West Fairlee's Community Forest Doubles in Size

December 21, 2011

Today the Brushwood Community Forest in West Fairlee, Vermont, grew to more than 1,000 acres, more than doubling its size, thanks to a conservation deal completed by The Trust for Public Land, the Town of West Fairlee, and the State of Vermont. The majority of the funding came from the USDA Forest Legacy Program.

At 1,055 acres, and located within a 28,000-acre block of unbroken forest, Brushwood Community Forest will now support landscape-scale wildlife habitat, protect drinking water resources, and expand opportunities for sustainable forest management and recreation.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, helped create Brushwood in 2009 as a 475-acre community forest in Fairlee and West Fairlee. An adjacent 580-acre property owned by the Town of Bradford has now been purchased by TPL and sold to the Town of West Fairlee as an addition to Brushwood.

"Under any circumstances the community forest model is a strong investment, but completing the expansion of Brushwood Community Forest during this recession is an exceptional fiscal opportunity," said Rodger Krussman, The Trust for Public Land's Vermont state director. "Conserving the important natural qualities of habitat and drinking water, and expanding recreational opportunities for tourists also help this investment really shine."

Funding for the $875,000 purchase of 580 acres included $825,000 from the Forest Legacy Program, a conservation program authored by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and U.S. Representative Peter Welch each supported the FLP funding.

"We are grateful to the Towns of West Fairlee and Bradford, the State of Vermont, Senator Leahy, who was instrumental in securing the needed federal funding, as well as Senator Sanders, Representative Welch, and all our partners and donors for their enduring commitment to this critical conservation project," added Krussman.

The day-to-day management of this land will be the responsibility of the West Fairlee Conservation Commission, with ultimate management responsibility held by the Select Board.

"The Brushwood Community Forest offers many unique opportunities for the region as a whole. We invite the people of all surrounding communities to enjoy the forest and experience the beauty and solitude that Brushwood has to offer. We are all proud and privileged to be involved in this remarkable project," said Fred Cook, West Fairlee Select Board member.

For generations, the Brushwood Forest region has been a source of high-quality timber and continues to be essential for the local forest-based economy. Expansion of Brushwood was guided by a professionally prepared stewardship plan, will support local jobs and provide increased recreational opportunities.

"This project is a sterling example of the continued strong partnerships between communities and partners and for the cooperative goal-setting that I envisioned when creating the Forest Legacy program," said Senator Leahy, whose legislation in the 1990 Farm Bill created the Forest Legacy Program. Since inception of the Leahy Forest Legacy Program it has helped conserve 77,130 acres in Vermont alone, and 2,228,731 acres nationwide. "These wetlands and forests will be conserved for use by generations to come while maintaining wildlife habitat, improved water quality and guaranteed recreational access."

"The Brushwood Community Forest will preserve a significant natural asset for future generations of Vermonters," said Senator Sanders. "I applaud the work of public and private entities in working together so successfully to preserve this land. Our forest lands are part of our heritage as a state, a heritage we must maintain to protect Vermont's unique character."

Congressman Welch said, "Vermonters know the importance of protecting and expanding our working landscape. Today's announcement ensures Vermonters will continue to enjoy the opportunities of this pristine forest for years to come."

Additional funding came from a broad array of organizations, foundations and donors, including the Open Space Institute, the Aloha Foundation, the Conservation Alliance, the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, and private donations.

Protection of wetlands on the 580-acre property will protect water quality in the Waits River, a principal tributary to the Connecticut River. The property is home to a variety of native wildlife, including black bear, snowshoe hare, moose, and fisher. A University of Vermont analysis classified the region as a "hot block" of habitat for yellow-bellied sapsuckers, eastern wood pewees, veeries, and wood thrush, all of which have declining numbers in Vermont and the region according to Audubon Vermont.

As an addition to the Brushwood Community Forest, the land's public pedestrian recreational access would be guaranteed and managed by the Town of West Fairlee. The trail network would be improved to link to trails on the adjacent Fairlee Town Forest and current Brushwood Community Forest, and to minimize natural resource impacts. Access will allow the public to hike, hunt, ski, snowshoe, and enjoy motorized used on designated trails.

TPL also directed a conservation easement to the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, which will manage the terms of the easement, forever restricting development on the property.

"I am pleased that the towns of Fairlee and West Fairlee have permanently conserved Brushwood Forest, and that it can be shared and enjoyed by residents both now and in the future. This was a perfect match with the goals of Vermont's Forest Legacy Program and we look forward to continued oversight and assistance with the towns on the property," Steven Sinclair, Director of Vermont's Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

"The Open Space Institute is gratified to contribute to the expansion of the Brushwood Community Forest, which ensures that West Fairlee's citizens will forever benefit from the many assets-jobs, forest products, clean water, abundant wildlife and access to the outdoors—provided by the forest," said Peter Howell, Executive Vice President Open Space Institute.

The Brushwood Forest area is also significant for its place within the Connecticut River Watershed, which has been selected as one of TPL's top "Climate Adaptation Landscapes" in the nation. The Connecticut River Watershed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut has also been designated as a pilot project area of President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative. The unique habitat diversity and north-south orientation of the 7.2 million-acre watershed provides important opportunities to secure corridors for wildlife movement and could offer key refugia for a variety of sensitive species, such as the eastern brook trout, in the face of climate change.

Over the last decade, TPL has worked with New England communities to conserve more than 23,000 acres of community forests in 11 communities as part of its Community Forest Program, and as part of its partnership with the Community Forest Collaborative.

The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 3 million acres across the country, including more than 420,000 acres throughout New England. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.