VERNON—During the next two years, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, part of the state’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), plans to harvest a hemlock stand covering approximately 40 acres in the Roaring Brook Wildlife Management Area.
Because access to the stand requires crossing the Vernon Town Forest through a truck road and a snowmobile trail, Aaron Hurst, a forester with the department, visited the July 6 Selectboard meeting to ask the town’s permission to move forward with preparations for the timber sale.
As Hurst explained, the typical procedure is for the department’s attorneys to draft a licensing agreement, send it to the town, and then the parties “hash it out."
Then, because the department does not perform the cutting itself, it awards the project to a private company through a bidding process. Hurst explained the department “will open up the sale to anyone on our contract list.”
Selectboard member Sandra Harris asked Hurst if Vernon “has any say on who the bid is awarded to."
Hurst replied, “Under the terms of our bidding procedures, the state has final say on who the contractor is. If the town has a major problem with the winning bid, then yes, I would think that the state would honor your wishes, and go to the next highest bid.”
Hurst said the process of drafting the agreement, getting the town to sign it, and securing a contractor generally takes about two years. His estimate sees the timber harvest beginning in July or August, 2017, and the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation’s license will last until December 2017, “just for any cleanup that needs to happen,” he said, and this includes “smoothing the town road to your specs.”
Board member Emily Vergobbe noted the logging trucks’ path would take them over Huckle Hill, where children ride their bicycles. She asked Hurst if the timber sale could happen earlier in the year.
He said “no” because of the risk of water damage is higher during early summer, but the license with the town can specify limiting truck traffic to certain hours and days when children are less likely to use the road for recreation.
In response to Board member Josh Unruh’s question about the possible effects the harvest would have on the Vernon Town Forest, Hurst said, “Any impact to the Town Forest will probably be positive because any upgrades to that road will be done through our contracting process, and the existing trails will get water-barred” as maintenance.
Hurst also confirmed he will work with David Walker, Vernon’s Roads Commissioner, as needed.
Walker told the Selectboard the harvest “will really be no different than [when] we had our Town Forest logged."
Hurst also told the Board the timber sale was a “prescription” to help the deer-wintering stand “regenerate some sort of soft wood, probably pine."
This stand, Hurst said, contains the hemlock woolly adelgid. “This little bug has killed trees and affected hemlock stands” in the southern part of the state, Hurst explained.
“Although our last two winters have killed 99-percent of them, they’re prolific breeders,” he said.
Hurst said “the prescription would be strip-cuts,” which means harvesting “three-quarters of the width of the trees, all the way across the property, every third row, so to speak.”
He clarified this procedure is not the same as clear-cutting, and will “start the process of regenerating that stand” over the next 30 years by performing the strip-cut every 15 years.
The board unanimously — minus Michael Courtemanche, who was absent — voted to grant the ANR temporary access across the Town Forest.
Hurst told the board he plans to “make that sale this fall” and secure a contractor by December.