Forestry Management in the Preston Pond Conservation Area
By Ethan Tapper, Chittenden County Forester:
The PPCA is governed by several documents, each of which have different rules and goals. The first is the property’s conservation easement, which places permanent restrictions on the property. In addition to restricting subdivision and development, the conservation easement has other guidelines, including some that support responsible forest management. The property’s “Management Plan” works within the restrictions of the conservation easement and, with a public process, sets additional rules, restrictions, goals and objectives. Attached to the “Management Plan” is the “Forest Management Plan” a document developed by a licensed forester with specific data and management “prescriptions,” which details exactly how we manage the PPCA’s forests in accordance with the property’s conservation easement, Management Plan, and best practices.
The PPCA’s Forest Management Plan (FMP), adopted by Bolton’s Select Board in 2017, prescribed some active forest management in southern in the south of the PPCA. The goal for this work was to encourage a healthy, resilient, diverse forest with great wildlife habitat. Vermont’s forests were almost completely cleared for pasture in the 1800’s and have since often been poorly managed. As they continue to recover one thing we can do to help them is to encourage diversity in the forest – both “species diversity” (many different species of trees) and “structural diversity” (many different sizes and ages of trees) — at every turn. In addition to being more similar to late-successional or “old-growth” forests, diverse forests provide a wide range of wildlife habitat opportunities, sequester and store more carbon and will be more resilient to natural disturbance and the uncertain effects of climate change than less diverse forests. To add to these broad benefits, many of the prescriptions in the PPCA specifically focused on encouraging habitat for Vermont’s forest birds, which benefit from a diverse forests and specific unique conditions which we have encouraged in the PPCA, such as pockets of “early successional” (young forest) habitat.
Forest management, as prescribed in the PPCA’s FMP, occurred over two winters, from late 2017 to early 2019. Through the thoughtful harvesting of trees we were able to help create a healthier, more diverse forest, encouraging the growth of our highest-quality trees and creating small pockets of new regeneration. At the same time, we were able to harvest local renewable resources and create local economic benefits. Log-length firewood from the job was distributed to Bolton residents using a “lottery” approach, for a small fee. The modest revenue from the harvest was used to pay for a survey of the PPCA, which will help us manage it into the future. The project also served as a site to demonstrate high-quality forest management, with public walks of the harvest area engaging about 50 people from Bolton and the surrounding area. The work at the PPCA was also showcased to numerous UVM classes, students in Essex High School’s forestry program, and the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation’s annual “Commissioner’s Visit.” While this project has been completed, it is our hope that the public can continue to be educated on the benefits of the work we did at the PPCA. In this spirit, the new map for the PPCA shows the harvest area, and the location of the 2-acre patch cut we created, so that anyone can visit it. We will also be working with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to install informational signage in the harvest area.
One hurdle that stands between us and good forest management, is the perception of what most people think a “neat” or “well-managed” forest looks like. For whatever reason, most people consider an open, park-like appearance to be the epitome of a forest’s beauty. This couldn’t be further from the truth; healthy forests are diverse, irregular, and complex, and they look “messy,” with many different ages and sizes of trees, lots of young growth and lots of dead wood, both in standing trees and on the forest floor. The tree tops and branches left in the PPCA were done so intentionally; in fact, we specifically told the logger who worked on the job, Bolton’s own Kyle Pratt, not to buck or lop up tree tops, which takes away some of the benefits they offer. In areas where small pockets of trees were cut, the goal was not just to remove those trees but to stimulate natural regeneration. In the short term these areas may look devoid of life, but as these areas regenerate they will provide invaluable wildlife habitat and grow our future generations of trees. If you look on the Town of Bolton’s website, you can see some of my articles and resources talking about “messiness” the importance of diversity in forests, and related topics.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done at the PPCA, and I think that all Bolton residents should be too. I hope that you will all keep an open mind, check out some of these resources, and don’t be afraid to reach out with questions, comments or concerns: please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, 585-9099 or at my office at 111 West Street, Essex Junction. To see a copy of the PPCA’s management plan, visit the Town website or the town offices, or reach out to me. To have a greater impact on the management of the PPCA, consider volunteering with Bolton’s Conservation Commission, or visiting their monthly public meetings, on the 3rd Monday of each month!