In early June, in rural New Hampshire, accompanied by beautiful weather and kind people, more than 50 Guild members and friends gathered to do one of the things we do best – learn from each other and the land.
The setting was the stunning Stone Fence Farm, owned by Guild members Laura French and Jeremy Turner of Meadowsend Timberlands, Ltd. Laura and Jeremy know their property well, as if they have spent every meal, workday and playtime hour with it, getting to know its features and nuances. In fact, I think they have spent all that time focused on their property, and others like it, which offer countless opportunities to model responsible forestry and help the landscape become more resilient.
A garden and orchard dedicated to their own food production and eventual sales and educational tours, a quality home built sustainably with love from many contributors, the nicest sugar house I’ve ever seen, and a barn you could call home with site-specific historical artifacts, make up just one small part of this overall property. It’s the part where we gathered for wood fired meals from the wood oven at the sugar house, a campfire, tent camping and barn sleeping, general visiting, and petting the resident dogs.
The rest of the property ranges from sugar maple stands slated for maple syrup production, to spruce-fir stands that Laura and Jeremy are helping to revive as they manage the area to offer them a second chance in a crowded section of forest. They have wildlife very much in mind too. We heard a nearly constant collection of bird songs and visited small and large gaps created to help them and other species thrive with the use of these additional respites in the landscape. The gaps were created strategically and helped make other management projects on the property easier to complete. Thoughtful management includes plans for activities, such as the sugar bush, in areas that can make use of the best historical logging roads on the property, limiting erosion potential. Much thinning and one prescribed burn have occurred on the property in the ten years Laura and Jeremy have owned it and in all cases they were intimately involved with choosing the companies and people who did the work. This property is graced with owners who understand that the land has so much to teach us, and in turn, the management they do on this land is designed to maintain those teachings. Laura showed us specific trees they made sure were left in thinning operations, careful work after thinning to reinforce and hold the land and soils newly exposed, and examples of hard hours spent creating fire breaks in dense shrubland.
So many ideas were shared. Laura and Jeremy asked for input the entire two days, taking advantage of the wealth of expertise present in their woods for this event. Guild members in attendance included state and federal agency employees, foresters, wildlife managers, biologists, landowners, Guild Board, Founding, and Membership and Policy Council members, students, Guild staff, other non-profit employees, retired professionals in natural resources and many more. Even young children and plenty of canine companionship made the event richer!
As for what it all meant for those present, I’ll paraphrase some of what we heard in closing on the last day:
1. “In conversations throughout the day I’m reminded of how many perspectives there are regarding management. Sharing and discussing these has us think more deeply about our work and choices.”
2. “Its never too late to learn something new. Thank you for completely opening your property to all of us. We have a diverse group here; climate scientists from down south, people from Oregon and the Midwest. This has been really cool.”
3. “This property is the best candidate for the National Best Tree Farm designation, and it would be New Hampshire’s first.”
4. “The tightness between the original dreams of what a few people might be able to do, and what has just been done ‘yesterday’ is remarkable and it has longevity written all over it.”
5. “For me its always been about the people. There is something completely different about this sub-species of natural resource professionals. There is an intellectual enthusiasm for the practice of forest management. Most other foresters I deal with are just going through the motions and doing what they are told. Age, gender, expertise, and geographical diversity in the Guild is well beyond most forestry organizations. I’m reassured emotionally that I am part of a group.”
6. “Very well-planned, well-executed field tour. I’m struck by seeing regeneration in the forest as a sign of sustainable management and looking at our own organization’s growth and inclusion of young people in the same way.”
7. “Having you here has been so humbling. We feel so honored.” – Laura
8. “As a young, early-career person this gave me a chance after a cross-country move to re-engage in a community like this to see where my science careers could fit into this world.”
9. “Being able to talk to people from across the country and locally and bounce ideas off of people who are just as interested in what I’m doing as I am in what they are doing is really revitalizing.”
10. “The narrative of this place is an amalgamation of people and circumstances. It’s the people here today directly and indirectly that have made it possible. Its really rewarding to see what is going on through the lens of people like you.” – Jeremy
11. “I have a lot in my environmental education world telling me I could throw in the towel because young people want to play video games and we must protect them from Lyme Disease, etc. This event validates my beliefs that stray from that – children have a natural connection to environment, and it is a huge disservice to society to not nurture those connections. They were nurtured well here. I appreciate the work the Guild does to consider and support the next generation of forest stewards all the way down to simply including them in events when they are young and feeding that passion and whatever they are interested in. And I appreciate the model Laura and Jeremy have provided in letting children be children, dogs be dogs, and the forest be the forest, not in a hands-off way, but from a perspective that they all have as much to teach us as we have to offer them. It’s a way of thinking that is sustainable in the woods and out.”
Thank you to all who were involved with this event. It was truly unique and a Guild Gathering to remember.