As I write this, Chittenden County is now settling into winter. As December progresses, you might begin to hear the buzzing and the thruming of skidders in woods, logs piling up at the side of your street. You might notice a forest you love changing. The forest floor may be covered with bright-topped stumps, and scattered with the tops of trees.
Good forest management is about more than just cutting trees. It seeks to be regenerative, improve wildlife conditions, make forests more resilient in changing climates, protect biodiversity, and benefit communities as well as future generations. Most people are not able to distinguish healthy forests from unhealthy, and responsible forest management is better than irresponsible. It’s not something we were born with. It’s something we have to learn. We sometimes base our assessment of the health of our forests or the quality of forest management on a few misconceptions.
The first misconception is that forests must be neat and tidy. It is a common misconception that forests should look neat and tidy. They are resilient and adaptable in changing climates, provide diverse habitats for wildlife, clean our air and water, and sequester carbon. Most people don’t see the importance of features such as dead wood on the forest floor or large, old, declining trees. A gap-filled canopy, irregular gaps, and pockets of young trees and other shrubs are all fundamental components of a forest’s vast web of life. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that every forest is healthy, a forest that looks messy isn’t unhealthy.
Another misconception about forests, is that they don’t change. Because trees live so long and grow so slowly, it is easy to think that forests can be defined by their stability or ability to resist change. Forests are dynamic and constantly changing. Their resilience, their ability to adapt to change, is what defines them. Although it may seem tragic and frightening, the death of trees is part of the natural, natural, and beautiful way forests work.
As with natural disturbances, forest management will result in a forest that looks and feels different. I embrace the chaos and dynamism of managing forests. I tell loggers to leave treetops undamaged, to leave dead trees in the woods, and to create gaps of various shapes and sizes to encourage the growth of different sizes, ages, and species of trees. It can be quite jarring to see a neat forest become untidy or a familiar forest transformed into something new. Even though you are aware that healthy forests are dynamic and messy, it can be difficult to see how this could ever be part a beautiful forest next spring.
Although you may be able to see some of the environmental benefits of forest management immediately, others will take time. Vermont forest managers rely more on natural regeneration than planting trees. This is because there is a time lag between the disturbance and when it’s realized. This lag can be stressful and we need to remember to be patient and let nature do its work.
I walked through an area of land that was managed by the Hinesburg Town Forest in July. The area was alive and green in July. Blackberry and raspberry canes were looped around young trees and goldenrods, and asters that were bursting with yellow and purple flowers. Birds nestled under the thick canopy and flew through gaps to catch insects. Salamanders wriggled in rotting wood as the trees over them reached their limbs into the blue skies.
One of the most important lessons forests can teach is patience and equanimity. Forest management and forests are complex and nuanced. It takes time to learn to appreciate them.
Ethan Tapper, the Chittenden County Forester for the Vermont Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Check out his YouTube channel to see his work. Sign up for his eNews to read the articles he has written.written athttps://linktr.ee/ChittendenCountyForester