Monadnock Profile: A life spent in the woods

  • Steve Roberge leads a Harris Center outing to discuss sugar bushes. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Steve Roberge Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Steve Roberge leads a Harris Center outing to discuss sugar bushes. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/25/2020 3:40:47 PM

Steve Roberge grew up with a view of Mount Adams and Mount Madison from his bedroom window.

He had the unique opportunity of living in Berlin, the northern most city in New Hampshire, as a young kid surrounded by the good fortune of being able to enjoy nature at a moment’s notice. It was hard not to gain an appreciation for the outdoors with the trees and forests of the White Mountains all around, hiking trails for miles and the biggest mountains in the state just waiting to be explored.

As a kid, Roberge was outside all the time. Family camping trips once a month, regardless of the weather – even building snow forts with his two brothers to sleep in. His father was a scout master, so he did all the fun outdoorsy things that can nurture a love for the natural world.

“Hiking and being outside was pretty important in our family,” Roberge said. “We were outside all the time.”

In the blue-collar town of Berlin, the paper mill was the city’s largest industry in his early years. His grandmother worked for the longtime mill her entire life, and through his parents and friends was introduced to the logging and forestry industry at a young age. With natural resources all around, Roberge learned quickly that “you could make a living working out in the woods.”

When he went to UNH, the idea was to study wildlife biology because “all kids with my background wants to be a game warden.” But after his first semester, Roberge decided to switch to a new major that would set him on a path to what has been the perfect career.

“I quickly realized I liked trees more than animals,” Roberge said.

He graduated with a degree in forestry and went on to the Yale School of Forestry. Roberge now serves as the Cheshire Country Forester through the UNH Cooperative Extension and has been in the position since the fall of 2006.

What drew him to the forests of New Hampshire was the shear diversity of species

“They’re just cool,” Roberge said. “And there’s just so many kinds out there.”

But what Roberge finds fascinating is the way that each tree finds a way to survive for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

“Part of it is they can’t move,” he said. “They adapt to withstand whatever is thrown at them.”

He points to an event like the Hurricane of 1938 as proof that trees are a resourceful bunch.

“Look at it now, it came back,” Roberge said. “And we’ll get a hurricane like ‘38 again. It will be devastating and it’s just a matter of when.”

While most people are in awe of the fall colors and new greens in the spring, Roberge said that he looks at what makes up 80 percent of New Hampshire’s landscape a little differently.

“As foresters, we think more in decades and not seasons and years,” he said.

It’s a long term view that has allowed the forests of the Granite State to thrive and maintain those all important natural resources – clean water, wildlife habitat and foliage.

In his role as the Cheshire County Forester, Roberge, a Peterborough resident, is there to help landowners who are looking for a resource to determine what options are out there for their land. Since the majority of forest lands in the state are privately owned, Roberge is never short on work.

“The biggest thing is what do the landowners want to do with it,” Roberge said. “My role is education about what is good management. I’m there as a resource to provide options for them.”

And he understands without the right information, things could change quickly for the state’s woodlots.

“It could easily be messed up if landowners got together and did bad things,” he said.

There’s just something about walking through acres of forested land that makes him feel at home.

“It’s amazing out there. There’s so many things to look at and appreciate,” he said. “Our forests are so dynamic and they change every year.”

He loves finding stone walls in the middle of the woods because it gives him a glimpse into the past.

“Anytime you see a stone wall, you know that on either side or both sides, it was pasture. It’s cool to know the general history of a landscape because it influenced what our forests look like today,” Roberge said. “It isn’t what it was 400 years ago and won’t be the same in another 400 years.”

The goal is to look at the future and not the immediate aftermath. “What needs to be done to improve the quality of the forest,” Roberge said.

If timber harvesting is the direction a landowner wants to go, Roberge will help educate the best practices to keep it healthy and thriving for years and decades to come.

“You want diversity out there,” he said. “So like any tool in the tool box, you don’t want to use it all the time.”

And after a harvest operation is complete, Roberge is more likely to wait many years before returning.

“Going 5 to 10 years after a timber harvest to see the new trees and how the trees are responding,” he said. “I really appreciate well managed forests. As a forester, the only thing I want to see is forest lands stay as forest lands.”

While observing and examining forested lands is Roberge’s job, it’s also his passion.

“My wife it very tolerant of my love of trees,” he said.

They have taken what he calls a tree-cation with the most memorable one being out west when they went to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Yosemite and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California, where the oldest trees in North America reside, ranging in age from 4,000 to 5,000 years old.

“I encourage everyone to go look at them,” Roberge said. “How cool is that? They’re 5,000 years old.”

During the winters in Berlin, Roberge said you either skied or played hockey. He skied, while his wife Rachelle Beaudoin was a hockey player, going on to play collegiately at Holy Cross, where she now teaches. They have one of those unique love stories that dates back to when they met as kids and has lasted through the years. Together they have a son, Beau, who is one-and-a-half years old.

It’s no surprise that one of Roberge’s hobbies has to do with trees. On his three acres of land in Peterborough, Roberge harvests sap each spring that he then sells to a maple syrup producer.

“That allows me to be in the woods by myself,” he said.

He’s also a lover of old cars, something he picked up from his father. At one point he asked his dad to write down all the cars he ever owned and it averaged about 1.3 per year.

Roberge’s first car was a 1968 Dodge Dart and is now the proud owner of a 1969 Volkswagen Van and a 1993 Mitsubishi Delica, which was produced for use only in Japan with the steering wheel on the right.

“My hobby is cars that burn gasoline and diesel and I feel really guilty about that,” Roberge said. “But I’m a sucker for cars.”

But where Roberge feels most at home is walking among the trees, observing all that nature has to offer. It’s been that way his whole life and there’s no reason to think it will ever change.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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