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Forest service, activists to talk ‘proforestation’

AS LOGGING CONTINUES across parts of the Green Mountain National Forest (as seen here in Rochester), climate and other activists are gearing up to fight on a new front, the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project. Centered around the town of Chittenden, the project spans more than 32,000 acres of publicly owned land, much of which has been designated as “available” for timber harvesting. Photo by Mark Nelson

RUTLAND COUNTY — Last Wednesday night, when Green Mountain National Forest officials unveiled the 72,000-acre “Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project,” they talked of many scientific things and promised future public meetings and field trips to explore those scientific things, but they did not talk about the possibility of just leaving things alone for a while.

Thanks to the persistence of their virtual audience, however, they’ve promised they’ll do just that.

“There are a lot of comments about ‘proforestation,’ which is basically no harvesting of trees on public lands,” noted GMNF Forest Planner and Environmental Coordinator Jay Strand at the virtual meeting, where comments were confined to a chat room. “We would like to put it out there for folks to meet with us either virtually or in the field to discuss this specific issue.”

“Proforestation” is a term often associated with William Moomaw, Co-Director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, who defines it as “growing existing forests intact to their ecological potential.” Supporters of proforestation believe it’s better, faster and cheaper than typical forest management practices for maximizing ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and flood and erosion control.

The Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project is named after a small gap in the Green Mountains between the Chittenden Town Forest and the Chittenden Reservoir. The project area spans nine towns in Addison, Rutland and Windsor counties and includes more than 32,000 acres of National Forest lands in Chittenden, Goshen, Killington, Mendon, Pittsfield and Stockbridge.

Project implementation is scheduled to occur over several years:

• Phase 1, assessing forest inventory and resource conditions, is complete. To see the full report, visit tinyurl.com/3nn4c3mx.

• Phase 2 (2021), considering various options for meeting Forest Service management goals in the area and collaborating with the public to develop proposed activities, began with last Wednesday’s meeting.

• Phase 3 (2022) calls for conducting a formal environmental analysis of the proposed activities and then deciding which ones to implement.

Proposed activities are likely to include commercial logging, and though it will require months of assessment and input before any such activities are approved, activists are already organizing opposition.

“We need the public to hold the U.S. Forest Service accountable and let them know that our forests on federal land should be managed for their biological and environmental value, not their timber value,” said Mark Nelson of Standing Trees Vermont in an email to the Reporter.

Founded in 2020, Standing Forest Vermont is a grassroots organization whose mission is to “protect, preserve and restore forests on Vermont’s federal and state lands.”

According to its website a total of 43,330 acres are currently being logged or are slated for logging in Vermont. This does not include Telephone Gap.

“Increased logging and clear-cutting in the Green Mountain National Forest and our State Forests is occurring and more is planned,” the group writes. “These plans will degrade our forests and air quality, destroy scenic beauty and increase carbon emissions.”

Forest Service officials did hint Wednesday night at the potential for significant logging in Telephone Gap, including harvesting up to 11,000 acres that could “have benefits to the local rural economy, generate up to 24 million board feet of merchantable saw logs and contribute to a sustainable supply of forest products,” said Forestry Program Manager and Silviculturalist Jeff Tilley.

Nelson also criticized the Forest Service for following a Forest Plan that was last revised in 2006 and that does not take into consideration the current climate crisis.

National Forests are required by law to revise their Forest Plans every 15 years, Strand acknowledged Wednesday night, but this is “subject to available funding.” At the moment there is no money for the Green Mountain National Forest to rewrite its Forest Plan and officials anticipate it will be 2027 before they can get to it.

This doesn’t mean the Forest Service isn’t staying up to date, said Rochester-Middlebury District Ranger Chris Mattrick at the meeting.

“All our decisions are based on the best available reputable science that is out there that is current,” Mattrick said. “It doesn’t matter necessarily that the Forest Plan was signed in 2006. The science we’ll be using today or next year when we make the decision will be the best available current science.”

Controversial as they are, timber resources are only part of what the Forest Service focuses on in its management work.

After taking an inventory of the Telephone Gap landscape, biologists are eager to share their findings with the public, and to get feedback on their management ideas.

Anyone interested in finding out more can attend one of several upcoming virtual meetings or in-person field trips organized by the Forest Service. So far, the schedule includes:

• July 22: virtual meeting on recreation-related topics.

• July 27: virtual meeting on wetlands-related topics.

• July 28: virtual meeting on timber-related topics.

• Aug. 10: timber field trip.

• Sept. 10: recreation field trip.

• Sept. 22: wetlands field trip.

Field trip locations will be chosen based on public input.

Dates and times for a virtual meeting and in-person field trip focused on wildlife-related topics — as well as for the promised meeting and field trip focused on proforestation — have yet to be announced.

For more information about the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project, visit tinyurl.com/ucfav4s.

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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