Nearly 5,000 acres permanently conserved in Vermont's northern Greens
A block of nearly 5,000 acres of forest in the northern Green Mountains has been permanently conserved and protected from development, say three Vermont environmental groups.
Comprised of two parcels that lie in Richford and Jay, the area spans the north and west facing slopes of the Green Mountains — aspects that scientists say are vital to protect as species migrate northwards and upslope due to the warming climate.
The land, formerly part of the Atlas Timberlands, owned by the Atlas Paper Company, is part of a 10,000-acre stretch of contiguous, unfragmented forest that lies between Vermont and Quebec.
Much of the area is boreal forest — a habitat that is particularly threatened by climate change.
It also includes higher elevation ecosystems and wetlands, as well as the headwaters for Stanhope Brook, which supplies drinking water for the community of Richford.
Eve Frankel, who leads the Nature Conservancy in Vermont, says protecting intact stretches of forest is critical to adapting to climate change.
"We know that species are moving about 11 miles north and 30 feet in elevation each decade now, in response to climate change," Frankel said. "So having these large tracts of protected forests allow for species movement ... and that means everything from mammals, to trees and plants."
Roughly 2,000 acres of the area will be owned by Somerset Investment Partnership, L.P. but managed under a permanent conservation easement, held by Vermont Land Trust.
The agreement allows for sustainably managed commercial timber harvests there, as well as public recreational access.
The remaining portion of the land will be protected by a "forever-wild" conservation easement, held by the Nature Conservancy and owned by Northeast Wilderness Trust.
That land, called Bear's Nest Wilderness Preserve, will be permanently protected from logging.
Jon Leibowitz, executive director of Northeast Wilderness Trust, says just 3.5% of the land in Vermont is conserved this way right now.
"You can look at an old forest as a bank. There's a lot of carbon already stored there. And the best thing that we can do for our climate is to leave those trees standing where they are."Jon Leibowitz, executive director of Northeast Wilderness Trust
Vermont Conservation Design — a mapping tool the state uses to prioritize conservation and climate resilience work — says Vermont should aim for about 9% of its land mass to be old forests if it wants to maximize the climate resilience benefits those ecosystems confer, like clean water and flood protection.
"The value of the mosaic of land uses can't be overstated," he said. "It is so important that we protect well-managed forests and that we protect farmlands. But we also need to be doing a much better job protecting forever-wild landscapes."
Last year, Vermont lawmakers passed the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act, which set a goal to conserve 30% of Vermont's land and water by 2030, and 50% by 2050.
Planning for how to do this is already underway, and Tracy Zschau, executive director of Vermont Land Trust, says this sort of project is an example of how the state can get there.
"When we think about the 30x30 initiative, this is what we're talking about, in terms of how we protect land in the future," Zschau said.
Leibowitz says the forever-wild patch is like an investment in the area's future.
"You can look at an old forest as a bank," he said. "There's a lot of carbon already stored there. And the best thing that we can do for our climate is to leave those trees standing where they are."
Frankel says, at the same time, the Nature Conservancy is eager to support working lands nearby.
"I think we need to have more nuanced conversations about conservation for multiple uses, that also include human communities and people communities, as well as natural communities," Frankel said. "And I think this project really points to that."
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