Kuster visits Kel-Log timber harvest

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster (fourth from right) visited the timber operations of Kel-Log owner Mike Kelley of Milan (on Kuster's right) last Friday in Errol along with N.H. Timber Owners Association Executive Director Jasen Stock, Chris Fife of Weyerhaeuser, Pete Howland of Conway, NHTOA board chair Linda Brownson, state Rep. Eamon Kelley of Berlin, UNH Extension forest industry specialist Andy Fast of Durham and Weyerhaeuser regional supervisor Mark Rabon of Jefferson. (EDITH TUCKER PHOTO)

ERROL — Mike Kelley of Milan, who owns both Gorham-based Kel-Log, Inc. and Milan-based Kelley Trucking, last Friday morning welcomed U.S. Rep Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) to his company’s timber-harvesting operations 10 miles east of the Seven Islands Bridge, off Route 16 in Thirteen Mile Woods.

Kelley, who described himself as having worked in the timber industry for over 50 years, said he has some 35 employees on payroll: 25 working in the woods and 10 to 12 on the road. Most are long-term employees, and Kelley said he’s only been challenged by the current workforce shortage when someone decides to retire.

The pulp wood from this cut is hauled to the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan, Maine; the spruce and fir to the kilns at Milan Lumber; and the hemlock to White Mountain Lumber in Berlin. Higher grade woods are trucked to the Kennebec Lumber Co. in Bethel, Maine, the Ethan Allen plant in Beecher Falls, Vt., and into Canada. These operations, using feller-bunchers with hot sawheads, grapple skidders, and slide-boom delimbers, are taking place on Weyerhaeuser lands, acquired in 2016 through a merger with Plum Creek Timber.

Two years earlier, more than half of the 24,000 acres then held by Plum Creek in Coos County were conserved, the bulk of it as "working forest,” thanks to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land as part of the Androscoggin Headwaters project in Errol, Cambridge and Wentworth’s Location.

These lands were permanently protected for sustainable forestry, recreational access, and wildlife conservation.

Kelley said when his crew is working on Wagner Forest Management lands, it also ships to the Shelburne chip plant on Route 2, which, in turn, ships to the Nine Dragons paper mill in Rumford, Maine.

Two Weyerhaeuser employers were also on hand: Mark Rabon of Jefferson, who manages its regional Northern Kingdom office in Lancaster, and public affairs manager Chris Fife.

Weyerhaeuser is committed to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), they both said. Third-party audits are key to this rigorous process, they said, not only on the 1.2 million acres Weyerhaeuser owns in three New England states but also on all the 11.5 million acres it holds across the U.S.

Weyerhaeuser also collaboratively manages millions more acres of publicly owned land in Canada under long-term licenses.

“Planning and modeling is now the name of the game, as well as all today’s best management practices,” Fife said. “Our inventories are getting more and more accurate as we manage for multiple species.”

Both executive director Jasen Stock and board president Linda Brownson of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association helped organize the woodlands tour with Brian Bresnahan of Groveton, Kuster’s North Country representative.

Pete Howland of Conway, winner of NHTOA’s 2020 Kendall Norcott Award, also represented the association.

Dealing with and trying to mitigate climate change is now a hot topic — one that is no longer theoretical but literally on the nightly news.

NHTOA now estimates that forests sequester over 38 percent of the state’s annual carbon emissions; that is, 2.7 million tons of carbon annually.

NHTOA’s policy committee members are working collaboratively with others, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, to accurately quantify 1) the sequestration of carbon in younger trees, 2) the long-term storage of carbon in wood construction products, and 3) to ensure that credit incentivizes and rewards these efforts.

NHTOA remains committed to having voluntary carbon standards adopted, rather than making them mandatory, Stock said.

Rep. Eamon Kelley of Berlin, who works for family-owned White Mountain Lumber, said that the timelines used when comparing carbon sequestration and storage in built environments must be long enough so that steel and cement do not appear to be more climate-friendly than is realistic.

Forest industry specialist Andy Fast of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Durham said interest in growing in developing cross-laminated timber, a wood panel produced by gluing together layers of solid-sawn lumber.

Kuster said she is the co-chair of the Working Forest Caucus with U.S. Rep Bruce Westerman, (R-Arkansas), who holds a master’s degree in forestry from Yale University.

“After all, I do have House colleagues who don’t want to cut down any trees at all,” she said.

But new openings and opportunities for collaboration and understanding in the House are rapidly arising, Kuster said.

U.S. Rep John Curtis (R-Utah), with whom Kuster has worked on ski and snowboard industry issues, recently formed the Conservative Climate Caucus in the House, and 65 members have already joined this initiative. “This is a breakthrough,” Kuster said.

As a member of the House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, Kuster said she continues to work to bring the voices of foresters, loggers and sawmill and timberland owners to Congress.

In December 2020, she helped pass the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that authorized $200 million for timber businesses — harvesters and haulers — that suffered losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release, Kuster summed up the impact of her harvest site visit, which included an open-air box lunch.

“Sustainable forestry operations, like the one I visited, are not only a key piece of our rural economy but also are critical in ensuring that we maintain and preserve ‘working forests’ and help save our planet by sequestering carbon,” she said.

Kuster met later that day with Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier at the Northland Dairy.

The previous day Kuster toured two growing manufacturing facilities in Coos County: Pak Solutions LLC in Lancaster and American Performance Polymers in Colebrook.

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