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Karen Bennett - 2009 Presidential Award of Excellence

By Carrie Sherman
October 7, 2009

Photo: Erin Gleason, Photo Services

In 2008, New Hampshire was hit by a tornado that buzzed through 8,500 acres of forest in a swath nearly 50 miles long. Karen Bennett became the point person for both UNH Cooperative Extension and the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands. When distressed citizens called the state forester’s office, it was Bennett who fielded questions such as “Can I sell this wood or should I chip it?” She also helped to organize five community meetings in tornado-affected areas.

Bennett, the statewide forest resource specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension, is very matter of fact about her role. “When people need help, the extension forestry delivery system is just ideal,” she says. “It’s been around since 1924.” And it’s a system Bennett knows very well.

Her first job after graduating from UNH in forestry in 1979 was as a county forester in Hillsborough County. She ran their firewood program. Seven years later, she moved on to Merrimack County.

“I really enjoyed being a county forester,” says Bennett. “I’d meet people and walk their property with them while discussing their hopes and dreams, helping them take care of their land. Eighty percent of New Hampshire is owned privately and by helping these owners we contribute to our clean environment and quality of life. It is good work.”

In 1996, she took her current position where she works with landowners, foresters, natural resource volunteers, and others, delivering forestry outreach education. She delivers the latest information to them on selling timber, building forest roads and trails, protecting water quality, controlling invasive plants, and much more. She also edits publications, from flyers to books; occasionally teaches at UNH; and gives workshops and press interviews regularly. And, be it an ice storm, as it was in 1998, or a tornado, Bennett can be counted on to make the system excel in an emergency.

Darrel Covell, UNH Cooperative Extension, Forestry and Wildlife Program leader notes of her contributions: “After the tornado, Karen’s able leadership facilitated our assistance to those residents most in need. . . . But in fact, all those who enjoy, work, and recreate in the state’s forested landscape have benefited from her dedication.”

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