Letter to the editor: Tree farmers advocate for harvesting wood

I would like to reflect on David Brynn’s letter of Jan. 27 on Vermont’s forests, climate change and the Use Value program. First, I have no problem with designating some small percentage of Vermont’s private forests to forever-wild status. We have two forest landowner neighbors who do not want harvest activity on their land. Let’s be clear, however, about the value of managed forests. We are one of hundreds of Vermont Tree Farmers who take their stewardship responsibility seriously.

Yes, in managed forests trees are cut, but selectively, allowing more light on the adjacent healthy trees. More light helps the neighboring trees, large, intermediate and small, increase their growth rate and sequester carbon faster. David implies that harvested timber is carbon lost. This is not true; most is made into building materials and fine furniture, which can last for decades or centuries. Our 1840s farmhouse is a case in point, its wood floors, walls, doors and windows are still sturdy.

Harvesting wood plays an important role in reducing global warming. Wood is a far better building material than steel or concrete. John Doerr, in his book “Speed & Scale,” states, “For every ton of concrete produced, nearly the same amount of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere.” He points out that steel is a similar polluter. Its manufacture amounts to about 7% of our global total of CO2 emissions. If we are truly concerned about climate change, it is vitally important to use wood, a renewable resource, in place of these highly contaminating materials.

As to David’s inference that wild forests do a better job of providing clean water than managed ones do, I disagree. During Tropical Storm Irene, Thatcher Brook, which bisects our property, was a roaring torrent. But damage to our stream bed was negligible. Under professional care, managed forests deliver water as clean as that in a wild forest to Lake Champlain. As to the abundance of wildlife, we have moose, bobcats, deer, coyotes, bear and many of Vermont’s forest-loving birds. Wildlife protection is part of the Use Value requirements and absolutely necessary for Tree Farm Certification, which requires a high level of management. Large standing dead trees, downed woody debris and small patch cuts for birds dependent on early successional habitat are all part of the management mix.

Looking at the big picture, managed forests generate a modicum of income to their owners to incentivize them to keep forests as forests and not convert them to development. While woodlands may be maintained as forest under their present owner, there is no guarantee that they won’t be subdivided by succeeding owners, often heirs. Forested acres generate far more income when sold for development than when maintained as forest, whether wild or managed. This fact overrides concern about what category of forest one owns. The only long-term protection is to place one’s forestland under conservation easement, meaning it can never be developed.

It is vital to keep forests as forests. The main threat to forestland is its conversion to houses, golf courses, parking lots, suburban sprawl. According to a Vermont-Harvard study, Vermont is losing 1,500 acres of forest every year. I believe that managed forests through the Use Value program, the Certified Tree Farmer program and those with conservation easements, all make an essential contribution to reducing global warming.

Peter Parker

Altadena, Calif. and Granville, Vt.

Editor’s note: Peter and Julie Parker, 2018 Vermont Tree Farmers of The Year, have stewarded their woodland in Granville since 1981.

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