Community Forests - A New England Tradition

Community Forests in Northern New England are not a new idea; they have been part of its rich history for centuries. For example, Conway, New Hampshire, has owned part of its community forest, known as the Common Lands, since colonial times when the town made the property available to those townspeople who needed firewood due to economic misfortune. Since the 1920s, the Town of Stowe, Vermont has owned its Macutchan Town Forest, which residents and visitors use for walking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hunting, and trapping. Over half of Vermont's towns have their own community forests, totaling 80,000 acres statewide.

Through its Community Forest Initiative, the Trust For Public Land (TPL) has helped several towns in Vermont and New Hampshire to fulfill the vision of creating their own community forests. In 2001, TPL helped the Town of Randolph, New Hampshire (pop. 320) acquire 10,200 acres of land to manage growth, protect the forest-based economy of the town, and provide a vital corridor and link between two sections of the White Mountain National Forest. In 2005, TPL partnered with the Town of Lemington, Vermont (pop. 107) to create the Lemington Town Forest, a 1,400-acre property atop the Northeast Kingdom's Monadnock Mountain. Most recently, TPL worked with the Town of Freedom, New Hampshire (pop. 1,390) to purchase a 2,600-acre tract, which will be owned and managed as a community forest.

West Fairle's Brushwood Community Forest is another success in TPL's Community Forest Initiative. TPL's Vermont and New Hampshire State Director Rodger Krussman said, "The Trust for Public Land is proud to be a part of conserving this important working forest land for West Fairlee, providing opportunities for communities to reconnect citizens to the woods and their neighbors and enjoy recreational resources close to home. TPL and the town are grateful to the leadership of Senators Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch for their support of Vermont's Forest Legacy Program, without which this project would not have been possible. We are glad to be continuing our partnership with the State of Vermont's Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and the United States Forest Service to protect Vermont's working forests for future generations."

"This project is a sterling example of the partnerships, stewardship and goal setting that I envisioned when creating the Forest Legacy program," said Leahy, whose legislation in the 1990 Farm Bill created the Forest Legacy Program. Since inception of the Leahy Forest Legacy Program it has helped conserve 64,948 acres in Vermont alone, and 1,796,192 acres nationwide.

Senator Sanders said, "The Brushwood Community Forest will preserve a significant natural asset for future generations of Vermonters. I applaud the work of public and private entities in working together so successfully to preserve this land. Our forest lands are part of our heritage as a state, a heritage we must maintain to protect Vermont's unique character."

"The creation of the Brushwood Community Forest is a testament to the power of collaboration between public and private entities committed to conserving land, enhancing recreational opportunities and building community," said Welch. "By combating forest fragmentation and encouraging sustainable forestry, the conservation of this working forest landscape achieves multiple goals, while creating a major asset for residents of West Fairlee and neighboring towns."

West Fairlee will manage the property as a municipal forest for wildlife habitat, sustainable timber harvesting, public recreation, education, and water quality protection. By merging five private parcels together under one ownership, the Brushwood Community Forest project successfully combats forest watershed fragmentation that has been occurring across the state for decades.

Patricia Ayres Crawford, a member of the West Fairlee Selectboard, said, "Three key ingredients have made Brushwood a reality: the funding, the professional expertise of The Trust for Public Land, and the hard work of many local volunteers - namely the members of the West Fairlee Conservation Commission, the Bradford Conservation Commission, the Rivendell Trail Association, and the members of the fundraising committee. I'd also like to acknowledge our Orange County Forester, David Paganelli, who has been a great help to the Town."

This new town forest provides a link between the municipal forests of Bradford and Fairlee to create a 2,550-acre block of contiguous, municipally-owned forest within approximately a mile and a half of Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee, and within 3 miles of the Connecticut River. The project protects a critical link in the Cross Rivendell Trail, which stretches almost 40 miles from Flagpole Hill in Vershire, Vermont, to Mt. Cube in Orford, New Hampshire where it joins the Appalachian Trail.

The Brushwood Community Forest is the latest success story in TPL's Community Forest Program. Working closely with communities throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, the program has helped to create 8 new community forests and protect over 22,000 acres as community assets for this and future generations, including in Freedom, Strafford and Randolph, NH. TPL will be adding over 1,800 acres to the Errol, NH Town Forest this spring. TPL works in conjunction with The Northern Forest Center and The Quebec-Labrador Foundation to provide a coordinated and expanded set of resources, technical assistance and support to promote and sustain community forests.

The Brushwood Community Forest was also a pilot project of the Vermont Town Forest Project - a collaboration of more than 30 public and private non-profit organizations in Vermont led by the Northern Forest Alliance - which seeks to deepen Vermonters' connections to their forests and their communities and to support town-led establishment or expansion of town forests.

Steven Sinclair, Director of Vermont's Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation said, "The Brushwood Community Forest Initiative is a great community driven project and an example of how the Vermont Forest Legacy Program helps communities achieve their conservation goals. The Brushwood Forest achieves all the goals of the program, including watershed protection, wildlife habitat protection, low impact recreation, and continued sustainable timber management for the region. The State is excited to be part of this partnership with the Town of West Fairlee and TPL to permanently conserve this land for future generations."

The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in our communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for generations to come. Since its inception in 1972, TPL has completed 3,269 land conservation projects in 46 states, protecting more than 2.2 million acres across the country, including almost 400,000 acres throughout New England. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.