75th Anniversary

NEFF Kicks Off 75th Anniversary Celebration

May. 06, 2019
New England Forestry Foundation founders

Learn about the environmental and political conditions that led to the creation of New England Forestry Foundation, and see what’s in store for this banner year

Writing by Tinsley Hunsdorfer

In the 1930s and 40s, an eclectic group of foresters and outdoor enthusiasts led by Harris Reynolds grew concerned about clear-cutting and destructive management on private New England forestlands. Much of the region’s once vast and ecologically rich forests had only just begun to regenerate after centuries of deforestation, and parcel owners often acted with an eye to quick profit or simply lacked an understanding of how to care for a forest.

In response, Reynolds and his cohort decided to form a region-wide charitable organization devoted to the practice, teaching and promotion of sustainable forest management, and so the New England Forestry Foundation was born July 12, 1944 to help private forests thrive. Its land protection efforts kicked in soon thereafter when in 1945 NEFF accepted its first donated forest—the Lincoln Davis Memorial Forest in New Hampshire (pictured above in 1945 and today)—and opened it to the public.

The organization and its many supporters and partners have accomplished a great deal in the subsequent 75 years, and the time has come to honor this history.

NEFF will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in a number of ways throughout 2019. In upcoming newsletter issues and on the organization’s website, readers will be able to journey through the first 75 years and take a look at what’s next for NEFF, all while meeting key historical figures. Keep an eye on NEFF’s social media channels and e-newsletters for updates about online-only content, and plan to attend June’s Annual Meeting to celebrate this joyous occasion alongside other members of the NEFF community.

Get started with the following look at what motivated NEFF’s incorporators to take action on behalf of New England forests, and how they structured NEFF to address the damage being done to private lands.

New England Forestry Foundation founders

NEFF Directors meeting in New Hampshire (1945). Back row, left to right: Unknown, Hugh P. Baker, William P. Wharton, J. Milton Attridge, Nathan Tufts, James L. Madden. Front row, left to right: Farnham W. Smith, Ralph C. Hawley, Harris A. Reynolds.

NEFF’s Niche

At the time of European settlement, forests covered 90 percent or more of New England—41 million forested acres from the region’s southern oak-pine forests to its northern mountain hardwoods that would soon see radical change. Forests were first heavily harvested and then cleared to make way for agriculture, and by the mid 1880s, this clearing had eliminated forests on up to 70 percent of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island; 60 percent of Vermont; 50 percent of New Hampshire; and 20 percent of Maine. When farming largely moved to the more productive Midwest, however, forests began to regenerate on New England’s resilient soils.

Little stood between recovering forests and unchecked exploitation of natural resources, and around the turn of the 20th century, concern for these vulnerable lands resulted in growing support for environmental protection efforts that addressed New England forest degradation. The Massachusetts legislature authorized The Trustees of Reservations land trust in 1890, concerned citizens formed the Massachusetts Forest and Parks Association in 1898 and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests in 1901, the Forest Service established New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest in 1918, and, most relevantly to NEFF’s founding, Congress passed the Norris-Doxey Cooperative Farm Forestry Act in 1937.

This act marked one of the government’s first attempts to improve private, individually owned forestlands; it funded state foresters tasked with providing management and harvesting advice to landowners. It was also deemed inadequate by experts like Reynolds, who felt that in place of piecemeal advice, landowners needed hands-on management services and long-term support that promoted forest health. New England Forestry Foundation stepped in to fill this gap with a comprehensive private-sector forestry program. 

Designing A Forestry Organization

While Reynolds didn’t found NEFF until 1944, his inspiration for its aims dated back—somewhat humorously—to his August 1913 honeymoon in Germany. He and his new wife, Alice Hecker Reynolds, spent the trip touring European community forests as Reynolds took detailed notes on the organizational structure and personnel needed to implement the facilities’ long-running and methodical approach to forest management.

Reynolds and partners at the Massachusetts Forest and Parks Association eventually designed a system of forest management centers for NEFF, in which trained consulting foresters would take responsibility for specific geographic regions. One NEFF forester might be stationed in New Hampshire’s lakes region, while another covered eastern Massachusetts.

These foresters’ jobs were two-fold. First, they offered clients a full suite of management services, including creating site-specific management plans, arranging finances, supervising harvests, and inventorying the volume and type of wood on a property. Second, they reached out to local woodlot owners and community members about the benefits of scientific forestry that balanced timber revenue with forest health. These two job functions often overlapped, as foresters educated clients about the sustainable management approach being used on their properties, and the foresters’ work in turn served as a demonstration of NEFF’s mission to the wider public.

For those who founded NEFF, education was the true heart of this forestry work—not just offering services, but spreading the word about a better way to manage working forests.

This commitment to forestry outreach is still with NEFF today, but by the early 1990s, NEFF’s concept of itself began to change. The profession of consulting forestry was well-established in New England by then, and it was not clear that a non-profit organization needed to continue providing forestry services directly to landowners. NEFF leadership restructured the organization to face this new reality. The consulting foresters became a new for-profit corporation that’s still hard at work in the region: New England Forestry Consultants, or NEFCo. This allowed New England Forestry Foundation to redirect its efforts to education, advocacy and land protection. This exciting era of NEFF’s history will be covered in detail in the summer 2019 issue of Into the Woods.

NEFCo and NEFF have remained close since this time of transition. NEFCo foresters manage most of NEFF’s lands, maintain NEFF’s forestry certification through the Forest Stewardship Council, and help NEFF with the design and implementation of new forestry initiatives such as the Pooled Timber Income Fund. The two organizations share similar acronyms, and until 2016 shared the same logo. Most importantly, the staff members of both organizations retain a deep belief that forestry is in many ways the earliest form of environmentalism, as well as a critical component of current and future efforts to protect the natural world.

The First Forests

The first forest that NEFF owned started life as the Lincoln Davis Memorial Forest, but its official name has expanded over the years to Lincoln Davis-Cabot-Morse Memorial Forest thanks to generous and strategic donations of New Hampshire forestlands. Dr. Lincoln Davis deeded the property’s first 607 acres to NEFF in 1945, Thomas Cabot and Virginia Wellington Cabot gave an adjoining 176 acres in 1964, and Clarissa Morse gave an additional 146 acres in memory of her husband, Lovett Morse, in 1985. It’s now a haven for wildlife, a favorite destination for locals, and a part of the 21-mile Wapack Trail, which crosses into the forest and two next-door properties protected by NEFF conservation easements.

NEFF took ownership of its second forest in 1952 when the Wonalancet Associates and Alice Walton donated a combined 95 acres to create the Edgar J. Rich Memorial Forest. Soon thereafter NEFF’s land protection program picked up speed, with another eight properties joining its network of community-based forests in the 1950s, including the Chamberlain Reynolds Memorial Forest on Squam Lake in 1953.

These forests not only provided members of the public with easy-to-access recreation opportunities and a chance to connect with the natural world, but also helped NEFF further its forestry education work by serving as demonstration sites for sustainable management. They demonstrated how active forestry can coexist with recreation—the first step in NEFF’s ongoing efforts to show how well-managed working forests simultaneously provide a host of benefits, from clean water to sustainable wood products.

NEFF’s founding and first few years as a non-profit organization marked a turning point for private New England forestry and the conservation of working lands. These accomplishments were made possible by a community of people who cared deeply about forests—just like the many people and partner organizations who support NEFF today. As a member of this community, be sure to join NEFF’s staff and Board of Directors in this year’s celebration of 75 remarkable years of history that have set the stage for great things to come.