In the Weeds with Ethan Belair

UNH Extension staff are in the field every day, working with Granite State residents to make life better in New Hampshire. Because they’re so often on the go, getting to know our specialists and educators can be challenging. That’s why we’ve created In the Weeds, an ongoing series of interviews with Extension staff. Get to know the people behind our programs, discover new opportunities and pick up a few music recommendations along the way.

Name: Ethan Belair

Title: Hillsborough County Forester, Natural Resources Field Specialist

Start Date at Extension: October 2017

Why did you choose your field of work?

I like the outdoors, and I like technical/scientific/numbers-driven work. That makes forestry a natural fit for me. That said, it was a bit of a haphazard entry into the field. I was an English major going into undergrad, but fell in with a crowd of ne’er-do-well forestry types. I ended up switching majors mostly because my forestry friends had more interesting classes, better reading assignments and got to go outside every afternoon. While I can’t say I really planned to end up in forestry, I’m glad that’s where I ended up!

If you were told that you could only have one tool to do your job at Extension, what would it be?

My Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. I use GIS just about every day to see where various properties are located, what types of forests they contain, how to access them, the impact of past harvests, etc.. Life would be a lot harder if we still had to do all of our mapping by hand!

Describe a memorable experience you have had in your career as an educator.

It’s not an old memory, but: I was teaching the New Boston Forestry Committee to use basic computer mapping programs to look at some of their properties. They were so blown away by the power of these tools it was amazing. They were delighted by things they could do which had been beyond them 10 minutes before. One gentleman in particular was a farmer who had lived in New Boston for all of his 78 years. We were using a tool that allows you to measure the area of any polygon you draw on an aerial image. He asked me to map the area of a field his family has owned and managed since the 1800s. He and his brothers have been wondering the exact acreage of the field, and how it might impact, say, the amount of fertilizer they would spread, for decades. He now knows it is 9.2 acres, and doesn’t have to wonder any longer. He was so happy he had to call his brother!

If you had to make a playlist to accompany your program, what five songs would you add first?

  • “Snow on the Pines” by Yonder Mountain String Band, for the trees.
  • “Alligator” by the Grateful Dead, for the wildlife.
  • “Down by the River” by Neil Young, for the topography and wetlands.
  • “Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan, for the climate.
  • “We Are Underused” by Pavement, for the landowners in N.H. who don’t yet know they can call Extension!

If there was one thing you would want everyone to know about (your field of expertise), what would it be?

When we harvest trees in N.H., the forest grows back. Many people are upset when they see timber harvesting because they feel like the forest is destroyed. However, in N.H., we’re lucky enough to have forests that regenerate following a disturbance, be it a planned harvest or a wind storm. In many places, like tropical rainforests, deforestation is a major issue. Here, actual deforestation is limited to the areas where trees are cut down and replaced by buildings, roads and other development. Timber harvesting in N.H. leads to younger forests, not deforestation.

How can people get in touch with you or learn more about your programming?

I’m listed with the rest of the county foresters at our website. Email is always best, as I’m in and out of the office most days. If email isn’t your thing, you can always call me at 603-641-6060.

Do you have any events coming up that you are excited about?

I’m very excited about an invasive species workshop we have scheduled for Oct. 6 in Charlestown. We’ll be visiting a beautiful 1,200-acre property near the Connecticut River to talk about how the landowner is managing the invasive plants on their land. They’ve had the same struggle many smaller landowners have, but are finally seeing their efforts pay off.

What Extension program, outside of your program area, would we most likely find you at in your free time?

Probably a Food Safety workshop. My wife and I are currently inundated with chilies, tomatoes, zucchini, etc., and we’re trying to preserve as much of it as possible. Canning, drying, pickling: it’s all fair game!

Anything else you would like to share?

Go Pats!