[ STEWARDSHIP ]
Vernon Town Forest
In the southeastern corner of Vermont is a 465-acre forest owned by the
town of Vernon. It’s named the J. Maynard Miller Municipal Forest, after
the local dairy farmer who convinced his town to buy it back in 1973 from
prominent New York City architect Jacques Delamarre. A key reason the
town decided to purchase the land was to ensure the preservation of one
especially unique habitat within the forest: a swamp of black gum trees
(Nyssa sylvatica). While the town forest remains best known as one of the
few sites in northern New England where black gum grows, the rest of the
property is a noteworthy example of various forest management practices.
The woods are mostly deciduous trees – red oak, red maple, birch, and
beech – along with pockets of hemlock and white pine. Steve Hardy, a
middle-aged man with an easy smile, has managed this forest for the last two
decades. His firm, Green Mountain Forestry, manages municipal and private
forestlands throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
Hardy wears many hats as town forester. He sites, marks, and maintains
recreational trails for the public’s enjoyment. And he develops plans for and
oversees timber harvests.
Timber harvests are conducted at the J. Maynard Miller Municipal Forest
to ensure the health of the trees left standing, to attract and sustain a wide
variety of wildlife, and to generate income for the town. Hardy is currently
concerned with the arrival of the hemlock wooly adelgid, which has already
devastated hemlock populations in southern New England. Many of this
forest’s hemlocks are showing signs of distress; some have already been
killed. Hardy believes the best way to combat this infestation is by reducing
the hemlock stocking level in the forest and trying to regenerate other
species like white pine, black birch, oak, and maple. This past spring, Hardy
and fellow forester Robbo Holleran hosted a workshop in the Vernon Town
Forest. Roughly 60 foresters, loggers, mill reps, wildlife biologists, and private
landowners took part. While the group was diverse, the perspectives were
often complementary: a well-managed forest benefits them all.
Hardy described one area where he is in the planning stages for a thinning
harvest. Like too many seedlings in a pot, trees that grow too close together
compete with each other for water and sunshine. Many trees in these
environments will die, and even those that survive will fail to reach their full
potential in terms of height, diameter, and overall vigor. Dense groupings of
thin, spindly trees limit the saleable board feet of timber on the property and
limit the potential understory that will form the future forest.
The day’s workshop highlighted three techniques for regenerating new
trees following a harvest: large patch cuts, shelterwoods, and small patch
cuts. Using these techniques, Hardy has attempted to encourage certain
species of trees and shrubs to take root and thrive.
Hardy first led the group to a large patch-cut where young pine, black
birch, and other trees are growing. These trees are taller and larger in
diameter than trees of the same age growing in more crowded areas of the
forest. They benefited from the space created around them and have taken
advantage of the increase in water and sunshine.
Coincidentally, these large patch cuts foster bushy understory growth that
attracts nesting songbirds. Deer are often unable to consume all the young
vegetation in a large patch cut; because of this, Hardy has found that large
patch cuts increase the survival rate of saplings in the area.
The famous black gum trees in the Vernon Town Forest.