Old trees in the Granite State have lost their best friend

Former Forest Society staffer Chris Kane stands next to a towering old yellow birch. Kane was a preservationist who loved old-growth forests.

Former Forest Society staffer Chris Kane stands next to a towering old yellow birch. Kane was a preservationist who loved old-growth forests. Forest Society

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 10-15-2023 5:00 PM

Chris Kane treated old trees like they were his grandparents.

He respected old trees, protected them, made sure they lived full, rich lives.

“He could identify any plant or tree and know if it was rare or endangered,” said Kane’s lone daughter, Hilary Kane, who now lives in Milwaukee. “If it was rare and endangered, he developed personal relations with these trees. His job was walking and looking.”

Chris died suddenly on Sept. 25 at the age of 68. He had flown to Sonoma, Calif., to attend a funeral and passed away alone in his hotel room soon after. His family is still waiting to hear the cause of death.

He was an easement steward for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire forests.

He identified trees 100 years old and older and advocated for easements that would allow, perhaps, another 100 years of growth.

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Kane hiked where there were no trails, knowing that the forests up there were safe from cutting because of the difficulty reaching them, ensuring they would remain free from the logging industry. He identified rare plants and made sure they were respected and left alone as well.

He volunteered for more organizations connected to conservationism than a Boy Scout, all with the same goal in mind: obtaining easements for areas with old, uncut trees and rare, unique plants.

“Chris was actively working to find, protect and advocate for rare plant species and old-growth forests until the end,” his obituary read.

He was a consultant to land trusts and conservation commissions. He worked part-time for the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau. He volunteered for the Concord Conservation Commission, the Merrimack River Greenway Trail, the Five Rivers and the Conservation Trust.

“Chris was a Renaissance man,” said Dave Anderson, the senior director of education for the Forest Society who befriended Kane and worked closely with him. “He was very much passionate about old forest growths that had never been cut.”

His contribution to the Mount Sunapee ski area is legendary. He walked into the nearby woods and saw trees with a certain thickness and dead branches way up high, alerting him that this was a yet-to-be-discovered old forest. He noticed details from aerial photos.

“He suspected places in those mountains that were uncut,” Anderson said. “He could tell by the texture of the forest canopy, tell if they were mature.”

“He started measuring them and he took the tree cores and started counting rings,” said Sabrina Stanwood, the administrator for the Natural Heritage Bureau. “He saw that they were at least 200 years old. The good that came out of it was the ski area was considering expansion into the East Bowl of the mountain.”

Not after Kane was done with his analysis, showing that these ancient giants lived there, in the east. The forest was declared to be an exemplary natural area, special and to be protected.

“The ski area then expanded into the West Bowl instead,” Stanwood said. “That was because of Chris.”

He’s credited with creating hiking and biking trails as a member of the Merrimack River Greenway Trail. “He spent so much time getting that built,” Hilary said.

And as recently as late June, Kane discovered “previously undocumented areas,” he told Anderson during an interview for a Q&A magazine piece. “I found very old trees with no signs of human use in areas I need to investigate. For me, sleuthing out these sites has become a passion.”

His passion lasted until the end. He attended a conference centered around old trees last month in Moultonboro.

“That was years of planning and he was riding that wave of accomplishment and pride,” Hilary said.

The family never saw this coming. Recent photos showed Kane, trim and smiling, touching the trunk of one of the uncut, huge trees he had discovered. Anderson worked with Kane during a field trip just five days before Kane’s death.

A celebration of Kane’s life will be held on Oct. 28 at the Unitarian and Universalist Church of Concord beginning at 2 p.m.

“People in New Hampshire are hoping there is a way to honor Chris,” Anderson said. “That conversation has just begun.”

Hilary had more information on what form a tribute to her father might take. She said the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests told her a memorial fund will be created in his honor.

“They said they’ll have a newly designated natural area on the back side of Mount Sunapee,” Hilary said. “They said they were going to name it after Chris.”