Vermont's forests are a valuable resource. This forested ecosystem provides the basis for biological diversity, natural communities, wildlife habitats, scenic landscapes, and recreational opportunities. As a natural resource, forests provide an important economic base for employment, tourism, and recreation, and support a diverse forest products industry. Liveable communities and our quality of life depend on healthy, sustainable forests. Our responsibility as forest stewards should not be taken lightly.
The landscape of Vermont has experienced many changes during our history. While we are presently blessed with a stable and productive forest resource, we cannot forget the past as we look to the future. By the 1850's nearly all of Vermont had been cleared for agriculture. Since then the forests have returned and are again abundant, covering over 78 percent of the state. Current forest statistics describe a forest that is increasing in acreage, number of trees, annual growth, volume, and maturity, and exhibits improved overall health. As favorable as these statistics are, decisions and actions we make today will influence our forests in years to come.
Because Vermonters use and value forests in many ways, debate over the future of our forests is spirited. This debate occurs in the state legislature, in newspapers, and in small town general stores. Issues include the fragmentation of forest lands, protection of wildlife and their habitats, loss and limitation of recreational opportunities, sustainable timber harvesting practices, taxation of forest land, status of forest health, public land acquisition and management, expansion of economic opportunity, and protection of private property rights.
We must remember that approximately 83 percent of the forest land in Vermont is privately owned. This provides the underpinning of the benefits and values all citizens appreciate and enjoy. Privately owned forest land contributes significantly to the state and local economy and to tourism and outdoor recreation, while providing forest products, biological diversity, wildlife habitats, and clean water. Forests, primarily in private ownership, truly define the unique character of Vermont's landscape and our culture. While generations of private forest landowners have been stewards of the land, the length of tenure and quality of stewardship may vary greatly. Economic factors often create obstacles to long-term stewardship, but it is in the public interest that private property owners hold a high stewardship ethic and practice long-term forest management.
Public forest lands are important to Vermont. They contribute many of the same benefits as private lands, but they also provide amenities and resources not readily available on private land. In large blocks of contiguous forest, public lands protect unique habitats, maintain stable natural communities and biodiversity, provide primitive recreational and wilderness experiences, preserve scenic landscapes, and showcase sustainable forest management. Smaller public land holdings contribute to the mix of ownership patterns, providing public access to forest land throughout the state. Expanding uses of public land place pressures on both the resource and the managers' abilities to find a balance between resource use and protection. Calls for acquisition of more public land are sometimes matched by concerns over reductions in municipal tax base, loss of working forests, inadequate public funding, and the inability of the public sector to effectively manage more land with less staff and less resources.
As we enter the 21st century, our forests have the ability and resiliency to meet future demands while providing us with an opportunity to shape a vision for the future of Vermont's forests.
In the future, the forests of Vermont will consist of healthy and sustainable ecosystems, a prosperous and sustainable forest products industry, abundant recreational opportunities, and a combination of ownership patterns supporting a working forest landscape and large, unbroken forest tracts. Citizens, government, and businesses understand their proper roles, responsibilities, and rights, and work together to support the values of forest land for this and future generations.
We believe this vision can be realized when the following elements are in place:
A society that values forests as contributing to the quality of life. Policies and programs reflect landowner rights and responsibilities, and provide support for the well-being of forest owners, residents, and visitors for this and future generations.
A healthy forest ecosystem, supporting the biodiversity of the state's existing native plant and animal species and their habitats, and the ecological processes that sustain them.
A forest land ownership and conservation ethic that respects the contributions and complementary roles and varieties of private and public forests in the state.
A forest stewardship ethic built upon management principles that maintain forest health and productivity, wildlife and their habitats, and the natural systems of air, water, and soil.
A forest that provides a stable income for forest owners and provides a variety of resources which contribute to economic prosperity and healthy local communities now and in the future.
Forests that serves the recreational need of Vermonters and provide recreational opportunities and the outstanding scenic quality that attracts businesses and visitors to Vermont.
A planning and policy strategy built upon respect, and a cooperative spirit among forest owners, users, interest groups and all levels of government.
Educational programs which strengthen Vermont residents' awareness and appreciation of the benefits forests contribute to the landscape and society.
Research and the long-term monitoring projects which are essential to learning more about Vermont's forests and our relationship with them as stewards.
Taken as a whole, these elements represent the important ecological, economic and social benefits and values we place on Vermont's forests.
I. Forest Ecosystem Health
II. Land Ownership and Conservation
III. Forest Stewardship
IV. Forest-Based Economy/ Sustained Economic Prosperity
VI. Planning and Policy
VII. Education and Outreach
The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has statutory authority to carry out an assessment of the state's forest resources and to develop a plan to guide the department in fulfilling program responsibilities. The Forest Resource Plan is one source for reporting that assessment and meets the intent of V.S.A.Title 10 Chapter 73, Section 2225, which authorized the department to: "carry out a detailed inventory and analysis of the forest resource,≤ which "thereafter shall be the basis for planning programs and their administration by the department for the conservation, management, and development of Vermont's forest resources.≤
In 1951 the Vermont Legislature enacted into law a policy that states: "the forests, timberlands, woodlands and soil and recreational resources of the state are hereby declared to be in the public interest.≤ (Title 10 Chapter 83, Section 2601). Continuing in Section 2601; "It is the policy of the state to encourage economic management of its forests and woodlands, to maintain, conserve and improve its soil resources and to control forest pests to the end that forest benefits, including maple sugar production, are preserved for its people, floods and soil erosion are alleviated, hazards of forest fires are lessened, its natural beauty is preserved, its wildlife protected, the development of its recreational interest is encouraged, the fertility and productivity of its soil are maintained, the impairment of its dams and reservoirs is prevented, its tax base is protected and the health, safety, and general welfare of its people are sustained and promoted.≤
Sub-section (b) of Section 2601 charges the department to: "implement the policies of this chapter by assisting forest landowners and lumber operators in the cutting and marketing of forest growth, encouraging cooperation between forest owners, lumber operators and the state of Vermont in the practice of conservation and management of forest lands, managing, promoting and protecting the multiple use of publicly owned forest and parks lands; planning, constructing, developing, operating and maintaining a system of state parks...≤
During the development of this plan, some members of the Steering Committee and members of the public voiced concerns about the perceived changing role of government in forest management. The major issue was how to address "public interest≤ on privately held forest land without violating the constitutional rights of individual property owners. With the implementation of this plan, the department will continue its long-standing programs in providing technical assistance and advice to private landowners. Actions outlined in this plan are not intended to lead to further regulation or restrictions of private forest landowners.
Over 83 percent of Vermont's forest land is in private ownership. The goals of individual forest landowners are as varied and diverse as the resource itself. Society enjoys the benefits provided by private forest landowners, and a key role of government is to encourage private investment in forest land and assist landowners in realizing their management goals. The department accomplishes this by providing services to protect all forest land from insects, disease, and fire; to provide technical and financial assistance upon request in accordance with various state and federal programs; to provide the forest products and recreational industries with marketing, educational, and informational assistance; and to make available to all parties the latest forestry research.
Specifically, the department will continue to support forest management on private land largely through carefully designed incentives, through education and technical assistance, and by encouraging equitable tax programs. Policies, programs, and actions will promote heightened awareness and consideration of the social, economic, and ecological importance of Vermont's forest resources and the rights and responsibilities of private forest landowners.
The department will promote forest stewardship through education and demonstration of forest management on public lands, and by providing technical assistance appropriate to landowner objectives. Assistance to land-owner associations and other private organizations will be encouraged to promote forest stewardship on a landscape level. The department will strive to improve its ability to monitor forest ecosystem health and forest inventories so that changing conditions and emerging problems are quickly identified, and corrective recommendations are made in a timely manner.
The role of public ownership has changed and continues to change greatly. Increases in population, changes in recreational interests, and fragmentation of forest land have placed a greater emphasis on the many values and uses of public land. Vermonters and visitors alike look to public lands to provide amenities unavailable to the public on private land. The department, in cooperation with state agencies, will continue to manage over 300,000 acres of state-owned land. The purchase and conservation of forest land will continue in accordance with the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) Lands Con- servation Plan adopted in 1999.
Guiding principles in public ownership are to protect, maintain, and enhance the state's ecological resources and biological diversity; protect and provide access to public waters and shore lands; provide outdoor recreation opportunities; provide areas for resource-related research, education, and demonstration sites; and demonstrate sustainable forest management while providing raw materials for the wood products industry. The department will maintain a variety of forest roads and trails for forestry and recreational activities, for servicing developed parks and recreational sites, and for other appropriate public recreational access. Large areas of remote forest land will be managed for wilderness type values and back-country conditions. Long-term planning for all state lands will be conducted in collaboration with the public and the other appropriate public agencies.
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