Tree Farmers of 2021: Charlie and Mabel Niebling recognized for work on 67-acre Boscawen farm

  • Charlie Niebling stands on top of Raleigh Hill on his 67-acre tree farm in Boscawen. About 45 acres are in a management plan. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Charlie Niebling looks up at an oak tree on his 67-acre tree farm he owns with his wife, Mabel on Thursday, January 21, 2021. The N.H. Tree Farm Program announced that Charles and Mabel Niebling of Boscawen have been named the 2021 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Charlie Niebling cuts wood on the Boscawen tree farm he owns with his wife, Mabel on Thursday. The N.H. Tree Farm Program announced that Charlie and his wife, Mabel, have been named the 2021 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.

  • Charlie Niebling walks to the top of Raleigh Hill on the tree farm he owns with his wife, Mabel, on Thursday. The N.H. Tree Farm Program announced that Charles and Mabel Niebling of Boscawen have been named the 2021 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Charlie Niebling on top of Raliegh Hill on his tree farm he owns with his wife, Mabel on Thursday, January 21, 2021. The N.H. Tree Farm Program announced that Charles and Mabel Niebling of Boscawen have been named the 2021 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/24/2021 5:10:07 PM

New Hampshire has 1,450 certified Tree Farms, and with a name like that you might think they all have the same goal: Harvest as many trees as you can.

Not even close, says Charlie Niebling, who with his wife, Mabel, has been named the state’s Tree Farmers of the Year.

“Every landowner has a different perspective,” said Niebling. “You’re not just managing timber, there’s also wildlife habitat, recreational use, protection of natural communities and ecyosystems, water quality – all those have to be considered.”

These goals can sometimes conflict with each other, complicating matters. That’s where diversity helps, he said.

In contrast to a century ago, when timber firms owned vast swaths of the state, tree farming has changed.

“Seventy-some-odd percent of forests in New Hampshire are owned by tens of thousands of different landowners,” Niebling said. “We don’t really have any widespread abuses or narrowly channeled management direction because every landowner approaches it differently.”

The Nieblings have a 67-acre Tree Farm in Boscawen that they bought in 2001. About 45 acres are in a management plan, designed to cut and sell wood while maintaining long-term forest health, which is necessary to be certified as a Tree Farm by the national program. The remainder is left untouched for wildlife.

Niebling is a forester, so he was able to create his own management plan and do most of the work himself. “I have been social distancing out there for 20 years,” he joked.

“Over 19 years I have grossed receipts from sale of logs, plupwood, firewood that exceeds $100,000,” he said. This income has covered current-use taxes and costs, such as creating a logging path and buying a tractor, although Niebling admits that he hasn’t factored in the cost of his time, which he estimates at six to 10 hours a week.

“I figure it’s like being paid to exercise – I’ve never joined a health club,” he noted.

Their property, like many in the southern half of the state, had been largely cleared a century earlier for sheep pastures and had since grown back in a haphazard manner.

“In the early years, the density of the stand was very high. I was harvesting at a rate that exceeded growth on the managed acres for about 15 years. Now I’ve got everything in a condition where a productivity per acre is concentrated on fewer, higher-quality stems,” he said.

Maximizing lumber sales isn’t the only point, however. “I’ve got some neat old trees that were largely forgotten by the sheep farmers and past owners of the property. I’m the beneficiary of that neglect and I want it to stay that way.”

Part of the management plan involves doing occasional extensive cuts of small areas, which adds diversity to the age and makeup of the woods.

One big advantage is that the property has virtually no invasive plants, which can be a real problem in many areas. None were brought in by logging over the century before he took over and Niebling says he has been quick to uproot any that try to move in.

This sort of approach is the whole idea of the Tree Farm program, which started after World War II by the forest products industry to improve long-term health of the nation’s forests under private ownership. It was bought to New Hampshire in 1950 by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and is still going strong, covering roughly 500,000 acres or about 8% of the state.

Tree Farms have to be re-certified every six years by a licensed forester.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)



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