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In sweeping deal, 11 peaks protected from development in Vermont's Northfield Range

A mountainside covered in trees at the start of fall foliage, mostly in browns and reds and yellows, sits in the foreground. Behind it, a ridge goes back, of peaks that get ever higher. The sky above is blue with fluffy white clouds.
Vermont Land Trust, Courtesy
Much of central Vermont's Northfield Range, shown here, is private land. As of last week, a substantial portion has been placed under a conservation easement.

One of the largest remaining parcels of privately owned forest in central Vermont has now been conserved permanently.

Under the newly finalized deal, much of the Northfield Range will now be protected.

The roughly 7,400-acre plot that is now under a conservation easement spans the towns of Braintree, Granville and Rochester. It includes five miles of ridge line along the Northfield Range and six streams.

“Quite simply, it’s the entire side of a mountain range,” said Sally Manikian, who represents the national environmental group the Conservation Fund, in Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Conservation Fund purchased the land several years ago from a logging company. The nonprofit worked with the Vermont Land Trust to sell it with a conservation easement on it to private landowners, Green Ridge Forest, LLC, last week.

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Liza Walker worked on the easement for Vermont Land Trust. She said the property includes 11 peaks, ranging in elevation from 800 to 1,300 feet, as well as the headwaters for the third branch of the White River.

“Protecting this expansive forest really increases resilience to climate change, flood events, and it also carries on a legacy of connections that people have had to this land for hunting and hiking and skiing and those kinds of activities,” Walker said.

The newly conserved land is split by fourth-class Braintree Mountain Road. The new owners say they plan to sustainably harvest timber on it. Through the easement, the Vermont Land Trust will have oversight of how the land is managed.

The view looking up a rocky mountain creek, in the hollow between two hillsides. It's a misty fall day and only the orange beech leaves are still on the trees. The forest floor is covered in them.
Vermont Land Trust, Courtesy
The new Green Ridge Forest in Northfield includes six streams that feed the third branch of the White River.

“One aspect of having a conservation easement on land is that we ensure that any timber harvests that are done are done in a sustainable fashion, and that we review a forest management plan and any harvest plans that come forward,” Walker said.

The Conservation Fund purchased the property in 2014, as part of a 30,000 acre acquisition of lands across Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York.

The national nonprofit aims to protect working forests that are at risk of being developed. It often partners with local land trusts, towns and other public land managers to pass on ownership with a conservation easement in place.

Several other properties that were part of that acquisition have already been permanently conserved, and Manikian said this won't be the last in Vermont.

“We’re … slowly working on a set of properties going to the Green Mountain National Forest,” she said.

“Quite simply, it’s the entire side of a mountain range."
Sally Manikian, The Conservation Fund

Beyond its size, Manikian said, what makes the Northfield parcel stand out is that it runs from the floor of the adjacent river valley, up to the high summits above.

“What that allows is — as our climate warms — is enormous potential for adaptability,” she said, noting that plants and animals may need to shift their habitats upslope under a warming climate. “It provides multiple levels of climate refuge as our climate changes over time, because of the diversity of habitat along that kind of elevational change.”

Vermont is on average 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was at the beginning of the 20th century. The last decade in Vermont was the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The state is also getting wetter. Vermont now gets almost six inches more rain and snow than it did in the 1960s, with the mountainous parts of the Vermont seeing the largest increases. As temperatures increase, more of that water is expected to fall as rain.

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The newly protected forest is mostly hardwoods, but includes more than 100 acres of Montane Spruce-fir forest, a habitat especially vulnerable to climate change.

Walker with Vermont Land Trust says Braintree Mountain Road is a great point of access for outdoor recreation there. You can see the conserved property from Vermont Route 12A and Interstate 89.

“We really appreciate being able to partner with a national conservation organization that is able to work at a scale that we do not work at," Walker said.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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