My Turn: Biomass is an important piece of state’s energy picture

For the Monitor
Published: 6/11/2019 12:10:21 AM

An open letter to N.H. House members: I am a private forest landowner and certified tree farmer. My wife, Sheila, and I own and manage the Thomson Family Tree Farm in Orford, which consists of a total of 2,600 acres.

We support the House Bill 183 biomass amendment, which will assure the critical market for our low-grade wood. On any timber harvest 60% to 65% of all wood harvested is low-grade wood, which ends up as pulp or wood chips for the biomass plants. Our forest is no different than the garden in your back yard: We both have to weed and thin it if we want a productive garden or, in my case, a sustainable forest for all to enjoy.

The forest industry is one of the oldest continuous industries in New Hampshire. Our state is the second most forested state in the United States (Maine is first and Vermont is third) and our natural renewable forest covers 84% of the state – just under 5 million acres. A total of 76% of forest land is privately owned, while the state and federal government (White Mountain National Forest) own a much smaller percentage of the state’s land base.

New Hampshire has four of the largest and oldest landowner organizations, which have gone on record in supporting the forest industry in general and specifically have supported the importance of the biomass low-grade markets. These landowner organizations each have been helping their members in New Hampshire for more than 100 years. They are the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests, the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, the New Hampshire Farm Bureau and New Hampshire Audubon.

Over the past year, Senate Bill 365, the biomass bill, received major support in both the N.H. House and Senate. It was vetoed by the governor and on Sept. 13 both the House and Senate voted to override and were successful in doing so.

During this time there was much discussion, some factual and some not. Many were suggesting this was just a North Country issue, and therefore it wasn’t as big a problem as we in the forestry industry, or in my case a forest landowner, were stating. So today, I would like to share with you some facts from the N.H. Department of Revenue, Timber Tax Division, which clearly show this is not just a North Country issue; it’s a statewide issue.

We looked at the 2015 records of the total green tons of biomass wood chips produced for each county in New Hampshire and found that the No. 1 county was Merrimack, producing 261,910 tons, followed by Grafton with 199,985 tons and third is Hillsborough with 163,170 tons. We also learned that most of the equipment dealers for this industry are in the southern counties.

In January 1998, the Thomson Family Tree Farm was hit like many others by a devastating ice storm, when we lost 800 acres of productive forest. In New Hampshire, a total of 700,000 acres were impacted and nine counties were declared disaster areas. Thankfully at the time we had all biomass plants running at capacity to help clean up the mess in nine N.H. counties.

Ask yourself, what if we had another natural disaster in our forest and all the biomass plants were closed. What would the state do? If it was like the 1998 ice storm with huge amounts of debris and slash of destroyed trees that were snapped off, twisted or blown down in every direction and no market like the biomass, I believe we would witness forest fires like we’ve never seen.

I have been a forest landowner for 63 years, and I hope to continue as an active tree farmer and pass our land base on to our son and two grandkids. But if we don’t have low-grade markets such as pulp and biomass, we will be growing house lots instead of trees, and that would be a sad day for me.

I hope you will help us by passing the HB 183 amendment you have before you to resolve this matter once and for all. Biomass must be one of our energy polices we have in New Hampshire. I believe if we don’t we could see the forest industry go the way the N.H. shoe industry.

(Tom Thomson lives in Orford.)


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