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Vermont Family Forests
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Conserving The Health Of Our Local Forest Community


Family Ecoforestry

Three hundred years ago, Vermont was blanketed by healthy, self-willed forests. Within 150 years, most of those forests had been cleared away and the land thoroughly exploited. Today—due in large part to the land’s capacity for self-renewal—forests once again cover more than 78% of the state.

About 70% of Vermont’s forestland is non-industrial and privately owned—what we at VFF started calling "family forests" in 1995. Owners of these family forests often have diverse interests and short tenure. Many family forest owners want to conserve the health of their forests but do not know how to act upon their values.

Vermont—like many other states—has a long history of providing education programs for family forest owners and the loggers and foresters who assist them. These programs have largely focused on forest products (timber, wildlife habitat, recreation, etc), rather than on forest health (water quality, site productivity, native biological diversity, etc). Many such programs aim to help landowners improve timber quality, but expend little energy on systems that would allow family forest stewards to achieve greater success in marketing their forest products. Without this marketplace success, Vermont’s family forest owners and stewards cannot be expected to maintain the health of their forests or to produce high-quality forest products over time.

These long-term emphases on forest products over forest health and on high-quality timber production over the success of forest stewards in the marketplace have put the ecological health and economic viability of Vermont’s family forests at considerable risk.

Our Approach to Family Ecoforestry

The three great conservers of forest health are well-informed forest stewards, sound economic returns from ecological forestry, and a community-shared land ethic.

Healthy forests are fairly easy to spot. They are the ones that have clear, clean, highly oxygenated streams running through them. If being actively used by people, they often have well designed access networks that work with the land and that are lines of grace which add to the forest’s beauty. The soils of healthy forests are stable and productive, and they support diverse populations of native flora and fauna. 

Ecological forest stewardship conserves water quality, site productivity, and native biological diversity. Landowners who enroll their forests with Vermont Family Forests subscribe to VFF’s principles and work hard to adhere to our Forest Health Conservation Checklist of stewardship practices. VFF foresters show forest stewards how to carry out these practices, and we monitor all harvest activities on VFF-verified forestlands to assure that the conservation practices are designed and implemented to the maximum extent possible.

Wendell Berry once wrote that “the two great ruiners of private land are ignorance and economic constraint.” And Aldo Leopold wrote that “perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land.”

These two visionary ideas helped us frame the notion upon which we built Vermont Family Forests’ ecoforestry work: that the three great conservers of forest health are well-informed forest stewards, sound economic returns from ecological forestry, and a community-shared land ethic. We work to empower landowners with scientifically rigorous, easy-to-follow information about forest stewardship. We offer VFF verification to local forest landowners and have created tools that help landowners receive sound economic returns for their ecological stewardship (like our NeighborWood™ brand for firewood and Family Forest® brand for flooring and other forest products). And we endeavor to inspire “an intense consciousness of land” and a community-shared land ethic through our workshops, community celebrations, and publications. This is no small task, and the work is ongoing!

Our aim is to create a circular forestry model as an alternative to the linear forestry model of the traditional wood products industry. In VFF’s circular community-supported forestry model, forest products flow from healthy forests through local value-adding processes and are then sold as branded products to well-informed customers. Landowners receive improved economic benefits from this process, which helps them continue maintaining the ecological health of their forest. And so the circle goes.

Our Forest Health Conservation Checklist is the cornerstone of our ecoforestry work. That checklist served as the basis for a guidebook, the Town Forest Health Check,  which we completed in 2010 to help Vermont citizens engage with and care for their community-owned forests.

Updated 5/17/2011