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Sharon's town forester looks to widen possibilities

Union Leader Correspondent

September 30. 2012 11:46PM
Swift Corwin has been a forester for 30 years and says he sometimes saves a nice apple or oak tree while logging a few acres of land. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

SHARON - When you cut a tree, the forest comes alive, said forester Swift Corwin, walking through the 950-acre Sharon Town Forest.

A forester for the past 30 years, Corwin manages the timbering of the forest for the town. He is overseeing a series of projects over the next 10 years, aimed at revitalizing the forest to encourage and diversify wildlife.

The forest is only 90 years old. Before that, the land was farm fields cleared by early settlers.

'All of it was kind of stunted and stagnant. So we decided we wanted to manage this section more for wildlife, less than for timber. So I laid out a series of patch cuts. And the purpose of those patch cuts is to create edge, create early successional species to get more diversity in the canopy, so it breaks it up. And it will increase the diversity of the wildlife species and there'll be some really rich areas of regeneration,' Corwin said.

Next to increasing wildlife in the forest, the other town goal for its forest is recreation, Corwin said.

'Every time you're managing a forest, especially a public forest like this, you are really managing a bunch of goals,' he said.

Sharon does make a profit from its timber, but that is not its top priority in managing the forest, Corwin said.

Visitors walking along a hiking trail in the forest may come across 1- to 9-acre patches of cut forest. These may at first seem severe to visitors, but the forest is already bounding back and these areas should yield 30-foot tall trees within 10 years, Corwin said.

In a patch the size of Fenway Park's infield, a lone oak tree remains untouched.

'It's going to shed acorns, and that will feed deer and porcupine and grouse, bear,' Corwin said.

The tree was left untouched by loggers who were instructed by Corwin to set aside any 'nice oak trees' they found while cutting.

'If there were some apple trees, I'd ask them to leave those,' Corwin said.

Corwin also manages the timbering of private properties for which the owner's ultimate goal could vary.

'Landowners have a lot of different reasons for wanting to cut timber,' Corwin said.

Many, like Sharon, want to encourage wildlife; others are concerned about the health of their trees; while others simply want the most money for their timber and to encourage high value trees to grow.

'They want to get income. They want to create views or improve wildlife habitat access. Or a combination of all of those things,' he said.

Landowners do not need to work with a forester to have their land timbered. They can work directly with a logger, who is required by state law to have a written contract with the landowner over the terms of how the job is to be performed and how the logger is to be compensated.

Some landowners prefer not to hire a forester, in order to maximize their profit, but others rely on foresters to create a plan for their property and to hire the logger to carry out the job.

'A forester's job is to figure out what they want and carry that out with the help of a logger,' Corwin said. 'He works directly with the logger on behalf of the property owner, ensuring the landowner understands the contract and protects the best interest of the land owners. … If there is a forester involved, there is a little bit more oversight. The forester is working on behalf of the landowner. The logger is working on behalf of himself.'

Field specialist Steve Roberge at the University of New Hampshire's Cooperative Extension Service, said, 'The typical landowner may not know the value of their wood. Having that forester working for you or working for that landowner is very important. You have someone on your side that knows the law, that knows the value of the wood.'

Foresters not only look out for the best interest of the landowner, but for the logger as well, said loggers Warren Spaulding of Winchester and Gene Willett of Antrim.

The forester manages the job and ensures that the loggers get paid. In fact, both men said, having a good working relationship with a forester means steady work.

Spaulding, who has worked with forester Charlie Koch of Jaffrey for more than a dozen years, said, 'He keeps me in work. If I don't have my own jobs, he can usually find me something.'

'I don't think I'd want to be someone starting out now,' Spaulding said, who has been a logger about 35 years. 'In order to get good markets and get good lots, you have to know people.'

For the Sharon Town Forest timber harvest, Corwin hired the Bennington-based H.D. Hardwick & Son Logging and Land Clearing services.

It's a large operation started about 30 years ago by Don Hardwick.

Hardwick started as a logger with a chainsaw and a skidder, Corwin said.

The operation has grown into a large family business with millions of dollars' worth of the latest timber harvesting equipment at its disposal, he said.

Chainsaw and skidder loggers, which Spaulding and Willett are, continue to operate, and Corwin often works with them on jobs that have other goals, he said. But a lone chain-saw logger would have taken a year to compete the forest job Hardwick & Son is expected to complete in less than three weeks, he said.

'I make the choice for who I am going to work with, thinking about the job I want to get done,' Corwin said.

Turing up the soil all at once in late summer makes it receptive to the falling pine seeds and acorns, encouraging the new growth, he said.

Owning woods has many values from the less tangible to the monetary value of its timber. When it comes to timber values, though, even in a down economy that continues to grow, said Corwin.

With 500 million acres of forest in New Hampshire, the value of the timber continues to grow 2 to 3 percent a year regardless of whether the stock market is up or down, he said.

'If you look out at the landscape, over 80 percent of our landscape is forested. The majority of the forest landscape is owned by you and I. It's not owned by the state,' Roberge said.

From the timber industry to the tourism industry, the health and care of New Hampshire forest feed the state economy, Roberge said.

'You think about the summertime people who come up to go hiking and to go fishing. The water quality is really dependent on the surrounding landscape. The forest acts as a filter. They really own some of the high water quality to the surrounding forest and landscape.'

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