By Julie Renaud Evans

After 30 years of practicing both forestry and community planning in northern New England, I can confidently say that Community Forest projects are a great way for communities to meet a mix of conservation and community goals across ecology, economics, recreation, and education. 

Milan Community Forest CelebrationI remember in 2005 when the town of Errol, New Hampshire, was closely watching the changes in the forest industry, the strong real estate market, and also the growing interest in developing rural areas. A particularly astute town leader recognized the value 13 Mile Woods—then a privately owned property along NH Route 16 and the Androscoggin River—as a scenic gateway to the town. Today the town owns and manages that property as a Community Forest.

13 Mile Woods Community Forest is an important resource that provides annual revenue from sustainable timber management and attracts visitors to enjoy the 11-mile recreation trail within the property. Most importantly, this gateway to the town and all its special qualities are forever protected from development by a conservation easement held by the State of New Hampshire.

In another example, the residents of Milan, New Hampshire, were motivated to create a Community Forest by their concerns about the quality of forest management in the region and its potential long-term effect on local sawmills and other wood product companies. They wanted to acquire land to ensure that well-managed forests would forever supply timber to these industries. They also wanted to connect other protected forestland to achieve large-scale protection of wildlife habitat. Milan has secured the first 1,393 contiguous acres for its Community Forest (with a goal of 5,000 acres), which will be sustainably managed for timber products and provide important wildlife habitat. 

By Maura Adams

“Oil prices are low.”

“There’s more interest in heat pumps.”

“We’ve seen a lot of misinformation in the press.”

We hear statements like these all the time in the Northeast to explain why Automated Wood Heating systems haven’t taken off like they should. But this time I wasn’t in Montpelier, VT, or Augusta, Maine, I was in Upper Austria: the birthplace of wood pellet boilers, where everyone knew about Automated Wood Heat, everyone celebrated it, and sales were stable and seamless—or so we thought. After all, 35% of dwellings in Upper Austria are heated with wood (including district heating) and wood pellet boilers are common in other parts of Europe as well.

Learning that the Europeans have experienced problems similar to ours was disappointing. On one hand, if they’re so far ahead of us and still facing these challenges, how can we expect to overcome them? On the other, it affirmed that our Automated Wood Heat market can still develop, even in the face of challenges.

By: Rob Riley

Last fall, I attended a rural development conversation in Danville, Virginia. It was one of those rare opportunities where the invite-only event seemed to mirror the conversations we were having at the Center about our continued evolution and how we could be most effective serving the communities of the Northern Forest. 

Organizations at this conference hailed from communities with much larger populations, significant built environments, strong organizational and public capacity, and engaged leadership. However, these places—labeled by some as “micropolitans”—are facing problems similar to the ones we face in the Northern Forest region: loss of young people, a general concern about the lack (or sustainability) of growth, and ability to equitably distribute wealth throughout a given community. Attendees were eager to discuss millennials, winning strategies and new forms of investment.

One theme that emerged quickly for me—and was striking—was how seemingly disconnected these communities were from their surrounding natural landscape. Other than citing a river that ran through the city, little was said about the natural amenities that differentiated that place from others. It became very apparent that the communities of the Northern Forest and our emerging approach to community development is quite unique. Our core emphasis is on how to capitalize on the unique natural assets and stewardship of those assets when seeking to drive population and business growth. 

By: Maura Adams

AWH micro TM RGB orange dotThat’s the catchy line we’re using in a campaign we’ve just launched to turn this wonderful-but-obscure technology into a well-known and much-used way to heat buildings across the Northern Forest.

We’ve worked for months with other nonprofits, state agencies, heating system companies and pellet producers to create www.feelgoodheat.org and a marketing campaign to spread the word about Automated Wood Heat. The website tells stories about the people behind Automated Wood Heat and features a fun animation as well as FAQs and contact information for consumers.

The Feel Good Heat campaign marks a turning point in the Northern Forest Center’s strategy for promoting wood heat. For the last five years, we focused on investing financial incentives and technical assistance to get great examples of Automated Wood Heat into Northern Forest homes, businesses, and municipal buildings—and it worked!

Warm Tech illustrations Truck CMYK webWe’ve assisted with more than 150 installations, primarily in clusters we call Model Neighborhood Projects. Together those projects have generated over $2.8 million in economic impact and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3,500 tons. Property owners considering Automated Wood Heat anywhere in the Northern Forest can see installations near them, feel confident that they can get bulk delivery of pellets, and take advantage of state incentives for these heating systems.

This base of early adopters is essential to prove how well Automated Wood Heat works, but we wanted to scale up use of this technology beyond what we could possibly achieve through the limits of our financial incentives, so we steered our strategy toward marketing.