Into the Woods

The technology is cutting edge. The issues are complex. But forestry still attracts students driven by an age-old passion.

On a clear, cold November day, Tyler Stock '06 stands in the woods and looks up. Then he looks down. The tall pine he is studying has to be cut, and he's got to figure out how to do it. Late-afternoon sunlight filters through the trees, pooling on the forest floor. From the landing site, a quarter mile back, Stock can hear the sounds of his classmates at work as they start the engines on the logging truck and the giant skidder. The forestry technology major scans the surrounding trees, considers his options and grabs his chainsaw. The machine sputters and whines, then settles into a steady, high-pitched buzz as Stock prepares to make his first cut.

"Remember, you want to lay it down with the big end toward the machine," shouts Jake Bronnenberg '04, straining to be heard above the noise. He gestures toward the skidder just visible now as it moves through the forest, a bright orange monster, tires churning, chains clanking. Bronnenberg, who graduated with a forest technology degree from UNH's Thompson School, works full time in the woods now, running a logging business with his dad. But on Wednesday afternoons he returns to his alma mater and heads into the field as a teaching assistant for Don Quigley '76, '78G, professor of forest technology. Today the class is working on the Woodman Research Farm in Durham.

Stock is back-cutting now, on the other side of the trunk, slicing in toward the center to meet the notch he created at the front. Minutes later, as he stops his saw and steps back, the 70-foot pine is already in motion, sweeping downward, snapping branches from every tree in its path. The old giant hits the ground with thundering force and, for a split second, the whole forest shudders with the impact.

"Forestry," Quigley says, "is about making hard decisions relative to trees—which ones to keep, which ones to get rid of, which ones to sell. It's always been that way, and that's what our program is about." What's different these days, notes Quigley, who has been watching the industry closely for the past three decades, are the tools used to make decisions in the woods—and the issues surrounding the forests. "There's more science, more economics and more cultural issues to consider," says Quigley. "As society has started to realize the value of our forests, the decisions have gotten harder. There's more at stake."

Joe Shannon ROPE PULL: Joe Shannon '06 tightens the winch on the skidder during a day in the woods with the Thompson School's logging class.

QUIGLEY STRIDES THROUGH the woods, his lumberjack frame clad in a plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans and bright orange hardhat. He pauses to talk with Stock about felling the pine, then watches as the skidder inches into position. Emmett Bean '06, another forest technology major is at the controls, trying to gauge the best way to make a straight line out of the woods so as to avoid snagging the unwieldy cargo he'll be dragging behind him—and damaging the remaining trees.

Quigley knows that expert logging techniques come only with practice. Which is precisely what students get in this 36-acre open-air classroom, plus instruction on how to manage a forest sustainably so that it produces for generations. The land where the students work includes a series of demonstration sites, each one an example of a different set of decisions that might be made by a landowner. What they're working on today, Quigley explains, is called a shelter wood. They'll leave one third of the canopy standing, just enough to allow the right amount of sunlight to penetrate and regenerate the pine forest below. Across the trail is a group selection site, where trees have been removed in clusters of eight or 10 to promote quick growth in the light-filled openings. Other sites include a clear-cut, an improvement thinning, and a control site, where the forest will be left to regenerate on its own.

"Don does everything he can to make the experience authentic," says Steve Eisenhaure '93, '04, '06G, who returned to UNH for a degree in forest technology from the Thompson School after getting a bachelor's degree in business. Today, Eisenhaure works as UNH's woodlands manager and also assists Quigley with forestry labs. "I talk with students as a land manager or forester," he says, "telling them the final goal of the site where they'll be working. I explain about marking trees to be cut with an eye to maintaining the value of the trees we leave behind." And he talks about long-term vision. "When you start cutting, you're doing something somebody 120 years later is going to see and, hopefully, is going to say, 'Oh, wow. That's nice. Someone did a good job here.'"

Tyler Stock SAWDUST: Tyler Stock '06 limbs up a tree he just felled during a logging class on UNH's Woodman Farm property.

This passion for the forest is one characteristic Quigley has noticed again and again in his students. "There's something deep in their experience that brings them here," he says. "Maybe there are family ties to the industry or they have rural roots. Maybe an experience, like Eagle Scouts, pushed them in this direction." These are students with a real love of the land. "They love the thrill of what's over the next hill."

Quigley's own passion for the forest was sparked growing up in Pennsylvania during hunting and fishing weekends with his dad. Later, in Vietnam, Quigley rappelled out of helicopters, chainsaw in hand, and chopped down trees to create landing zones for rescue missions. After his tour of duty, Quigley headed for UNH, where he got a forestry degree. Today, he lives just a couple of miles from his university office, on 44 acres of forested land, much of which he manages as an award-winning tree farm. When he has a chance, there's nothing he likes better than getting out there and swinging an axe to split firewood.

"Before there were farms, there were men with axes," Quigley likes to say. "In the order of things, the forests were first." That's part of what fascinates him about the forest industry—it's so old. "In New Hampshire, we have 350 years of these roots." The industry has been the economy's backbone since the state was founded. And it still is, coming in right behind tourism and the computer industry. "Actually, we like to say it holds first and third place," says Sean Sullivan of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, arguing that the state's forests, which cover 84 percent of the landscape, are largely responsible for the tourism industry's success. "When people vacation here, they're not coming to go to Disney World, they're coming to hike our mountains and enjoy our lakes. They're coming for our trees."

Clearly something has worked, Quigley points out, citing private ownership as the key to the region's landscape. "New England forests are a model of sustainability," he says. UNH forestry students are being trained, then, for an industry that's as critical to our economic survival now as it was centuries ago. And they are part of an ongoing tradition of sustainability and stewardship, of care for the land.

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