Waitsfield’s Scrag Forest will be closed for over a year for timber harvesting. The 365-acre town forest has not been logged since the town purchased part of it and accepted the balance of it as donation over a decade ago.
The forest features hiking and recreation trails, a beaver pond, deep woods animal habitat and headwaters.
The Waitsfield Conservation Commission, which manages the town’s public lands, negotiated the sale of the Scrag Forest timber to the A. Johnson Company of Bristol. Commission member Leo Laferriere said that the sale includes a total of 1,631 trees, 757 of which were suitable for conversion to an estimated volume of 94,240 board feet of lumber, and 874 low-quality trees which will produce an estimated volume of 250 cords of firewood or pulpwood.
“The last time this forest was logged was the late 1950s or early 1960s and it was privately owned then. There has been no logging activity since then,” Laferriere said.
Access to the forest will be restricted from December 1, 2015, through December 15, 2016. Signs informing the public of the closure will be posted on Bowen Road, which is the only legal public access route to the forest.
The conservation commission asks that members of the public please refrain from accessing the land during this harvest cycle. The harvest is being supervised by Washington County Forester Dan Singleton. The conservation commission has modeled its closure protocol on that used by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation on its harvest projects.
Commissioners pointed out that safety and resource protection concerns are the main reasons for the temporary closure of the property. They noted that there are many potentially dangerous situations that could occur, both to the contractor and to the public, if members of the public intersect with or impede the logging operation. In the spring, after the logging is complete, access will remain closed while the ground thaws and dries out.
The final step of the harvest process will occur in late spring, when final erosion control measures will be performed with small excavating equipment. Once the entire harvest process is complete, the land will need to settle and revegetate over the summer and fall of 2016. In order to give the trails time to stabilize, the property will not be open to the public until mid-December 2016.
Laferriere said that the trails and adjacent woodlands need to dry out and drain and should do that without people walking on the roads to give the vegetative cover a chance to grow back.
Foot traffic can negatively affect the post harvest “healing” process, so it’s important to be patient and wait till the winter of 2016 to visit the forest.
The Waitsfield Conservation Commission reports that the sustainable forestry work will be evident over the long term and includes improved forest health, more efficient use of growing space, a wider range of wildlife habitat and improved accessibility to the public.
Funds from the timber sale are earmarked in the Town Forest Stewardship Reserve Account and will help cover the town’s costs of thoughtfully managing the property for multiple benefits in the years ahead.
Planning for the current harvest is only a portion of the multifaceted effort undertaken by the conservation commission in planning future management of the Scrag Mountain municipal lands. Charged with stewarding the town's municipal forestland, the commission's focus on Scrag included working with contractor and consulting ecologist Kristen Sharpless to develop a comprehensive long-term management plan.
After gathering extensive inventory data, drafting proposed goals and objectives and relating them to other guiding documents, such as a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust and the Town Plan and zoning bylaws, the commission held two public forums to describe the planning process and solicit broad input from interested residents. After assessing and incorporating appropriate elements of that input, the commission presented a final draft to the select board for its approval in the spring of 2013. Support for a working forest component and a strong conservation ethos was clearly voiced during the public forum portions of the planning effort.
An important early action envisioned in the plan and an avenue to further the approved goals and objectives is the implementation of a commercial timber harvest. A Forest Stewardship Plan (a supporting document prepared for the commission in 2013 by the Washington County forester at the time, Russ Barrett) guides this harvest. Barrett laid out the harvest on the ground by marking individual trees for harvest as well as marking groups of trees to create small gaps. Visitors to the forest over the last few years have seen the blue paint on trees, indicating they are to be removed.
Harvest access roads were flagged with survey tape, stream-crossing locations were identified and an estimate of the total volume to be harvested was tallied. A timber sale prospectus was then circulated to potential bidders. The winning bidder was the A. Johnson Company of Bristol. A subcontractor for the A. Johnson Co. will perform the harvest this winter.
This harvest on the Waitsfield Scrag Municipal Forest will be the first forest management operation since the initial 360 acres, out of the current total of 645 acres, were acquired by the town in 1998. Shortly after the land was donated to the town as the result of a subdivision permit process, much of the property experienced moderate to severe damage during the ice storm of 1998.
The majority of Scrag Forest is encumbered by a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) which provides insight into management of the working forest landscape. Both the Forest Stewardship Plan and the Forest Management Plan have been approved by the VLT.
Members of the public who have followed the additional public planning process for the Scrag Trail Assessment will recall that work on that project is ongoing. Further work to prepare for hiking trail improvements at Scrag (fundraising, permitting, etc.) will be pursued in the coming months, with on-the-ground implementation of an enhanced trail network as soon as possible following the upcoming timber harvest and temporary closure of the property.
The commission welcomes public input at the beginning of its regular meetings. Those who would like more information can contact commission chair Phil Huffman at 496-3490 or vice chair Chris Loomis at 496-4962.