Residents worry about logging in Barre Town Forest

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Trees to be cut in the next round of felling are marked with blue flames. Courtesy photo of Diane Solomon.

Winter logging work that created canopy openings in sections of the approximately 380-acre Barre Town forest led many residents to voice concerns. Some are asking the city to end logging in the forest before another timber harvest takes place next winter.

Limlaw Pulpwood, the lumberjack, began work in the 72-acre harvest area in December and finished work in April, according to Barre city manager Carl Rogers. Logging has brought in more than $ 27,000 and the proceeds go to the city’s general fund, Rogers told VTDigger.

Logging has shocked many people who use the network of trails that run through the forest.

“I was walking on a trail that I followed all the time called the Capitol Loop,” said Diane Solomon, Barre Town resident. “And all of a sudden I was almost lost.”

Some residents criticized the logging, saying the city put the beauty, history and recreational value of the forest below other considerations when deciding to harvest it. The description of a petition to end logging in the forest created by Tim Belcher, a resident of Barre Town, said that the forest “was worth more than the few dollars earned from the damage caused last winter.” . The petition, launched a month ago, had collected more than 360 signatures on Friday afternoon.

Forestry consultant Jeff Smith said logging was carried out for economic reasons – to promote the growth of healthier trees that “would be more valuable in the future” – and for reasons of forest health, such as concerns about the emerald ash borer, an invasive pest.

Logging was also called for in the forest management plan created by Russ Barrett, then a Washington County forester, when Barre Town acquired the forest in 2013, according to Smith.

The Vermont Land Trust holds a conservation easement for the forest with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. One requirement of the easement is that municipalities write a forest management plan for harvesting timber, according to Caitlin Cusack, a forester with the Vermont Land Trust.

The plan

Barrett’s forest management plan divides the forest into eight stands and recommends management for each, including specific cutting cycles.

“Planned activities” include a 2018 timber harvest for Stand Seven, one of the stands harvested this winter. This stand and Stand Six were to be felled and harvested this winter in an amendment to the plan written by Smith and signed by Cusack.

This winter’s harvest was the second logging contract for Barre Town Forest since the town acquired the land in 2013. The first timber harvest took place in the winters of 2015-16 and 2016-17, according to a press release prepared by the city manager.

The impact of logging in stands six and seven surprised many residents when they first walked their usual routes through the forest in early spring. Courtesy photo of Lori Bernier. Cutting line:

The amendment Smith wrote mandates logging in stands six and seven for the winter of 2020-21. Rogers said logging in one of the stands was not completed when the timber was harvested several years ago. The amendment cites “economies of scale through work in adjacent areas and proximity to the emerald ash borer” as reasons for exploiting stand six, which was not originally intended for harvest under the 10-year scope of the management plan.

Lori Bernier, whose husband was a member of the forest management plan committee in 2013, said the city did not seek comments on the change before approving it. Bernier said she had read the 177-page community forest plan several times. She underlined a line on page 58 that said grantors must obtain comments “before the final adoption of each community forest plan, including updates, revisions and amendments.”

Rogers confirmed that the city had not secured public input for the amendment.

“I wonder if the plan amounts to an amendment like [Smith] offered an update last year. The update for me would be the next 10-12 year update, ”he wrote in an email to VTDigger.

Concerns about logging

Rogers said the city began hearing concerns from residents in April, during a meeting of the city’s selection committee in which the president read a statement with background information about the mining project. forestry.

But Bernier, whose property backs onto part of the city’s forest, said she and her husband raised concerns about the project in 2020, before the cut began. Some of the trees on his property were accidentally marked for harvest, Bernier said, which has been fixed.

One of Bernier’s concerns was that there were more trees felled than initially marked for cutting when her husband was walking with Rogers and Smith in 2020. Smith said it was because loggers had to maneuver large equipment in the forest which required additional cutting.

“I’m there well in advance to mark the trees and I’m trying to visualize how they’re going to get the trees out with their gear, but I don’t know the exact route they’re going to have. to take to reach every tree that I have marked, ”he said.

Many residents have raised concerns about the size of the openings created by logging and the debris left behind after the work is completed.

Rogers said he understood the debris had since been removed from the trails by volunteers from the Millstone Trails Association. That cleanup was completed in April, according to Rogers, but loggers again blocked two of the trails while cleaning up the log landing pad. This debris has since been removed, Rogers said.

Although some have called the logged areas clearcut, current Washington County Forester Robert Nelson said the canopy openings created by logging were too small to be designated as such under the definition. forestry.

Almost all of the logging was a “harvest by selection of single trees,” according to Nelson, which decreases the density of trees in the area by about 70%, he said. The rest of the logging was a “group selection crop,” which produces openings of between a quarter and two acres, he said.

This second type of harvest, he said, was done to ensure a younger level of growth in the forest.

“In the state of Vermont, the percentage of young forests is, I think, only about 4%,” he said. “It’s pretty low, and there’s a whole host of wildlife, including songbirds, that depend on this young type of forest. “

Despite this, city officials have recognized the impact of logging on the appearance of the forest.

“This spring when the snow melted the forest looked worse,” said a statement read by the selection committee chair at a meeting in April and which Rogers shared with VTDigger.

Many residents have raised concerns about logging and debris along the trails, including the Locomotion Trail pictured above. Courtesy photo of Diane Solomon.

The city held a workshop while logging was underway and another on June 19. Last month’s workshop gave residents a walk in the forest with several panelists, including current and former Washington County Foresters, Cusack, Rogers and a biologist from the Fish and Department of Wildlife.

Belcher said the workshop did not change his perspective on the project.

“What I heard from them was that within the parameters of what they were trying to accomplish, they made sound and wise decisions,” he said. “Where I come from is that sometimes nature should be left alone.”

Belcher said he wished the city hadn’t cut down the forest and that he hopes they won’t continue to do so in the future. But if they do, he hopes they will make decisions “less invasive, less destructive and more focused on protecting the forest as a natural place.”

The city plans to hold a public discussion on logging on August 3. Rogers said the jury seemed open to considering opinions and any new information.

“If anyone makes a worthwhile suggestion or a concern that had not been addressed before, then when the revision of the master plan is worked on in the years to come, you may see the jury asking let this be taken into consideration, “he said. .

The specific review date for the city’s forest management plan is unclear, but it will take place in the next few years, Rogers said.

As to whether the city would be able to stop future logging even if it is currently on a mid-contract, Rogers has not given a definitive answer.

“You can’t say it’s not possible to do it, but it’s not like the selection committee can just say, ‘OK, we’re not going to do this journaling’, and that’s everything, ”he said.

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