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Kuster hears about North Country climate change

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Lancaster, August 27, 2019 | By Edith Tucker

LANCASTER — U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster convened nine specialists from both the public and private sectors to participate in a climate change forum focused on forestry and outdoor recreation. The panel moderator was Rob Werner, N.H. state director of the League of Conservation Voters.

Kuster, who grew up in Hopkinton, jumpstarted the conversation by noting her father had invested in the Wildcat Ski Area, which operates on the White Mountain National Forest in Pinkham Notch. Her love of the North Country and appreciation of skiing, hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities began in her youth.

“Now we must be concerned about the resiliency of our forests,” she said. “We’re also looking to increase our renewable energy sources, without dramatically affecting the landscape.”

Paul Casey, manager Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that protects over 25,000 acres of wetland complexes in both New Hampshire and Maine, explained that Lake Umbagog is a shallow hydro-power lake owned by Brookfield Renewable Power. The agreement to lock in the lake’s water level to benefit the common loon, reached over 20 years ago with a prior owner, has had to be shifted significantly from between May 15 and May 30 to after June 1 because of heavier spring rains. The first loon sets down later than it once did, and loon chicks fledge later.

“The Refuge actively manages its forest for the Blackburnian warbler, so we’re increasing our softwood component to create a more mixed forest,” Casey said. Softwoods were cut heavily for pulp and paper, with more hardwoods growing in. The ground now freezes later in the fall, and thaws earlier in the spring, making a shorter tree-cutting season. Previously, contractors were required to complete their work in one season, but two seasons are now permitted. A bid showing is set on Sept. 6 across 342 acres of land; both single trees and groups of trees marked.

N.H. Fish and Game executive director Glenn Normandeau said that the state’s moose population sets the department’s popular image. Longer falls that feature the winter tick “questing” season have resulted in a disheartening 70 percent death rate of moose calves, he said. Ticks climb onto vegetation in large clumps in order to attach to a host to feed throughout the winter.

“Moose have thick skin and don’t groom themselves free of ticks like deer,” Normandeau said.

Jason Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, said that the warmer climate and more “open” winters have resulted in a number of changes. “Loggers have a shorter window in which to operate their equipment,” he said. “We have weather extremes and need larger culverts and more water bars. There are more invasive species — bittersweet and glossy buckthorn — that reduce the number of harvestable trees, as well as pests, such as hemlock wholly adelgid.”

Forests are part of the solution to climate change, Stock asserted, explaining they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and incorporate it into their roots and branches. New Hampshire landowners are now participating in carbon markets. He urged the Legislature to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of the biomass bill when it meets on Sept. 18 order to maintain a robust market for low-grade wood.

Appalachian Mountain Club Assistant Research Director David Publicover said that AMC and Mt. Washington Observatory have maintained weather-related records since the 1930s.

“Pinkham Notch is experiencing warmer winters: it’s 3.6 degrees warmer and the snowpack is one-third less, with spring melt two weeks earlier,” he said. “The temperature at high elevation is changing more slowly, however, and the forest’s composition has not yet changed as it has in the West. The forests are critical; they’re a carbon sink. Don’t lose the forests.”

Two U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest spokesmen — Sarah Garlick, director of science policy and outreach and investigator, and research ecologist John Campbell — discussed the rich database maintained on the White Mountain National Forest in Woodstock and West Thornton.

Air temperature has risen 2.5 degrees, precipitation has risen by an astonishing 12 inches and snowpack has declined by a foot.

“We’re losing cold and snow all across the Northeast,” Garlick said. “Our forests here adapted to the cold; snow cover insulated our trees.”

Less snow means that the frost can hurt their roots.

“I look at my kids and I think they’ll have a different sense of home, place and culture,” she added. “We’re having weather extremes; in winter we’re having ‘weather whiplash’ — rapid freeze-thaw cycles,” the pair explained.

Loon Mountain Ski Area in Lincoln has recorded eight fewer days in which the resort can make snow between Nov. 1 and the end of February; seven of them are in the so-called “snow marketing” season before Dec. 25 when families make their plans. Loon expects to make 20-30 percent of its annual gross revenues during Christmas week alone.

Forester Raymond Berthiaume of Wagner Forest Management explained that it now tends to rain very hard in the forests, sheeting off what is often dry land without adding needed moisture to the groundwater. Operationally many loggers have had to purchase smaller equipment and cut-to-length systems.

County forester Brendan Prusik said that when he worked on industrial forests he saw 12-inch culverts replaced by 15-inch ones and now its by 18-inch culverts. The forest tent caterpillar has done far more damage than anticipated, possibly because of an accumulation of stressors.

“The climate is changing, and winters are tough to operate in,” Prusik said. As a UNH forest educator, he is urges developing forest resiliency, growing native trees and seeing what capabilities are our soils have. “We must keep our forests,” he said.

Director Brad Simpkins of state Forests and Lands emphasized that controlling the movement of quarantined firewood remains a high priority.

The longer it takes for invasive pests to move north, the greater the likelihood that appropriate treatment will be discovered and applied. Loggers and others bringing equipment onto state land must now clean it thoroughly before entering.

“We’re looking to maintain healthy forests and to promote their responsible management,” Simpkins said.

A Democrat serving her fourth two-year term representing the second congressional district, Kuster serves on the House Committee and Energy which oversees 16 departments and agencies, including membership on three subcommittees: Energy, Health, and Oversight and Investigations.