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Conservationists, timber industry officials and landowners expressed the need Monday to work together to keep private forests healthy for future tourism, jobs and a clean environment.
But perhaps the most popular refrain at the White House-inspired listening session was about getting children away from TVs and computer screens and taking them outdoors to combat a climbing youth obesity rate among U.S. kids.
"It's a generation that we're losing right now," Walter Graff, vice president of the Appalachian Mountain Club, said during a panel discussion moderated by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "That generation is the conservationists of the future."
The session was No. 18 of 25 planned by the Obama administration's "Great Outdoors Initiative," a nationwide tour on recreation, conservation and connecting people to the outdoors.
David Tellman, a forest landowner in Whitefield, said teachers should set aside a day and take students - and their parents - into the woods or onto a farm, putting aside their fears about getting a tick or seeing a snake. Brad Simpkins, New Hampshire's state forester, said learning about local natural resources and habitat should be part of a curriculum.
"Kids learn about what's going on the tropical rain forests and all those things" before they learn about what's in their own back yard," he said.
Other challenges brought up by the panel included the loss of jobs among loggers and pulp mill workers. In the 1990s through 2000, Tellman's business received from $6 to $9 a ton for pulp, he said. The last few years, there was no pulp market, and he received $3 a ton for wood chips. Last week, he received a contract to harvest timber for $1 a ton.
The National Association of Forest Owners says more than 27 million acres of privately owned forestland are in New England; only about 4 million are devoted to state and federal forest. In New Hampshire, nearly 3.5 million acres are private forest, and just over 1 million acres are public. The private forestland provides about 15,000 jobs in the state in tourism, logging, recreation and other areas.
Vilsack said one recommendation officials from the Interior and other departments have heard consistently is "the need for additional attention to the Land and Water Conservation Fund - and the need to promptly support full funding of that fund."
Congress is working an energy bill that would finance the fund. Since it was created in 1965, the fund has helped state and local communities acquire and protect nearly 7 million acres.
Another point Vilsack said he's heard at the sessions is a need for greater emphasis on collaborative efforts in preserving working forests and greater flexibility in federal programs.
He said the biggest threats to the loss of forests are development, fires, disease and global climate change. He said forests need vibrant markets for traditional wood products as well as new ones for energy, carbon sequestration and healthy environments.
He said a report due out Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service on private forests suggests that more than 57 million acres of forest may experience significant growth and housing development by 2030. Parts of two major watersheds projected to be the most affected by development are in New Hampshire, he said.
President Barack Obama is to receive a report by Nov. 15 detailing an action plan to reconnect Americans to nature and enhance conservation efforts.