Forest plan aims to boost diversity
By WILSON RING The Associated Press | September 25,2006
LANDGROVE — The outlines of an old farm field are visible along a narrow dirt road, but the area is thick with 80-foot red pine trees, with saplings of maple, beech, black cherry and white ash spread across the forest floor. Create parking areas along roads, so skiers who wanted to use the Catamount Trail could find a place for their cars. Now, many just park by the side of the road, making it difficult for other cars or plows to pass during the winter.
The hardwoods are native here, along the spine of the Green Mountains. Not so the red pines, which were planted by the thousands in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and now dominate the forest canopy, blocking sunlight from reaching the hardwoods.
Now, a plan being considered by the National Forest Service would clear cut the red pines as part of an effort to increase tree diversity, improve wildlife habitat, preserve historic sites and make the area more accessible to the public for winter recreation.
Under it, red pines in this 21-acre parcel — some of them 20 inches across, at the base — would be felled to help the native hardwoods grow to maturity.
"We want to convert that to a native mixed stand and at the same time take advantage of the wood products. Some are starting to rot and fall over," said U.S. Forest Service resource biologist Joseph Torres.
The strategy for the Landgrove parcel is a small part of a Forest Service management plan for the 5,471-acre area in the towns of Landgrove, Londonderry, Peru and Winhall.
The plan, known as the Nordic Project, would also help preserve historical remnants that lie within the forest, including abandoned cellar holes, stone walls and other reminders of the European settlers who carved Vermont out of the wilderness in the 18th and 19th centuries.
"What we are looking for is to make this a model of diverse forest use," said Torres.
It's also a way to ensure the future of the public land, in an area that's fast becoming a haven for upscale second homes.
"The average piece of land changes hands every five years," said Christopher Casey, a Forest Service ecologist, who helped design the Nordic Project. "We're here for the long term."
The Nordic Project is part of a larger plan for the Green Mountain National Forest that was approved earlier this year.
Unlike the long-range plan introduced for the entire forest, the Nordic Project has drawn little opposition from landowners or environmental groups.
Torres said that's because Forest Service planners worked hard to take into account during the planning process the opinions of local communities, landowners, and environmental groups.
"The Forest Service has evolved, and I think they're listening more closely than they once did to what Vermonters want," said Dick Andrews of Springfield, southern Vermont field representative for the environmental group Forest Watch.
Over the years, Forest Watch has been a consistent critic of Forest Service logging plans for the Green Mountain National Forest. Not this time.
"We feel that generally it's a significant step toward doing the kind of forestry we've been urging right along. It is away from the consolidated large tracts of forest ownership," said Andrews, who toured the project area earlier this month with Torres and two other Forest Service officials. "It's moderate slopes, moderate elevation. That's the area where we feel (logging) ought to be done."
The entire project area is in a triangular, 12,135-acre bowl overlooked by the Bromley and Stratton ski areas, with the Catamount Cross Country Ski Trail passing through its heart. On a map, it's checkerboard of public parcels sprinkled in among the private ones in an area bounded by Routes 11 and 30.
The Forest Service bought the land during the 1930s, as Vermont's hill farms were closing.
At the same time, droves of CCC workers crisscrossed the area, planting red pines as a way of stabilizing the newly abandoned farm fields.
But in many places, the trees crowded out native species.
Removing them would help the young trees grow, a key element in a diverse forest — and one that's lacking here.
The plan would also:
Establish permanent wildlife openings, improve deer wintering areas and winter food for deer. Some of 27 historic sites in the area would be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
After the Forest Service finalizes its Nordic Project plan next month, a six-week appeal period is scheduled.
The first logs could be cut sometime next year.
By next summer, a cellar hole on Red Pine Road could be exposed to the sun again, and apple trees could start bearing fruit again.
"It wouldn't take much to help them grow," said Forest Service Archaeologist David Lacy. "It wouldn't take much to help them grow a lot."