In the Woods with Ray Berthiaume, Coös County Forester
Extension county foresters help citizens and landowners learn about and care for New Hampshire's forests, trees, wildlife and habitats. Because they're usually in the woods, getting to know your county forester can be a challenge. That's why we've created In the Woods, an ongoing series of interviews with Extension foresters. Get to know your county forester and then give them a call to join you on a walk in the woods.
Name: Ray Berthiaume
Title: Coös County Forester, Natural Resources Field Specialist
Start Date at Extension: September 2022
Interested in walking your woodlot with Ray? You can contact him at Ray.Berthiaume@unh.edu or (603) 788-4961.
What brought you to Extension?
Over my nearly 40 year career, one part of my occupation as a forester that I have enjoyed most is that of educator. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to share what I have learned and experienced with those who wish to know and understand. Now that is my job, and I couldn't be happier.
How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do?
Even as a 10-year-old, I knew I wanted to work in the forest. So, now that I have spent my career as a forester, I would think that is pretty darn cool!
What originally got you interested in your current field of work?
I have always been interested in 'the woods.' As a young boy, I knew I wanted to be a 'forest ranger', which was the only job I knew at the time that worked in the forest. The more time I spent in the woods camping, fishing, and with scouts (I am an Eagle Scout), the more I knew that I was destined to be a forester.
Who is a forester who you look up to or who has inspired you?
Bill Leak and Mariko Yamasaki are two of the best foresters, and people, that I have come across. Not only are they, literally, the ones who wrote the books we all study, but they understand the on-the-ground realities of making the textbook theories applicable.
What energizes you and brings you excitement?
The opportunity to help a landowner realize that they can manage their woodlot in such a way as to continue to provide the beauty, habitat, and tranquility of owning the land, while perhaps making a little money to help offset the costs of ownership. This keeps the landowner happy and satisfied, while maintaining our forested properties as forests.
Which NH tree species is the most underrated or has a bad reputation?
American beech! Since the onset of the beech bark disease many years ago, it has become a rare sight to see a 'healthy' beech tree, with its smooth, light-gray bark. A healthy beech stand, back in the day, would rival the awe and beauty of our white birch stands. Healthy beech has also been a good lumber product over the years, but has definitely diminished as healthy trees have become so rare.
If there was one thing you would want landowners to know, what would it be?
Please don't discount the importance of your forest lands! No matter what your goals are for owning your woodlot, it can be managed to accomplish those, and often many more. It is always rewarding to talk to landowners about their goals for owning forestland. By the end of a visit, we may identify as many as twice the number of reasons they thought they had for owning and maintaining their woodlot.
What's one work-related thing you want to accomplish in the next year?
In addition to putting together a timber sale on the County Forest, I would like to expand our programs for the school-aged youth in our county, and across the state. The more we can continue to educate our young people about the forests and the associated industry, the better off we will be when it comes to managing this valuable resource.
What’s the the coolest or most memorable moment you've had in the woods?
I have had many memorable occurrences in the woods over the years. One of the most memorable was when I was on a flat area just above a cliff face. A momma bear and her two cubs were at the bottom of the cliff and heard me walking through the woods. The cubs were sent climbing up a tree to stay clear of me, which actually sent them to my eye level and about 35-feet from where I was at the top of the cliff. I didn't see them until they were eye-level with me while climbing the tree. It was definitely quite a sight to see!
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
Getting more acquainted with the landowners of Coös County, as well as our other County Foresters. I am hoping to have the opportunity to work with each of our foresters and learn from them, and maybe even pass on a few tricks that I have learned.
What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend?
Spending time on our little farm with my wife. As anyone knows who owns a house, there is always something to do. That gets amplified on a farm. Jan and I work very well together and it gives us both great enjoyment to work on projects together. Even nicer when the grandkids are able to stop in for a visit.
If you suddenly became a master at woodworking, what would you make?
A nice work bench for the workshop. That would certainly make things easier when working on projects and things around the farm.
If you had to describe yourself as a forest animal, which one would it be?
Probably a bear. I have been told that I am a bit furry, with the beard and all, and am like hugging a big teddy bear. Unlike our natural critters, I wouldn't want to hibernate for the winter though. I fully enjoy our winter season, although it can get a little long some years!
What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
Black Raspberry! My Dad managed for Friendly's Ice Cream for over 30-years and black raspberry was often the flavor of the year.
What was the last book you read or movie you saw?
The last movie I saw was 'Top Gun-Maverick'. My wife Jan and I really enjoyed the first installment and were not at all disappointed with the sequel. Since Jan's Dad was retired Air-force, we have always enjoyed a good military type of movie.
Which meal is your favorite: breakfast, lunch, or dinner? And what is that dish?
Breakfast by far, and for any meal of the day. Eggs, sausage, and home fries with biscuits and sausage gravy!
Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
Missoula, Montana. Went there for a forest engineering meeting. Just like you see in the movies, the interchange between farm fields, pasture, and the mountains in that part of the country, was truly spectacular. The forests however, although different tree species, were very similar to our northern spruce-fir forests here in New Hampshire.
What’s something you like to do the old-fashioned way?
I like to sharpen my cutting tools, axes, knives, and even chainsaw, using a file and honing (wet) stone. I find that I have a little more control on the edge that I put on my tools doing it the old-fashioned way. It also gives more pleasure when things cut smoothly and quickly when I sharpened them myself.