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Vermont Family Forests
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Conserving The Health Of Our Local Forest Community

Biological Inventory Resources for the
Private Landowner

You’d like to increase your awareness of your forest’s biodiversity. You’d like to steward your land to conserve or enhance that biodiversity. But how do you go about it? You have many choices, requiring varying amounts of time, energy, and financial commitment. Below, we outline these options and offer resource suggestions and links that may be helpful in learning more about your forest community.

Remember, whether you decide to hire an ecologist for a professional inventory, opt to bring your guidebooks into the woods to begin your own studies, or combine the two approaches, what matters most is that you are learning more about the natural communities in which you live and will be better informed to make ecologically sound management decisions as a result.

Layers of Information on Forest Biodiversity

Forest Management Plans

Use Value (Current Use) Program: Many forest landowners opt to enroll their land in Vermont’s Use Value Assessment Program, to ease their property tax burden. To qualify for this program, they need to have a current management plan for their enrolled forests. Such management plans vary greatly in content, but all, because of the Use Value Program’s focus on timber extraction, primarily provide information on the forest’s timber value and management for timber products. Such a plan will usually provide you with information about the species mix of trees in your forest, but may not give much additional information about your forest’s biodiversity.

VFF Certified Management Plan: Landowners who choose to enroll their forests in VFF’s third-party green certification program develop, usually with the help of a consulting forester, a management plan that provides important biodiversity information and prescribes management that maintains or enhances native biological diversity, in addition to protecting water quality and conserving site productivity. All VFF certified management plans include the following biodiversity information:

  • Natural Communities mapping
  • Native Flora and Fauna Habitat
    1. number and size of snags and down logs. These provide critical habitat for many animal species
    2. status of invasive exotic species
    3. grazing pressures
    4. evidence of wildlife use
  • Access Road condition
  • Forest Health

Whether or not you plan to certify your forestland, preparing a forest management plan that follows VFF's management plan template will provide excellent baseline data and help ensure that your management practices protect native biological diversity. VFF maintains a list of resource managers (pdf file; 73kb) familiar with VFF mapping and planning standards who can help you pursue natural communities mapping, ecological surveys, and certified management plans.


Conducting further flora/fauna inventories

Hiring Natural Resources Professionals: Perhaps you’d like to conduct a Rapid Ecological Assessment. Such an assessment will provide you with a tremendous amount of baseline data about your forest. Take a look at the REA reports generated by a team of 3 CHEP scientists in 2003 for an idea of the kinds of information an REA provides. Marc Lapin, CHEP project manager and head of the REA team that inventoried Lincoln’s Colby Hill Town Forest, can help direct you toward natural resource professionals to fit your needs.

Doing it Yourself: There’s nothing more empowering or rewarding than getting out into your forest and beginning to record your forest’s biodiversity on your own.

  • Plants: Get to know the natural communities in your forest. As mentioned above, consider having a natural communities map prepared when you develop a management plan for your forest. Use the excellent guidebook Wetland, Woodland, Wildland, by Elizabeth Thompson and Eric Sorenson, to aid your exploration. Become acquainted with the plants that inhabit your woods. There are hundreds of plant species, so narrow your study to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Trees and wildflowers are a great place to start. Refer to Eric Sorenson’s list of plant reference books for recommended field guides.
  • Birds: Start a bird list—if you need help identifying birds, contact your local Audubon chapter and request a volunteer to give you a hand. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology hosts an excellent website, All About Birds, which offers audio recordings and in-depth descriptions of hundreds of bird species. VFF is developing a lending library of Ecological Forestry Tools, and in it, we have the audio CDs Birding By Ear and More Birding By Ear, by Richard K. Walton and Robert W. Lawson. Stop by and borrow it!
  • Reptiles and Amphibians: Chances are, if you carefully turn over a log in your forest, or a rock in a seepy area, you’ll meet one of Vermont’s resident salamander species. Start a list of the reptiles and amphibians that inhabit your forest. Herpetologist Jim Andrews, of Middlebury College, has created the Reptiles and Amphibians Atlas of Vermont, and maintains a website for the Atlas that is chock-full of useful information and links on reptiles and amphibians that will get you started. He is always looking for more field data for the atlas and would welcome your findings.

    The PDF files below may be helpful in your investigations:
  • Mammals:
    1. Tracking. Learn how to identify and interpret the many signs that mammals leave during their daily excursions in the forest. Bark rubbings, claw marks, den sites, scat, paw prints, and foraging debris all offer clues as to the identity and habits of forest inhabitants. Paul Rezendes’ excellent book, listed below, will get you started. For identifying animal tracks, bring a copy of Lynn Levine and Martha Mitchell’s guide, listed below, into the woods with you.
    2. Trapping. Trapping of small mammals can only be performed by a licensed mammalogist or his/her students. Contact the biology department of your local university or college. If there is a mammalogist on the faculty, they may have students who could help you conduct such a study. Mammalogist Jan Decher, who performs CHEP’s small mammal surveys, has created a Mammal Diversity Assessment publication that will help you get started.


Controlling invasive Exotics

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has an excellent website that covers aquatic and terrestrial invasive plants, offering tips on how to recognize and control them.


Other helpful resources:

Champlain Valley Clayplain Forest: Natural History and Stewardship. Produced by the Champlain Valley Clayplain Project. Marc Lapin, Coordinator.

Champlain Valley Clayplain Forest Restoration. Produced by Middlebury College Environmental Studies Senior Seminar, Spring 2003.

Tracking and the Art of Seeing, by Paul Rezendes. Camden House, 1992.

Mammal Tracks, by Lynn Levine and Martha Mitchell. Heartwood Press, 2001.

Reading the Forested Landscape, by Tom Wessels. Countryman Press, 1997.

New England Wildlife: Habitat, Natural History, and Distribution, by Richard M. DeGraaf and Mariko Yamasaki. University Press of New England, 2001.