Johns River Basin, Northern New Hampshire

Managing for Wood, Water, and Wildlife

The Johns River Basin is true North Woods country: birch and aspen trees with twinkling pale-green leaves set against deep-green spires of spruce and fir. Here hikers, hunters, or birders might focus their binoculars on a tiny Canada warbler or alder flycatcher singing in a thicket; spot a big-footed snowshoe hare trying to outrun, across the snow, an equally big-footed Canada lynx; or see a broad-antlered bull moose feeding in a wetland or lumbering across a logging road.

Recently logged tract in Wagner-managed forest

Springtime on a recently logged 5-acre tract on Wagner-managed woodland./R. Berthiaume

Northern New Hampshire has plenty of working forest. Says Ray Berthiaume of Wagner Forest Management, “Using sustainable logging techniques, we’re generating forest products for industry, creating jobs, and earning income for the owners of the land we manage. Thanks to the cutting schedule we’ve set up, we’re also able to help wildlife by renewing the young-forest habitat that a lot of different animals need.”

Working closely with Wildlife Management Institute biologist John Lanier, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Hampshire Fish and Game, Wagner has begun logging three large parcels. The tracts include 1,700 acres, 1,000 acres, and 1,900 acres, respectively, of mainly aspen-and-birch woods, diversified with patches of spruce and fir plus scattered wetlands. On each tract, Berthiaume and Lanier laid out a grid of 5-acre blocks. Over the next four decades Wagner will oversee the cutting of timber on all of the blocks, both to harvest wood products and to spur the regrowth of aspen, a fast-growing tree that sprouts prolifically from its root system following logging. Aspen is an excellent tree to form the basis of a working forest, since it yields many valuable products, including wood chips for generating electricity, fiber for making strand-board and plywood, and pulp for manufacturing paper. It also provides great wildlife habitat.

Thick aspen growing after timber harvest

Regrowing aspen: the basis for a healthy working forest./C. Fergus

Diversity Through a Timber-Harvesting Rotation

On the three parcels, different areas are set up on different time rotations. For example, on one of the tracts the blocks will be harvested at seven-year-intervals. On another tract, the logging operations – called “entries” – will happen at ten-year intervals. The result will be a regrowing forest with healthy trees of many different ages, all in proximity to one another. So how does that help wildlife?

Take the American woodcock, a popular gamebird whose numbers have fallen in recent decades because of a loss of the young-forest habitat this brush-dwelling species needs. In the spring, woodcock males will home in on newly logged blocks on the Wagner parcels, and in those freshly made openings they’ll sing and launch flights aimed at attracting mates. Male woodcock will also conduct their breeding displays on the log landings scattered strategically across the tracts, which Wagner will seed with grass and keep open through periodic mowing.

Once a hen woodcock gets together with a male, she’ll flit off to a different 5-acre block that’s a fair bit older, with trees perhaps 10 to 20 feet tall. There she’ll find a spot amid the briars and other plants growing on the ground, and site her nest. When her chicks hatch around three weeks later, she’ll lead them into blocks of younger aspen and birch, maybe 8 to 10 feet tall, their narrow-diameter trunks clustered thickly. Hens and chicks, along with adult males, will probe for earthworms (gourmet fare for woodcock) beneath and among the regrowing trees, whose density will protect the birds from predators. (To learn more about woodcock and what conservationists are doing to help them, visit timberdoodle.org).

Many Kinds of Wildlife Benefit

Woodcock aren’t the only wildlife that prosper in young forest. Literally dozens of other types of birds require young-forest habitat, from tiny warblers to medium-sized brown thrashers and gray catbirds, on up to ruffed grouse.

Moose feed in young-forest habitat

Moose thrive in young forest, as do deer, black bears, snowshoe hares, and lynx./R. Berthiaume

A whole different suite of birds that breed in mature forest habitats take their young into regrowing woodland, where fruit-bearing plants grow thickly in the abundant sunlight that follows a logging operation. There, both parent birds and youngsters will feast on fruits and insects while enjoying protection from hawks and other predators.

“Moose, deer, bear – those are some of the larger animals I see frequently in woodland that’s been logged within the past five to ten years,” reports forester Berthiaume. Moose and deer browse on regrowing trees and other vegetation, and black bears eat the fruits of berry-producing shrubs that flourish in the light that reaches down to ground level in such habitat.

The Canada lynx is listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. This shy cat has been coming back slowly in northern New Hampshire in recent years. The lynx’s main prey is the snowshoe hare – an animal that thrives in young, regrowing forest. Make habitat for snowshoes, and their population will rise, and that’s good news for the local lynx.

Logging Sustainably

This big project isn’t just about cutting down trees. Notes WMI biologist Lanier, “The Johns River Basin has a history of being a deer wintering area, in a region that often gets lots of snow.” The logging strategy on the Wagner tracts preserves key areas of spruce and fir, trees that deer often shelter, or “yard up,” in, because the conifers’ dense foliage blocks the wind better than the more-open hardwood forest, and because the evergreens’ boughs hold snow so that less of it reaches the ground, letting the deer move about more freely to find food.

The logging operations also leave buffers of more-mature woods, including softwoods, along watercourses and the edges of wetlands – so-called best management practices recognized by organizations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, that offer certification for companies who practice sustainable forestry on their lands.

American woodcock

Although this project was designed primarily to boost habitat for woodcock, scores of other wild animals also benefit./E. Dresser

The total area that Wagner will manage under the grid scheme amounts to more than 4,600 acres.
That’s a lot of habitat – an amount that will significantly help the dozens of wild species in the northern forest that use young woodland during all or part of their life cycles. Berthiaume reports that the Johns River project has gotten positive attention within Wagner Forest Management – so much so that a similar project is getting underway in Down East Maine on other lands that the company manages.

Award-Winning Project

In 2011, this northern New Hampshire effort received the prestigious Two Chiefs’ Award, bestowed by the heads of the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, recognizing exemplary projects in which people and organizations work together to support conservation and forest stewardship – “the very best partnerships and projects occurring across the country,” according to a press release jointly issued by the two agencies. The press release cited the achievements of “improving dense softwood and aspen-birch habitats” and avoiding “soil erosion and sedimentation of surface waters and wetlands” as key attributes of the Wagner work.

Says forester Berthiaume, “I just love this project. It’s one where we get to practice industrial forest management and help animals at the same time. We’re managing for wood, water, and wildlife in such a way that we’ll have wood, water, and wildlife into the future. This project will just go on and on, bringing benefits to the people and wildlife of northern New Hampshire.”

Funding and Partners

Wagner Forest Management Ltd., New Hampshire Fish and Game, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute

How to Visit

For more information, contact WMI biologist John Lanier at 603-237-8715, ursush@directv.net. Ray Berthiaume can be contacted at 603-986-8914, rberthiaume@wagnerforest.com or aviesnowdivi@myfairpoint.net.

The tracts where logging operations and habitat creation are taking place lie east and west of U.S. Route 3. Two of the parcels are in Coos County, and one is in Grafton County.