Brushwood Community Forest Effort a Success (VT)

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced that the 475-acre Brushwood Community Forest was officially created this week, as the Town of West Fairlee took ownership of 475 acres of forest land. This marks an important milestone in a three-year effort, which received the support of federal, state, and local agencies. Brushwood is the latest success in TPL’s Community Forest Initiative, which helps towns preserve their forest land as a community asset for present and future generations. TPL will continue to work with adjacent landowners to seek additions to the Community Forest by the end of 2009.

The Brushwood Community Forest is permanently protected from development by conservation easements held by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (DFPR). An easement on a portion of the property is co-held by DFPR and the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT). The project was the top-ranked priority for the Vermont Forest Legacy Program in 2008 and last year was ranked #16 nationally by the US Forest Service Forest Legacy Program (FLP) – a conservation program authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). With the strong support of Leahy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and US Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Peter Welch, the project received $1.485 million in federal funds. A successful private capital campaign provided the one-quarter match required by FLP. Major donors included the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation Enhancement Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation – Upper Valley Region, The Aloha Foundation, and many other generous foundations and individuals.

TPL’s Vermont and New Hampshire State Director Rodger Krussman said, “The Trust for Public Land is proud to be a part of conserving this important working forest land for West Fairlee, providing opportunities for communities to reconnect citizens to the woods and their neighbors and enjoy recreational resources close to home. TPL and the town are grateful to the leadership of Senators Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch for their support of Vermont’s Forest Legacy Program, without which this project would not have been possible. We are glad to be continuing our partnership with the State of Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and the United States Forest Service to protect Vermont’s working forests for future generations.”

“This project is a sterling example of the partnerships, stewardship and goal setting that I envisioned when creating the Forest Legacy program,” said 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 64,948 acres in Vermont alone, and 1,796,192 acres nationwide.

Senator Sanders said, “The Brushwood Community Forest will preserve a significant natural asset for future generations of Vermonters. 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.”

“The creation of the Brushwood Community Forest is a testament to the power of collaboration between public and private entities committed to conserving land, enhancing recreational opportunities and building community,” said Welch. “By combating forest fragmentation and encouraging sustainable forestry, the conservation of this working forest landscape achieves multiple goals, while creating a major asset for residents of West Fairlee and neighboring towns.”

West Fairlee will manage the property as a municipal forest for wildlife habitat, sustainable timber harvesting, public recreation, education, and water quality protection. By merging five private parcels together under one ownership, the Brushwood Community Forest project successfully combats forest watershed fragmentation that has been occurring across the state for decades.

Patricia Ayres Crawford, a member of the West Fairlee Selectboard, said, “Three key ingredients have made Brushwood a reality: the funding, the professional expertise of The Trust for Public Land, and the hard work of many local volunteers – namely the members of the West Fairlee Conservation Commission, the Bradford Conservation Commission, the Rivendell Trail Association, and the members of the fundraising committee. I’d also like to acknowledge our Orange County Forester, David Paganelli, who has been a great help to the Town.”

This new town forest provides a link between the municipal forests of Bradford and Fairlee to create a 2,550-acre block of contiguous, municipally-owned forest within approximately a mile and a half of Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee, and within 3 miles of the Connecticut River. The project protects a critical link in the Cross Rivendell Trail, which stretches almost 40 miles from Flagpole Hill in Vershire, Vermont, to Mt. Cube in Orford, New Hampshire where it joins the Appalachian Trail.

The Brushwood Community Forest is the latest success story in TPL’s Community Forest Program. Working closely with communities throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, the program has helped to create 8 new community forests and protect over 22,000 acres as community assets for this and future generations, including in Freedom, Strafford and Randolph, NH. TPL will be adding over 1,800 acres to the Errol, NH Town Forest this spring. TPL works in conjunction with The Northern Forest Center and The Quebec-Labrador Foundation to provide a coordinated and expanded set of resources, technical assistance and support to promote and sustain community forests.

The Brushwood Community Forest was also a pilot project of the Vermont Town Forest Project – a collaboration of more than 30 public and private non-profit organizations in Vermont led by the Northern Forest Alliance – which seeks to deepen Vermonters’ connections to their forests and their communities and to support town-led establishment or expansion of town forests.

Steven Sinclair, Director of Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation said, “The Brushwood Community Forest Initiative is a great community driven project and an example of how the Vermont Forest Legacy Program helps communities achieve their conservation goals. The Brushwood Forest achieves all the goals of the program, including watershed protection, wildlife habitat protection, low impact recreation, and continued sustainable timber management for the region. The State is excited to be part of this partnership with the Town of West Fairlee and TPL to permanently conserve this land for future generations.”

The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in our communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for generations to come. Since its inception in 1972, TPL has completed 3,269 land conservation projects in 46 states, protecting more than 2.2 million acres across the country, including almost 400,000 acres throughout New England. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.