October 1-5, 2018
It’s color season in northern Vermont! Very fitting as this was the first week of our Natural Resource Management unit in the Field Semester, and what an exciting week it was! In this unit our guiding question is:
How do we utilize forest resources while maintaining maintaining forest health?
In order to address this question, we are reading The Northern Forest by David Dobbs and Richard Ober, which explores the relationships between human communities and the forested landscape in New England. The book contains chapters specific to Vermont and New Hampshire, where we travelled extensively in the past week to see the northern forest for ourselves and meet the people who make their livelihoods there.
On Tuesday, we visited Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area, one of the largest contiguous forested areas left in Vermont. There we met with Conservation Forester Paul Swedo and Recreational Trail Specialist Luke O’Brien, both employees of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. From them we learned about the global problem of forest fragmentation and the importance of Victory as a corridor where migrating animals can move freely without encountering roads or towns. Even though the Victory Basin is now one of the wildest places in Vermont, it has a rich logging history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the basin hosted large scale logging operations served by trains that hauled timber to regional markets. Though the state now manages the area primarily for recreation and wildlife, sustainable timber harvesting plays a crucial role in the economic viability of Vermont’s state forests. After a rainy outdoor lesson, we cut brush on a former railroad bed which the state is now developing as a winter recreational trail; then we saw a bull moose on the road on our way back to school! This was incredibly lucky, as the Vermont moose population is decline due to winter ticks among other causes.
On Wednesday, Field Semester travelled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a visit to the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, home of the oldest forest ecosystem data set in the United States. Field Analyst Heather Vollmer toured us around the facility, and we hiked to several data collection stations located on weirs that measure the volume of water flowing out of each watershed in this 3,000 acre “forest laboratory.” We learned about Hubbard Brook’s role in first discovering and measuring the effects of acid rain, which eventually led to the passage of the federal Clean Air Act in 1970. Long-term data sets, like the ones collected at Hubbard Brook, are essential in making decisions regarding natural resource management, as we must be sure that we understand how ecosystems function over time before drawing conclusions about a given environmental issue.
Finally, on Thursday we visited Moffatt’s Christmas Tree Farm in Craftsbury, Vermont. This multigenerational farm plays a prominent role in our text, The Northern Forest, and we got to meet Jim Moffatt and his son, Steve Moffatt, who now runs the Christmas Tree Farm and logging operations on the family’s large woodlot. There, Jim told the us about the events described in Dobbs’s and Ober’s book, including how he transitioned the family farm in the 1960’s from dairy to forest products as a result of falling milk prices. He also educated us about changes in the town of Craftsbury over his 81 years, such as the decline of agriculture, the subsequent rise of outdoor recreation, the globalization of the forest products industry, and the transition to zoning restrictions and town planning. His son, Steve Moffatt, toured us around the family’s impressive Christmas tree farm and shared his wealth of knowledge about silviculture and the Christmas tree industry. It’s not everyday that you get to meet the people you read about it books, not to mention enjoying fresh apple cider with lunch on the Moffatt’s front porch!
We are taking what we are learning about natural resource management to the stewardship of St. Johnsbury Academy’s shared use properties, such as the Field Campus and the Rankin Property, but also to an ongoing project on a forested lot owned by Northern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH). This project is in partnership with a local recreational non-profit, the Caledonia Trail Collaborative (CTC), and we visited this parcel for the first time on Thursday to orient the students to the management issues specific to this site, namely soil erosion, water quality, and beating back the spread of Glossy Buckthorn, an invasive species that has spread in the St. Johnsbury area.