As we near the celebration of Arbor Day on the first Friday in May, we have been thinking about the many ways our forests are important to the general well-being of the State of Vermont. The facts and figures below were graciously provided by Vermont’s Commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, Michael Snyder, who is a passionate advocate for Vermont forests.
We are known as the Green Mountain State. This is because forests are our dominant land cover. In fact, 75% of Vermont is tree-covered making it the fourth most-forested state in the nation with an impressive 4.6 million acres of forestland.
There is the obvious importance of forestry and logging to the State’s economy and the statistics are impressive. Forestry, logging, and trucking amount to $45 million in economic output and 875 full-time equivalent jobs. The wood product manufacturing sector contributes $239 million in economic output and 2,327 jobs. Furniture manufacturing represents $171 million in economic output and 1,600 jobs and the wood energy impact equals $60 million and 300 jobs. In 2016, the stumpage paid to landowners in return for their trees was estimated at $25.4 million. Astoundingly for a small state, it is estimated that Vermont produced nearly 2 million gallons of maple syrup, estimated to be 46% of the total maple crop in the United States.
Our wood products industry is facing many challenges. Logging is a very dangerous occupation – it’s hard work and not everyone is suited for it. Costs are high for Workers’ Comp insurance and benefits are non-existent. Every Monday on my way to Montpelier I see truckloads of logs headed for Quebec. This is in part because there has been a decline in our wood products infrastructure. We have heard, in testimony that one of the reasons is because Canada has figured out health care with its single-payer system. Vermont is well on its way to universal health care but it may have come too late.
Sawmills and other wood processors are required to obtain permits that often come with conditions that make operating very difficult. Logging and wood processing sometimes needs to occur at odd hours of the day depending on the time of year. Trucks have to run when the roads are hard and during certain months that requires nighttime trips. This can represent an inconvenience for the neighbors and tensions sometimes arise.
But here’s the interesting thing. The vast majority (80%) of Vermont’s forestland is held by private landowners and two million acres are enrolled in the Use Value Appraisal Program commonly known as Current Use, which gives an adjustment to property taxes. In order to meet the requirements of Current Use, one needs a forest management plan that will occasionally require the harvesting of timber. In order to harvest that timber, one needs a logger. If the number of loggers declines due to attrition and the challenges of the job, those enrolled in Current Use could experience difficulties in the future. Making wood processing more difficult also contributes to the problem.
Our forests offer us many benefits in regards to our environment. Forests provide clean water for drinking, recreation, and habitat. Forestland intercepts rain, meltwater, and runoff that prevent impurities from entering our streams, lakes, and ground water. During a rain event, forests slow the water, spread it out, and allow it to soak into the soil. As a result, forests help to mitigate flooding by lowering peak flows and reducing runoff volumes over a longer period of time. All of these contributions reduce, and, in some cases, eliminate the need to spend money on infrastructure to ensure clean water.
While our forests play an important role in clean water, they also have a positive effect on our air. Forests intercept many air pollutants and store them temporarily on leaves and ultimately on the forest floor and in soil. The more healthy intact forests with fully-foliated trees we have, the more pollution is removed from the air.
Our forests provide the habitat for a great number of wildlife species, which rely on blocks of contiguous forests and secure connections to other forest blocks for all or part of their habitat needs. The home range of an adult male black bear may be as large as 50 – 100 square miles. A couple of years ago, I was delighted to join a group of fellow Windham residents who hiked up into a large, local forest parcel to view countless bear “nests” – not actual nests but beech trees that bears had climbed to feast on beechnuts.
Approximately 75% of Vermont’s native species are found in forests or are closely associated with forested conditions. Seventy-six of our ninety-seven natural community types (78%) are either forested natural communities or communities that rely on adjacent forests for ecological integrity and function. Forest fragmentation is a phenomenon we are concerned about and hoping to slow or reverse.
Vermont’s forests provide great recreation opportunities for residents and tourists alike. Forest-based recreation supports 10,050 jobs and generates annual revenues of $1.9 billion with payrolls reaching $158 million annually. Fall foliage accounts for $460 million in tourism spending, which is a little over 25% of Vermont’s overall year-round tourism revenue. According to a 2015 report done by Joe Roman and Jon Erickson titled Economics of Conservation in Vermont, “Vermont is an important part of New England’s forest products economic base. Beyond forest products, forest-based recreation and tourism now account for the majority of the forest-based economy, an estimated $1.9 billion dollar contribution to Vermont’s economy annually.”
Our forests also make significant contributions to our exceptional quality of life and, as a result, have a positive effect on our health. Visiting forests and/or areas in their proximity has been linked to human health benefits such as improved mood, lowered blood pressure, slower heart rate, and decreased muscle tension. Forest visits have been shown to boost human immune response, lessen hyperactivity in children, enhance the motivation for exercise, and generally improve longevity.
A healthy working landscape including our forests and agriculture provides jobs, food, raw materials, recreation, and habitat. We are fortunate to have such an abundance!
In recent weeks, I have written about the important role agricultural soil health practices can play in, not only water cleanup, but also with carbon sequestration. I was equally impressed by the statistics for the contributions made by forestland. On average, each acre of forest stores 107 metric tons of carbon, which is the equivalent of the annual emissions from 83 vehicles. As a result, Vermont forests store approximately 480 million metric tons of carbon. In 2015, an additional 4.39 million metric tons were sequestered, which equaled nearly half of Vermont’s annual emissions.
On May 4, which marks the celebration of Arbor Day in Vermont this year, I will be thinking about our good fortune and the impressive contribution our working landscape makes to all of us in so many ways.