Where We Work
Stroll across the village green in Bristol, Vermont, and you’ll spot the stately Old High School building on the green’s northwest corner. That’s where Vermont Family Forests keeps its small, but buzzing main office.
If you visit us there, you’ll see that one wall is given over to green binders–more than 175 of them–one for each of the forest landowners we work with through our consulting conservation forestry. Together, these landowners hold about 19,000 acres located in 9 of Vermont’s 14 counties. The vast majority, however, lie close to our home base, in an area we call the Center-West Ecoregion. It’s a region roughly bounded to the west by Lake Champlain, to the north by the Winooski River, to the east by the Mad River, and to the south by the Middlebury River and Route 125 (see map).
As you can see on the map, the ridge of Hogback Mountain–beautifully illuminated in the pale green shading of the Southern Green Mountain bioregion–juts north like a pinky finger, smack dab in the center of the Center-West Ecoregion. Bristol sits at the southern end of that wild ridge.
The Center-West Ecoregion encompasses the fields, forests, and waterways of home. It is where we in the 5-town area (Bristol, New Haven, Monkton, Starksboro, and Lincoln) work and play, where we ski, paddle, hike, pay taxes, raise families, shop, and gather with friends. It contains parts or all of 31 towns, and VFF landowners are located in 26 of these towns. Roughly 85% of the forestland owners VFF works with are located within the Center-West Ecoregion, holding a total of about 16,500 acres.
Why define the bounds of home? Gary Snyder wrote, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” We’re digging in deep here, attending to the particulars this home landscape.
VFF’s Own Lands
Vermont Family Forests is honored to own and care for some beautiful, wild and rewilding parcels of land. These lands offer a place for us to apply the principles and walk the talk of conservation forestry. Each parcel has its own unique niche within VFF’s mission.
“A science of land health needs, first of all, a base datum of normality, a picture of how healthy land maintains itself as an organism.” –Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1941
The story of the Anderson land is entwined with the two individuals who owned the land for more than 50 years. Lester and Monique Anderson purchased three separate farms in Lincoln in the early 1960s, all within a one-mile radius. For as long as they owned the land, they referred to each parcel by the name of the last farmers to own and work the land. Lester and Monique lived at the 134-acre Fred Pierce Place. Lester kept his office and Monique her extensive vegetable gardens and orchard on the second piece of land, the 112-acre Wells Farm. On the third parcel, Guthrie-Bancroft, Monique mowed the meadows each year, but otherwise the 470 acres were left to rewild.
Monique died at Wells Farm in 2013 at age 90. Lester died at the farm in 2015 at age 95. Lester and Monique bequeathed these lands to Vermont Family Forests, and in 2016 we had the honor and responsibility of assuming ownership of them.
All three parcels are bound by Forever-wild conservation easements held by the Northeast Wilderness Trust, in keeping with Lester and Monique’s intentions that the land—with the exception of the homestead sites and meadows—be left alone to naturally rewild. These easements preclude all human activities in the forest other than for scientific inquiry and hunting. VFF allows hunting by written permission on these lands, and we have had as many as 25 hunters ask for and receive written permission to hunt in a given year. In absence of the keystone predator species that once lived in Vermont, hunters fill that niche.
These forever-wild lands offer a rare opportunity to observe natural forest rewilding in the absence of human tinkering, providing what Aldo Leopold described as a “base datum of normality.” In 1998, Lester and Monique launched the Colby Hill Ecological Project to begin monitoring the ecological processes and biodiversity of their lands. This research effort will continue in perpetuity.
“Without application, principles and ideals have no bearing and no test.” –John Dewey (1859-1952)
In late 2017, we assumed ownership of 53.2-acres of wetlands and forest in Lincoln known to its former owners, Lynn and Willie Osborn, as Abraham’s Knees. Rising up the flanks of Mount Abraham, this land lies in the headwaters of the watersheds of home. Springs emerge from the mountainside here, flow in veins across the land and continue on to become part of the New Haven River.
We imagine this land as a place to practice wholistic, adaptive, forest-centered conservation. A place to explore mutually beneficial relationship with the forest through careful, contemplative, hands-on work with the land. A place to walk the talk of VFF’s organic forest conservation practices.
As such, Abraham’s Knees offers the perfect complement to the Andersons lands–a place to apply what we learn from a naturally rewilding forest. A place to engage in mutually beneficial, participatory rewilding.