Brushwood Named Top Priority for VT Forest Legacy Program
West Fairlee and Fairlee, Vermont, 12/12/2006: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced that its Brushwood Community Forest Initiative was ranked the #1 priority project in Vermont under the state’s Forest Legacy Program. The state’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation will forward the project to the USDA Forest Service with a $1.5 million funding request in the next federal budget cycle.
The Brushwood Community Forest Initiative is a collaborative effort to conserve 10 privately owned parcels and merge them into a single 1,200-acre West Fairlee town forest, and to work with the neighboring towns of Bradford and Fairlee to conserve and strengthen the protection of the existing Bradford Water Commission land and Fairlee Municipal Forest land. Once completed the project would protect a 3,300-acre contiguous block of conserved land.
This initiative is one of the first pilot projects for the Vermont Town Forest Project-a collaboration among more than 30 public and private non-profit organizations in Vermont led by the Stowe-based 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. This initiative is also part of the Community Forest Collaborative, a partnership between The Trust for Public Land, The Northern Forest Center, and The Quebec-Labrador Foundation to provide a coordinated and expanded set of resources, technical assistance and support to promote, create and sustain community forests that conserve forest lands for the purposes of natural resource protection, and help build civic capacity and sustainable economies for communities in northern New England.
TPL’s Senior Project Manager Rodger Krussman said, “As part of both the Community Forest Collaborative and the Vermont Town Forest Project, the goal of the Brushwood Community Forest Initiative is to create a regionally conserved landscape that will provide a variety of economic, ecological, and social benefits to all three communities.”
TPL has secured voluntary commitments from 6 of the 10 private landowners and discussions are underway with the remaining landowners. Although there is still a great deal of work to be done, once completed, the Brushwood Community Forest will link and protect three contiguous municipally owned properties, all conserved and managed for sustainable timber harvesting, wildlife habitat protection, and public access. The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, through the Vermont Forest Legacy Program, will hold a conservation easement over the majority of the land to ensure the permanent protection of forest resources.
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 now a top priority for the Vermont Forest Legacy Program-it will achieve 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 working with both TPL and the three local towns to permanently conserve this land for future generations.”
The forests of West Fairlee have been a source of high-quality hardwood and softwood timber for the past one hundred years, and continue to be an important part of the local forest-based economy. Creating a community forest that continues sustainable timber management will help create and maintain local jobs, provide income to the towns, and link citizens to their landscape by involving them in the management of a core natural resource.
In addition to seeking Forest Legacy funding, TPL is also working with local residents, conservation groups, and municipal partners to raise $500,000 from a variety of sources for protection of this regional resource. One keystone parcel, the French Property in West Fairlee, has already been acquired, kicking off this ambitious initiative. This parcel is contiguous with the existing Fairlee Municipal Forest, and is a critical linkage property for the Cross Rivendell Trail that stretches almost 40 miles from Flagpole Hill, in Vershire, Vermont, to Mt. Cube in Orford, New Hampshire where it joins with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
“Residents have been exploring the idea of creating a community forest in this area of West Fairlee for decades,” said Patricia Ayres Crawford, a West Fairlee Selectboard member. “We have proposals from experts dating back to 1971 and, most recently, a unanimous vote at Town Meeting last March.”
The Brushwood Forest region encompasses the headwaters of Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee which flow into the Connecticut River. As the southernmost unfragmented forest block of more than 10,000 acres in close proximity to the river the Brushwood Forest is an important priority for the Trust for Public Land’s regional Connecticut River Program. Program Director Clem Clay said, “This project will play a key role in conserving part of one of the largest unbroken forest areas remaining in the Upper Connecticut River Valley and will help protect the River’s ecological integrity and water quality. This project represents an ideal opportunity for us to work with local partners to help them conserve a resource of regional importance.”
Community forests are at the cutting edge of New England’s land conservation movement. As the Vermont Town Forest Project’s first conservation effort, the Brushwood Community Forest Initiative is being touted as a model of conservation innovation in Vermont and the region for two main reasons. First, the initiative addresses the issue of defragmentation. By purchasing multiple properties and reuniting them under one ownership, the project reverses the parcelization of land that has been occurring at increasing rates all over the state in recent decades. Second, the initiative is a community driven effort. Creation of the 3,300-acre Brushwood Community Forest will provide a voice for citizens in the management of their public resource. This type of engagement on the local level benefits them in different ways than private, state, or federal conservation land ownership.
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 more than 330,000 acres throughout New England. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations. For more information, visit TPL on the web at http://www.tpl.org/vermont