live in a rural area, so I may be not the right person to talk about this, but I know that the forest society has these hikes called five hikes. And right now, we're just getting ready to have another set of five hikes. And people in the southern tier really sign up for those hikes. They want to go out with somebody to guide them. You know, one of my colleagues often says we all those of us that are old, you know, grew up playing outside and we know how to be in the woods, whereas many younger people did not grow up with sort of as free range children being able to run around in the woods unsupervised and explore, et cetera. So I think that has something to do with it also.

Laura Knoy:
What's more important to preserve or protect, Jane, these grand tracks in the North Country or those little patches of urban or suburban forest that still exist?

Jane Difley:
You know, that's something that every single land trust in the United States of America has struggled with, because often while in New Hampshire anyway, often the large tracts of forest up north, which are really important, are in fact much cheaper than a really much smaller piece of land in the southern part of the state. And yet the pieces, the small pieces in the southern part of the state may be just as important to the communities around it as the larger pieces are to the communities in the north country. So I think one of the things that the forest society has done is to understand that the state is not as small as New Hampshire is, it's not homogenous, and that we have done conservation plans for different parts of the state.

Jane Difley:
So we have a conservation plan for the for the COB and the cardigan region, which is two states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and the western spine of New Hampshire. And what's important to people in those communities, that sort of high spine, very forested area, is very different from what's important to people in the Sea Coast region, for example, where water quality is incredibly important. And the lots or the pieces of forest land that are being protected are perhaps much smaller and much more expensive. So it's we need to address what's important to the communities and different parts of the state and also the different flavor and the different qualities of the forest in each part of the state.

Laura Knoy:
Maybe people in that more suburban urban area of the state don't even know that there a small forest in their backyard. When I think about the forest society preserving land, I think about these big public announcements about these, you know, many thousands of acres being preserved in some fabulous place in the north country. And I think, OK, that's great. I might get there, you know, once or twice a year. But it seems like there's less headlines about, you know, 2 acres preserved in Nashua or 3 acres preserved in summersworth it doesn't get the attention.

Jane Difley:
That could be, although that kind of land protection is happening right now. We're protecting the last working farm in the city of Nashua.

Laura Knoy:
I didn't even know Nashua had a working farm.

Jane Difley:
It still does. Thanks to us and the landowner.

Jane Difley:
And we're working very hard to protect land along the Merrimack River. We're doing a project right now in Canterbury, in Northfield. You know our history started with protecting the headwaters of navigable streams, which meant the Merrimack River. And it meant the waters that are coming off the White Mountain, what we call now the White Mountain National Forest into the Winnipesaukee and Pemigewasset Rivers that form the Merrimack and Franklin and down to where it goes into the Atlantic and Massachusetts. That was how we got the White Mountain National Forest, which is the crucible in which the forest society was founded. But now we're working lower down in the Merrimack River watershed to protect the lands that protect the water quality of the river that runs through our capital city and many other towns in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
Peter is calling from Portsmouth. Hi, Peter. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
This is Representative Peter Samples from Portsmouth. And I would like to ask you whether the society has looked into the mitigation of greenhouse gases and the greenhouse gas storage that trees provide and whether there's some way to monetize that and get some financial benefits from doing that.

Laura Knoy:
Thanks a lot, Peter, for the call. And if you could, just briefly. For people who don't understand how trees help reduce carbon and then address Peter's question about monetizing that eco-system benefit. I know it's kind of a clunky term, but that's, I think, what you're getting at.

Jane Difley:
Yes. Thank you, Peter. That's a great question. So one of the great things about trees is that they absorb carbon. It's part of the way that they grow. And so that's a greenhouse gas. And I really I love to say all the time that trees are the answer. Kind of doesn't matter. Of course, I'm a forester, so I would say that.

Laura Knoy:
A little bias there,but go ahead.

Jane Difley:
Yes, it does matter what the question is. Trees are the answer. So, you know, there's been a lot of research done that natural ecosystems and in particular forests are one of the most important things to help mitigate climate change. They can absorb carbon, and that's really helpful. As long as we keep forests in forests. So Peter asks a really difficult question, which is how do you monetize that work that the forest does for the landowner who's paying taxes on the land and maintaining that land as forest land? And there are carbon markets in California.

Jane Difley:
We've looked into those and we're looking at other ways to do that. But it's a very complicated it's a very complicated marketplace. And I don't think we have yet come to a place of feeling comfortable with any of the existing ways to do that. But we're always looking for ideas on how to do that. So you get in touch with us, Peter, off line, and maybe you'll have some ideas for that.

Laura Knoy:
Well, landowners who keep their space open are taxed at a lower rate called current use. That's kind of controversial. So that's in a way paying people for the benefit of or for the help with those ecosystem services, for the help that their forests provide in terms of cleaning up the air in the water.

Jane Difley:
Yes, that certainly does help. And it's one of the reasons that New Hampshire landowners have kept their land in forest is because of current use taxation, which taxes the land at its use for forests and not as if it were land that was being developed, which would require, you know, school systems and roads and fire protection. And so all the other things that cost money for communities. Most of those services, forests just don't need.

Laura Knoy:
Well and make the case. Jane, because, boy, we've done lots of shows on current use over the years, probably including some guests from the forest society. Make the case that it's worth it financially for towns to keep large amounts of open space open, because we do hear griping and grumbling that, you know, why do I have to pay more in taxes than the forest owner or the farmer next door?

Jane Difley:
So there have been a lot of studies that have looked at current use lands versus developed lands and the impact that that has on taxes and communities. And these are called cost of community services studies. And as I was just trying to say, maybe not very articulately, the community services that are needed for forests are much less than what's needed for lands that are developed for homes or businesses, et cetera.

Laura Knoy:
So you need roads and police and fire and so forth, as you were saying.

Jane Difley:
Yes. So it's really much less expensive to have forest land. And then the landowner is providing all these services, its wildlife habitat. It's places for recreation. It's filtering the water. It's helping with air quality. It improves the sense of community. There are so many things that forests do and landowners, and especially in the state of New Hampshire, are providing that service at a very low expense to the state or to the communities.

Laura Knoy:
Do you think most people on the board of selectmen understand that? Because a lot of times they're looking at the bottom line and saying how much revenue is coming in? You know, dollars and cents, bottom line.

Jane Difley:
So I think being a selectman in some of the small towns in New Hampshire is an incredibly challenging job. And I respect the people that take that on, incredibly. It can be sort of thankless. And I know that they're always looking at the bottom line, but I think there's more. As with many things, there's more to it than just the bottom line. There's also the quality of life in your community, which is one of the reasons that people love to live, work and play in New Hampshire. And that's part of our economy. And the fact that New Hampshire is so beautiful is partly because of our forests that we've protected our rivers and streams. And people want to come here or they want to live here or they want to locate their businesses here. And the part that our environment plays in that is not to be underestimated, in my view.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call. And this is Tim in Portsmouth. Hi, Tim. You're on the air. Go ahead.

Caller:
Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I'm calling from Portsmouth, but I live in south central New Hampshire. I live in Mont Vernon. And I'm also a selectman and I'm also a certified tree hugger.

I warn you, I am Laura. You've seen the evidence. So my question for the guest is we have a 270 acre tract in Mont Vernon, one of our last remaining unprotected or uncounted owned forests. And a developer just recently bought it with an eye toward cashing in on this new trend in New Hampshire called Open Space Development, which in my mind is very Orwellian because it really is high density development where a developer takes a piece of open land and puts all the houses close together very efficiently to build in one corner of it and then leased until the middle section swap for open space. So anyways, this this is I can see a huge impact. Part of the problem is in part of the tie in to our guest is that the least expensive land is is very desirable for this. This technique and the least expensive land in most of the towns is forested land. And so I'm interested in what she has to say about this.

Laura Knoy:
This cluster development that we're hearing about. And this is also sometimes described, Jane, I'm sure, you know, as a good way to meet the needs of both the need for housing, affordable housing here in New Hampshire and preserve open space. So instead of having, you know, a house here and two acres and a house there and two acres, you cluster them together and then you have a large, you know, open space area for people. So some people think it's great. Tim does not think it's great. I wonder what you think.

Jane Difley:
So, first of all, I've got to say that Mont Vernon is one of the most beautiful places I drive through there as I go down to visit family in Massachusetts. And I just love that view from the top of the hill as you look out over towards Hollis in Brookline. And one of the reasons that view is so beautiful is because of all the forests that cover those hills. So you're very lucky to live there, Tim. You know, I think the the idea behind cluster development, as you call that, Laura, is one that was meant to prevent land being eaten up by these two and a half acre lots.

Laura Knoy:
Sort of sprawl.

Jane Difley:
Yeah, lots of roads, lots of driveways. But I also understand what Tim is saying about the fact that the developer, the good land is being developed and the swamps of the wetlands, which are very important from an ecological point of view, but it's just the wetlands that are being left as open space and they're being left as open space because they're not developable. So I think that's not the intent of cluster development to just leave the lands that aren't developable undeveloped. But I think that people have learned how to do things in a way that sometimes results in that kind of situation. So I think it's a great idea. And like many great ideas, it depends on how it's implemented and where it's implemented.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, we're talking with Jane Difley head of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. She's stepping down after 23 years. And we're hearing about all the changes she's seen during that time in our forests and our environment overall. Jane, just before the break, we were responding to a question from Tim, who is concerned about cluster housing developments. And you said it's a good approach when it's done appropriately. Let's talk more about housing. One of your major initiatives at the Society is called New Hampshire Everlasting with a goal of protecting up to 40 percent of the land in every town. Some people listening may say that's great. Other people may think that's a lot of land to lock up. Given New Hampshire's housing needs. So how do you sort that out? Jane?

Jane Difley:
Well, I think it's important that every community sort that out and that when we're talking about protecting land, we're not talking about locking it up and throwing away the key. We're just talking about not having it be developed. And if you protect 40 percent of each community, there's still 60 percent left for development, for schools, for roads, for businesses. And I think it's really important that whenever we do a land protection project, we make sure that the community is involved. That we've talked with the Conservation Commission, that the Board of Selectmen know what's going on, because every town has a slightly different idea about what they want their community to look like and where they want land protected and where they want it available for development. So I think that with New Hampshire Everlasting, our idea was really that we wanted every community to have access to forest land for wetlands and public drinking water supplies to be protected for habitats, for the kinds of wildlife that we would like to keep common and to protect those that are no longer common available, farmland, good farmland is available. There's not a lot of it in New Hampshire. That that can be protected so that maybe children will know that milk comes from a cow and not from the grocery store. So all of these things are. It's not just protecting any old land. It's protecting land that really is the most important from a conservation perspective and from the community's ideas about what it wants its town to look like and feel like and what kinds of natural environment the town wants to have access to. You know, trails are very important to people these days.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we did a whole program on rail trails and how in some communities that have thriving rail trails in New Hampshire and even more so in Vermont. They've become economic hubs for these communities.

Jane Difley:
I think that's right. I think all kinds of trails can become economic hubs. I know we're participating up in the Bethlehem, Franconia, Littleton region with a trail that's going to go through our Christmas tree farm. The rocks in Bethlehem, you can get your Christmas tree in Bethlehem. Little advertisement there. But, you know, that area of the state really sees itself as being a destination for people who want to do outdoor activities of all kinds. And so that's one of the economic engines that's driving the revitalization of downtown Littleton. You know, with the breweries and the stores and everything that's going on there. And we very much want to be part of that.

Laura Knoy:
When you talk about preserving and protecting land, then again, in terms of this, if there's a tension with housing, it doesn't sound like you're marching in there and saying, hi, we're the forest society and we're grabbing this land, so you can forget about building some apartments here. It's more working with conservation commissions, working with select boards, city councils, whatever, and saying what's important to you? Where can we sort of protect this so that this other area is available for housing?

Jane Difley:
So I maybe should back up here because we never work with landowners except if they're interested in a conservation outcome on their land. And, you know, some landowners like Tim, you know what he wanted to do with his land was sell it to a developer. And he's a private landowner, and that's his choice. We work with landowners who would like a conservation outcome for their land. And sometimes people give us interests in their land. And sometimes we buy interests and people's land. And we've we own a lot of land. We own about fifty six thousand acres of land that we manage for forestry and wildlife and water protection. We also hold conservation easements, which is a different thing. It's where we're partners permanently with a landowner in keeping their land from being developed while they practice forestry or agriculture on the lands the way they choose to do that.

Laura Knoy:
Lots more comments from our listeners, Jane. Gail writes: Wondering just what the logic is when large tracts of forests are clearcut to put in solar gardens. Gail, thank you. This has been an issue, Jane, as you know, and kind of attention in the environmental community. I think you guys might have even been involved in one of these issues, right when there was an effort to put solar panels in Concord. Maybe I'm wrong there.

Jane Difley:
Well, I think, you know, with the energy infrastructure, there is always some tension, I think, because energy is really important in our state. And I know many people in New Hampshire, businesses in particular, would like to see the cost of energy lowered. As a conservationist, we would really like to see our our dependence on foreign oil reduced. And so, you know, for environmentalists, for conservationists, there's always this tension between solar is good or wind is good or burning what is good. On the other hand, there's a cost to each of those sorts of energy production and those things have to be weighed. And I think they have to be weighed at this particular moment in time, at least on a case by case basis.

Laura Knoy:
So it's hard for you to directly answer Gail's question broadly, because in some cases it might be worth cutting down the trees to put the solar farm in. But in other cases, it might not be.

Jane Difley:
I think that's exactly right. I think the real threat is perhaps less to forest land that's being cut down for solar as it is for farmland to be covered by solar. And that's a different equation about the use of farm soils, about whether it should be growing a crop or whether it should be growing energy, because farmland tends to be more sort of wide and open to the sun than by horse land, Jane, is that right?

Jane Difley:
Yeah. And you don't have to cut down the trees.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, that's that's that's a job.

Jane Difley:
Right.

Jane Difley:
I've been sort of interested to see the growth of solar farms along the interstates. I think there's a lot more of this in Vermont than in New Hampshire. But I've seen there's a small solar farm in Warner as you go up Route 89. So that's an interesting use of land that perhaps is not as productive farmland. It's not forest land at the moment. Of course, you know, any any land in New Hampshire that's left. That's not water and it's not plowed. It's going to revert to forest. That's the great thing about forests in New Hampshire is that, you know, ask any farmer and they'll tell you that if they don't take care of their fields, the forests are going to come back. Our forests are incredibly resilient in spite of all the things that have happened to them and all the threats to them. They're incredibly resilient.

Let's take another call, Jane. This is Bill in Elkins. Hi, Bill. Go ahead. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning. Good morning. Jane, thank you very much for your efforts to protect the forest and what the society does. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to meet with some of your stewards going back about 20, 25 years ago and looking at some of the ridges. The big discussion then was Comm Towers. I kept throwing up well, what about windmill towers? And this kind of ties into your solar. Question that you just answered, which I feel is a land use issue. You can get much more bang for buck out of a footprint of a windmill tower than you can out of a solar area. But just was wondering where the society is. Feelings are on a ridge, top development of wind. A lot of it is subjective. What's ugly to me is not ugly to you. I lived in western Pennsylvania for a while, and this gentleman that I was up there with from the western Pennsylvania Conservancy visiting you and I was eight miles. I heard a coal mine exhaust fan that was eight miles from my house in my bedroom with the windows closed. Every energy forum has some impact. My line is nobody is a virgin. What is the society's feelings on the rich press development of wind power.

Laura Knoy:
Bill it's a great question. Thank you so much.

Jane Difley:
Well, as I said before, there are tradeoffs in any kind of development for energy and wind. In particular, I think perhaps like solar is very much depends on where it is. And as you've already stated, some people think it's lovely and beautiful and some people find it incredibly offensive and it depends on your aesthetic sensibilities. I think, you know, we years ago we did a study of all the lands that we own. Looking for what the wind resources might be on some of our lands and whether we might think about developing some wind. And the only place that we own that really had a great wind source was mountain monadnock. And there's no way we're putting towers on top of Mount Monadnock.

Laura Knoy:
One of the most heavily climb mountains in the world, I think.

Jane Difley:
Yeah. And also, of course, we partner with the state park for the state park on Monadnock even though we own most of the land. So we weren't gonna put a wind tower or any wind towers on Mount Monadnock. But we were sort of amused by that, by that finding. So I think these all of these questions about energy are ones that we're constantly dealing with, and I think we're doing it to date on a case by case basis.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and so that leads us to Northern Pass, Jane. And supporters of Northern Pass, as you know, said, you know, the hydropower it would have produced would have helped mitigate climate change, which is, as you said earlier, harming the forests. So they said, look, you may have won the battle. We lost the war. What about that? Jane, the idea that by taking this hydropower out of the equation, you may be worsening the climate crisis that you said is hurting New Hampshire forests.

Jane Difley:
So we never objected to the idea of bringing hydro power from Canada through New Hampshire to feed the needs of southern of southern New England. What we objected to was the way it was going to be done. We didn't want to see a scar of one hundred ninety two miles through the state of New Hampshire, particularly the 40 some odd miles of new right of way in northern New Hampshire.

Jane Difley:
And so it was more about the way it was proposed to do it than it was the actual bringing of the power through New Hampshire to southern New England. And this it gets back again to that notion of New Hampshire communities having a sense of who they are, what they want their communities to look like, how much they care about the environment. I just thought it was fabulous the way thousands of people came together to say, no, this is not what we want in New Hampshire. This is not what we want to happen to our viewscapes to our landscapes. this is not something that we're in favor of. So it wasn't just the forest society. It was lots of citizens that we stood with to say this isn't the way to bring that power through New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
I was up in Colbrook this past weekend and there are still signs up there against Northern Pass. So you're right, it was a local grassroots, strong feeling movement. But after this was all over, Jane, you know, business people said, look, it's not enough to always say no. We need to start saying yes to some of these projects so that we can mitigate the climate change that, you know, a lot of people say they're worried about.

Jane Difley:
I think that's right. And I think, again, we're talking about a balancing act. And I think that one of the things about Northern Pass is that many people were telling us, many engineers were telling us that what we were looking at was a project that was old technology for a future that really has new technology available. And so I think that's one of the things that we have to look at is new technology for how to transport electricity, but also other solutions to what is an issue around our use of electricity and power. You know, the cheapest watt that you can have is the watt that you don't use. And so one of the things I don't think we've talked about enough is conservation. You know, how do you not use all of that electricity so that we don't need to continue to produce more and more power? This is not the for society's position, exactly. But, you know, one of the things about Northern Pass was that they were using electricity that came from hydro that flooded thousands of acres of forest. And so they were wiping out forests that would have absorbed a lot of carbon. And I don't know what the energy bound the excuse me, the balances on that in terms of mitigation for climate. But I always wondered about how green perhaps that power actually was.

Laura Knoy:
Or how in totality how carbon absorbing it is.

Jane Difley:
Exactly.

Laura Knoy:
You know, your forester. So that's that's your concern. Let's go back to our listeners. Lots of questions for you, Jane. Donna in Jackson writes, Well, I believe that protection of land is essential in many cases. How do you do economic impact research when land preservation conservation is proposed? Donna says Small towns rely on property taxes, land put into conservation or protection decreases the revenue to the town for services. Donna says, I know one community where 50 percent has been put in conservation easements and the town struggles to maintain roads and other services. We kind of talked about this earlier, Jane. But, Donna, thank you very much for that e-mail. I wonder if you want to comment.

Jane Difley:
Yeah, so we did talk about this earlier. I think the other thing is that I'm not sure that the current use taxes are the only issue that communities have. You know, there are I know in my community that funding education is an issue. And I think that's less about how much land is in conservation than it is about the high costs of education, which we all need and want. And they're just it's not all about land protection. It's about all the other uses, all the other things that communities have to consider and where there's state aid, where there isn't state aid, how communities come together to figure out all of those things. It's not all just about the current use and conservation.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting. So look at it more holistically. Don't just find one convenient scapegoat.

Jane Difley:
Yes.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you for the e-mail. Here's another one. This person writes, Could Jane please comment on the inherent tension between an economic system based on growth and conservation? When New Hampshire's population is not growing, it is considered economically bad. But how many people can we absorb while maintaining rural character? Has the force society looked at limits to growth? This is a really interesting philosophical question.

Jane Difley:
It is an interesting philosophical question. And in the late 90s, when there we were at the height of growth in New Hampshire, we did a lot of research on where growth was happening in New Hampshire and concerns about the protection of land that was important for conservation. We haven't renewed that research. Others are looking at that. I think that one of the things that we sometimes forget is that conservation or having forests, having beautiful mountains that are covered with trees is really an important part of our economy that not only is tourism important in New Hampshire.

Jane Difley:
Lots of people don't realize how important the forest based economy is and how many people in New Hampshire, landowners who are able to harvest some wood, get some income. There are loggers and foresters. There are truckers. There are the infrastructure that maintains that, you know, people who can repair trucks and repair scooters and so on. That's that's a big part, not only of our tradition, but also of our economy. And I think that's kind of a hidden part of our economy. Recreation and tourism is very much front and center and we hear about it a lot. But the forest products economy is very important to the state and very important for jobs and our economy.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I think that's an important point, that if people think that the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests means don't ever cut a tree anywhere. No. I mean, you guys are all about forestry and that includes sustainable harvesting.

Jane Difley:
Yes. So when the forest society was founded in 1901, our mission statement is to preserve to protect the forests of New Hampshire by their wise use and their complete reservation in places of special scenic beauty. And here a hundred and nineteen years later, we still think that both protecting special lands is really important, but also that the use, the wise use, the sustainable use of natural resources is incredibly important to New Hampshire

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange I'm Laura Knoy. We're talking with Jane Difley. She's retiring after 23 years, leading one of the state's oldest and most well-known environmental nonprofits, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. And Jane, before we go back to our listeners, I did want to ask you about biomass. The forest society has promoted biomass. You have an editorial in the Concord Monitor, I think just today on this topic. But as I'm sure you know, some environmental groups say biomass is dirty, not the right choice. How do you feel about that?

Jane Difley:
So we don't think that biomass is some permanent long term answer to the needs for energy in New Hampshire or anywhere else. But it's a really important fuel right now as we make the transition from more traditional fossil fuels to other sources of energy. And there are lots of studies, some of them conflicting, that show that burning wood for fuel contributes much less to greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. And I think that's really important because burning wood is usually the fuel that is replacing fossil fuels. But more than that, there's a bigger there's a bigger scene, which is that by not burning fossil fuels, we're also supporting a forest products industry. We're supporting a market for landowners. And we're talking we're not talking about burning high quality logs. We're talking about burning the thinnings that landowners do to improve the quality of their forest for future generations and by burning that wood. We're supporting the forest products industry where supporting landowners. We're supporting the jobs at those biomass plants. We also have seen some research that demonstrates that since 2005 to today, in fact, there is more forest than there was then and it's absorbing more carbon than it was back in 2005. So the forestry that we've been practicing and the burning of fossil fuels that we've been doing during this period of time has has not decreased the amount of carbon that's being stored. It's actually increased during that time period. And the good news about forests is that forests are absorbing carbon. So while burning wood is putting carbon into the air. That's true. The forests are also taking it up. When you burn fossil fuels, there's no cycle like that. It's just out there.

Laura Knoy:
So, Jane, it's been a little confusing in the past couple of years because the state seems to be going back and forth on this biomass issue. Where is state policy right now?

Jane Difley:
So there is a bill and of course, I won't remember the number that t had bipartisan support in the legislature and the governor vetoed it to support the biomass plants and the governor veto its House bill 183. And this would help support the six biomass plants in New Hampshire for a period of time. And the governor vetoed it. And it's coming back to the to the legislature, I think, next week on the 18th to see if our legislature will override the governor's veto. And it has in the past had bipartisan support. I think our legislature understands the importance of this part of the forest products industry to landowners, to the state's economy. For many jobs, it's important for maintaining forests. And so we hope that that will happen, that the governor's veto will be overridden.

Laura Knoy:
Back to our listeners, Jane. And we talked earlier about the tension sometimes between developing land in a town or preserving it for society's goal of preserving up to 40 percent of land in each town. David in Newfield says Undeveloped land is what keeps us alive on this planet. Nature is our only life support system. 40 percent seems like not enough to me. So that's kind of a counter to what we heard from some other listeners before who were afraid that might be too much. Thank you, David. Micheleline in Concord writes Congratulations on your retirement. I'm curious what the vast increase of hikers and visitors to the White Mountain National Forest are doing to overall forest protection. Micheline says, In the 15 years I've lived here and hiked, the number of hikers who come from all over has increased incredibly. Beyond practicing Leave no trace, what else can we do as hikers to help protection efforts? Micheline. Thank you very much. Because, you know, it's great that people love our force so much. But sometimes there are certain areas that people say being loved to death. So I'd love your thoughts there, Jane.

Jane Difley:
So thank you, Michelline. And I know you're a big hiker. And I think that this is something that every landowner who allows public access struggles with. And I know that the White Mountain National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service, is struggling with this across the nation. So the good news is that people are getting outdoors and that the White Mountains are very attractive to people who want to be outdoors and who want to hike. And we all are concerned about loving the mountains to death and loving the trails to death. That is a problem. I know that the US Forest Service and state parks are working to divert hikers to trails that are less well used. I think that we're doing that on our own lands. We own some land on Mount Major, which perhaps next to Mt. Monadnock is one of the most hiked mountains in the state and beyond. And there's a lot of there. There are a lot of ways to help divert hikers to other trails that are equally as beautiful, but people just don't know about them. There's a lot to be done with trail maintenance of old trails that have been eroded and overused.

Laura Knoy:
So in terms of what hikers could do, you might say to Michelin, get your friends on a Saturday morning, go to a hike that nobody does.

Jane Difley:
Exactly. The flip side of that, though, that I think she recognizes is that having people be in the out of doors is also a good thing because it's connecting them to land. And our hope is always that if they connect to land by hiking or in some other way, they're connected to the out of doors that we can get them interested beyond just hiking into other things that are relevant to conservation.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. Micheline, thank you for the e-mail. Tim is calling from Freedom. Hi, Tim. You're on the air. Welcome. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hi. Good morning. Thank you, Jean. Nice to hear you. And I just wanted to call and say thank you for your leadership and your steady hand at the wheel for our society. And we are we are certainly blessed in the Freedom area with the use of Green Mountain trails to hike, and I really wish that Charlie Watts was still alive and with us so he could call in and thank you as well. I'll go off line now. But maybe you could speak to the impact that people like Charlie have across the state without providing that type of opportunity to preserve land.

Laura Knoy:
Tim, thank you very much.

Jane Difley:
Thanks a lot, Tim. So Charlie Watts, who Tim mentioned, gave the Forest Society its one hundredth reservation, and that was back in 2000, I think. And it's a thousand acres on Green Mountain. And it's a it's a story of a family that loved some land that it owned so much and wanted it to stay as open land and available to the public in perpetuity. And so Charlie Watts and his wife, Patricia, chose the for society to be the stewards of holding that land. And it's a beautiful mountain in freedom in Effingham. And it's it has hiking trails on it. And it's just it's a beautiful place. And I think what Tim was getting at is that as in so many cases with nonprofit organizations, the generosity of people in New Hampshire is just incredible. People give because of what they care about. And it really has an impact beyond their families and beyond just their local communities. And Charlie Watts was certainly one of those.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, thank you for that call. And Barbara in Etna emails in much of New Hampshire. Deer herd numbers are so high that the regeneration of certain trees, sugar, maple, oak and more is not happening. Further, the high deer numbers are associated with increased Lyme disease since adult deer ticks find mates on deer as well as a final blood meal. Barbara asks, I'm wondering what the forest society is doing to help reduce the deer herd on its own property and those that it holds easements. And does the society have an educational effort or a stated policy on this topic?

Laura Knoy:
Barbara, that is a big one. We can do a whole show on that. Thank you very much. And Jane, do you want to address just this issue of since you're a forester? Let's look at the trees. What impact is the large deer herd having on the regeneration of some trees, as Barbara says?

Jane Difley:
Well, I think locally it does have an impact on regeneration, as she suggests of the forest society's policy is that we follow the New Hampshire Fish and Game in terms of there are rules, regulations and laws in terms of hunting and on most of the reservations that we own. Hunting is allowed and hunting is one of the ways that people on the state of New Hampshire have tried to manage. I wouldn't say control, but tried to manage the numbers of certain wildlife populations. So one of the things that we're doing in conjunction with this isn't exactly what she's asking about.

Jane Difley:
But one of the things that we're doing with Harvard Brook, is a study across the state on some of our reservations of sugar, maple regeneration. So Hubbard Brook is both the U.S. Forest Service. It's up in Thornton. It's actually I wish I'd mentioned this earlier. It's a hidden gem in New Hampshire. It is a collaborative research organization that owns a lot of land in Thornton. And they've done some incredible seminal research on watersheds and other things right here in New Hampshire that only foresters and scientists seem to know about. But they're doing some research on sugar, maple regeneration. And since we'll own land all over the state and own it permanently, we're partnering with them to look at the regeneration of sugar maple and what's affecting sugar maple regeneration. And I think it's really with an eye to climate change. But it also has to do with soils, with the remnants of acid rain. And it may have to do when as the research progresses with what's happening with the deer population.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and since you mentioned the ticks and we've done, again, lots of programs on that and certainly the numbers of ticks carrying diseases, not just Lyme, but really scary ones like babiosis and so forth, is increasing. What impacts broadly, Jane have you seen from climate change on New Hampshire's forest? You touched on this earlier, but I'd love a little bit more.

Jane Difley:
So when I came back to New Hampshire 23 years ago, we didn't worry about ticks. You know, we just go out in the woods and wander around and not even worry about it. And clearly, over the last 23 years, the population of ticks in New Hampshire and elsewhere has exploded. And so we now all check our clothes and wear light club covered, light colored clothing. And it is a real thing that we have to be aware of.

Laura Knoy:
What other impacts have you seen in the forests? You mentioned invasives, for example, invasive insects. Is that a climate thing or is that some other natural cycle that causes critters like the emerald ash borer to come in and decimate certain types of trees.

Jane Difley:
So, you know, there are some native insects and diseases that erupt periodically and the forests are somewhat resilient to those. But then there are new invasives that are non-native, like the emerald ash borer that come into our state and elsewhere. And it's really a problem how we manage and cope with these things. We can't I don't think say definitively that climate change is the thing that makes these, the emerald ash borer, for example, it's population to grow and spread. But it does seem that emerald ash borer and ticks are related to the fact that our winters seem to be warmer and not as long. You know, there seems to be a correlation between our climate and some of these things happening.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you a couple personal questions, Jane, as we close out and you were the first woman to be president of the Society of American Foresters. You were the first woman president of the for society here in New Hampshire. Why do you suppose that's the case, Jane, that more women aren't involved in forestry? Because there's certainly lots of women involved in other environmental non-profits.

Jane Difley:
So actually, I think there are a lot of women in forestry. And when I started my career and would go to national forestry meetings, this is before I was on the force study, I knew every woman in the United States of America who was practicing forestry. I don't any longer. And I haven't for years. So it's growing. So it's totally growing. And I think that there's this misinformation that somehow people get confused between foresters and loggers and foresters study trees and they study forests and how to manage them.

They're not necessarily doing incredibly, they may be, but they're not necessarily doing incredibly hard physical labor. And it's really about knowing how the how the forest grows and how to help it grow and how to help the landowner achieve their objective.

Laura Knoy:
So it's a scientific profession more than, you know, going out and cutting down trees.

Jane Difley:
It's totally scientific and that's what the training is. I think that more and more young people, not just women, but young people, are going into sort of a more natural resources background or a broader study of the natural world these days. And while I think that's terrific that younger people are interested in the environment, I also think it's a shame that the forestry schools aren't expanding because force are so important to our future into economically in terms of health, in terms of our water supplies, in terms of all the things that we care about, in terms of natural beauty and wildlife populations. It's really the character of our state. So I think forests are really important.

Laura Knoy:
So your message to young people, men and women, is consider studying forestry, being more specific instead of spreading out that field of study?

Jane Difley:
Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, when I went to forestry school, I went to forestry school rather than learning how to teach or going into biology or something else, because it seemed to me to be very practical. It's an applied science. It's something that you actually can do and see the impact of what you do. And you spend your life re-examining what you've done 20 years ago to see what the outcome was and how that determines what you're going to do in the future, maybe in the same way or maybe differently. But it was really and it's an applied science. And I wanted to see results on the ground.

Laura Knoy:
Well, here's an email from Nancy in Sugar Hill that will close out with Jane. She says, As a landowner in one of the affected towns by Northern Pass, I want to thank you and the society for your work. Her question is, tell us more about how the public can use and enjoy the many conserved lands and reservations that the forest society has preserved for New Hampshire. I read in one article that that's what you want to do in retirement actually is go out and see some of these places. So, Nancy, thank you.

Jane Difley:
Yeah, that's exactly right. I want to spend more time going out and with my dog hiking on some of the lands that have protect and protected during my career. So if you go to our Web site, a forest society dot org, there's information about the lands that we own and especially the ones that are open. They're all open to the public, but the ones that have good trails and kiosks and places to park and what you can experience there. You know, what I always say is get out in the woods. It's one of the most important things that you can do for your health, for yourself to learn about the natural world. Get a dog. If you have a dog, you have to go out twice a day at least, and it'll get you outdoors and get you into the woods. And that's one of the most special things about New Hampshire is our forests and our open lands.

Laura Knoy:
Nancy, thank you for the e-mail. And Jane, we could have talk a lot more. Thank you very much for coming in.

Jane Difley:
You're welcome. It's great to be here.

Laura Knoy:
That's Jane Difley. Next month, she retires as president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests after 23 years. This is the exchange on NH PR.

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