The election highlighted deep divisions in this country, breaking down according to where one lives, what one looks like, how one sees his or her current job prospects, or preferences for what the country’s role is around the globe, and more.

Real and perceived lack of economic opportunity seemed to drive many voting decisions.  Places where former manufacturing hubs and resource-based economies once ruled are now in the midst of a lengthy decline. The potential of change reigned in these places.

What wasn’t mentioned in the post-election commentary is that rural places have the ideas and the potential to transform themselves, as long as they have the right resources and an innovative approach.

On the federal level, we look toward how the new administration will prioritize the concerns of people in the Northern Forest. For years, we’ve enjoyed strong relationships with agencies such as the Department of Agriculture-Rural Development and the Forest Service, Economic Development Administration, and more.  So now what?

I wanted to share a great chain reaction that I’ve witnessed now popping up in three different locations across the Northern Forest. We think it was inspired by the Northern Forest Regional Symposium, hosted by The Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund and the Northern Forest Center a year ago.

The Symposium put special emphasis on showcasing initiatives and ideas that had traction. So, Clyde Rabideau, mayor of Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks showcased a hiking challenge to bag all 6 peaks in the area, the Saranac 6ers. Finishers get the satisfaction of ringing the bell in town and getting a badge. Saranac Lake can use the initiative as a tool to promote and market the area.

 

Wouldn’t it be great to feel good about how you heat?

Not everyone can feel good when they reach for the thermostat, but we should. Most of us who heat with wood think that it’s good for the environment and good for the broader forest economy and our communities. Intuitively it makes sense. Heating with local wood, supporting local jobs and keeping our heating dollars local must be better than using fossil fuels. 

Now we’ve got data that proves heating with wood pellet fuel instead of fossil fuels in the Northern Forest drastically cuts greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve just announced the results of a research study for our region confirming that switching to modern wood heat – using a high-efficiency wood pellet boiler or stove – instead of oil will cut your greenhouse gas emissions by 54% immediately, and it gets even better over time. Switching from natural gas to wood pellets cuts your emissions by 59%. Fuel comparison GHG study 50years

That is significant news for the Northern Forest region, where the single biggest thing you can do to cut your contribution to the rising levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is to change how you heat your home! 

I just returned from the Heating the Midwest conference – a spinoff of the annual Northeast Biomass Heating Expo – where I learned that sharing lessons learned and the progress made in the Northeast can prove helpful to other regions. I was particularly struck by how the Northern Forest states’ investment in modern wood heat – through both demand- and supply-side incentives and other supportive policies – has been essential for market development.