Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Logging, including on Snake Mt., boosts biodiversity

“The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department began to acquire land for Snake Mountain WMA in 1959 from the A. Johnson Lumber Company, which has reserved timber rights. Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department funding, generated from hunting license sales, was used for most purchases.”

The above is from the Snake Mountain pdf, which, along with information about 103 other wildlife management areas, can be found on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife website. The quote is also incomplete. A good portion of the over 130,000 acres of land in Vermont wildlife management areas was purchased with funds generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.

The Act was passed by Congress in 1937 at the urging of America’s hunters. For the past 86 years, it has imposed an 11% tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment and has distributed the proceeds to state governments for wildlife projects, including land purchases. There is no comparable tax on birding gear, hiking gear, canoes, snowshoes, kayaks, or anything else to pay for the 104 Wildlife Management Areas in Vermont. If you’re not buying a hunting license or the products covered by Pittman-Robertson, you’re a free rider in Vermont WMAs.

The 1,215 acres of publicly accessible land in Snake Mountain WMA would likely be in private hands if the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department hadn’t had the prescience to purchase it. I suspect that the former carriage road on the west side would be gated, paved, and accessed by late model Range Rovers on their way to houses or hotels that would have been built on the overlook on the west side. There’d also be no parking area with a kiosk nor logging road on the east side of the mountain. Without that parking area, try to access Snake Mountain from Snake Mountain Road.

Purchasing Snake Mountain actually had a price. That included the A. Johnson Company having timber rights. If you’ll explore other WMAs on the Fish & Wildlife site, you’ll see this is a pretty common arrangement. In fact, the reason these WMAs exist is to provide diverse wildlife habitat. That means older, taller trees have to be cut for new growth. In contrast, a mature forest with a high canopy is a pretty barren place at ground level.

The open areas left by the loggers will explode with growth over the next 10-20 years. Most people won’t see much of this, because they avoid first growth areas. Until a canopy of older trees rises to shade the ground and kill the undergrowth, first growth areas with their low, brushy, pointy, thorny, viney plants that are unpleasant to walk through provide habitat to many critters you won’t see in the mature forests in the Green Mountains.

Before I retired from teaching, I had to take continuing education courses to maintain my teaching license. The best course I ever took required a Sunday-Friday stay at a Vermont Fish & Wildlife camp on Buck Lake in Hardwick. Every day all of us students hiked or canoed with State of Vermont foresters, botanists, and wildlife experts. The person running the course had a mantra: cut it and they will come.

As a group teachers tend to lean left politically, so the first few days of the course most of my colleagues complained about the mantra. By the end of the week, they were repeating it. They understood the price of not logging is a lack of forest diversity that leads to a lack of wildlife diversity. I always thought it ironic that such a progressive collection of people who championed diversity in their classrooms and in society had been so opposed to the same concept in our forests.

Yup, logging can be ugly in progress, but think of what machinery has done and continues to do to make farming possible in all those pastoral scenes on route 23 in Weybridge. If you’ve had a new house built, how’d that look before landscaping? Remember tropical storm Irene just 12 years ago? Unless you know what you’re looking for, new growth along Vermont’s streams have hidden all the damage.

Before the arrival of any homo sapiens, Vermont forests were managed. Lightning caused fires which led to new growth. The modern world won’t tolerate forest fires. Beavers lived in every bit of moving water. They felled trees, built dams, and moved on and repeated the process when their preferred food ran out. When the abandoned dams failed, meadows appeared, and first growth followed. We don’t give beavers free reign in our landscape. Unless you want old growth forests with high canopies, very little undergrowth, and the limited variety of critters that rely on it, we need more logging in our forests.

Logging on a road that was built and deeded for logging as part of a sales agreement doesn’t seem like too high a price to have accessible public land. Vermont State Foresters will make sure that when the cutting is done, the logging road up the east side of Snake Mountain will be restored according to best practices. In a few years, the changes created by the logging will provide homes for wildlife that wouldn’t exist without it. Consider being a little patient and enjoying the transformation. By the time the loggers return to use their road, most of us will no longer be here.      

Mike Kelley

Middlebury

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