Brushwood Community Forest
The Brushwood Community Forest is a 1,059-acre municipal woodland owned by the town of West Fairlee, Vermont.
Brushwood strategically adjoins the 1,400-acre Fairlee Municipal Forest. (A few hundred acres of Brushwood actually lie within the town of Fairlee.) Together, these two town forests are part of one of the last significant blocks of forestland in the ecologically significant Upper Connecticut River Valley.
The area in and around Brushwood has linked people to the landscape for generations through a history of private forest stewardship, recreation, and environmental education. Today, the benefits of the conserved Brushwood Community Forest are numerous, and we tend to think about benefits within four categories:
1. Wildlife Habitat: Brushwood's diverse natural communities, large wetland complexes, vernal pools, large oak stands, and hemlock and pine wintering areas offer critical habitat for wildlife, including deer, moose, bear, beaver, bobcat, amphibians, and a myriad of bird species including turkey and migratory songbirds.
2. Watershed Protection: The protection of Brushwood means the protection of the water quality of its streams and the surrounding watersheds of Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee, helping to ensure clean drinking water for West Fairlee and adjacent towns.
3. Tradition of Working Forests: Brushwood's diverse forest and highly productive soils allow for sustainable timber harvesting to support the community's traditional land-based economy.
4. Recreation: Trails throughout Brushwood connect people to the landscape and to each other by linking towns and providing a place for year-round recreation. Students at the Rivendell School have designed and constructed the Cross Rivendell hiking trail which spans thirty-eight miles in four towns and two states, beginning in Vershire, Vermont and ending on Mt. Cube in New Hampshire where it connects to the Appalachian Trail. One of the last remaining links in the trail went through the Brushwood Community Forest.
The Brushwood Community Forest was completed in two phases. The first phase created a 475-acre block of forest through the acquisition'by purchase and donation'of five privately owned parcels. The second phase purchased the land of the Bradford Municipal Forest, nearly 600 acres.
West Fairlee's Conservation Commission actively manages and stewards the Brushwood Community Forest. The Orange County Forester is Brushwood's forester who provides the Conservation Commission with guidance and advice on sustainable forestry and many other forest-related issues.
To ensure its protection into the future, all the land within the Brushwood Community Forest has been conserved, with the conservation easement held by the State of Vermont.
Technical note: One of the five parcels included in the project's first phase already had a conservation easement held by the Upper Valley Land Trust. That particular conservation easement remains in place along with the state's easement'in other words, one parcel has two conservation easements.
Fairlee, West Fairlee
Bylaws, Citizen Science, Funding, Inventory, Land Management, Land Protection, partnerships, Town Plan, Walks and Talks, water, wetland, wildlife
The Brushwood Community Forest Initiative created a permanently protected contiguous block of biodiversity-rich forestland. Brushwood Community Forest is recognized for its importance to wildlife, rare avian and plant species and habitats, unusually extensive and rich wetlands, and deer wintering areas. The area is also a known migratory bird hotspot and provides an integral connection of forestland along the Connecticut River corridor.
The property provides recreational opportunities because of its hiking trails. Residents and visitors hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, hunt, and view the wildlife in Brushwood. Other limited recreation uses are possible as well. There is a designated ATV trail in the northern portion of the forest; a designated VAST snowmobile corridor trail; and a handful of mountain biking trails carefully managed by local professional mountain bikers.
Town of West Fairlee Selectboard
Town of West Fairlee Conservation Commission
The Trust for Public Land
Leadership Campaign Committee
The Northern Forest Center
Northern Forest Alliance
Vermont Town Forest Project
Town of Bradford Conservation Commission
Rivendell Trails Association
Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation
The professional assistance provided by The Trust for Public Land was crucial to the success of this project. The Trust for Public Land provided technical skills, knowledge of how to work with landowners, credibility and reputation, access to publicity events in order to raise funds and public awareness, as well as assistance with the Federal Forest Legacy Funding process'the project's primary funding source. In 2006, Brushwood was chosen as Vermont's number one priority Forest Legacy program project.
Brushwood greatly profited from listening to and learning from the townspeople of West Fairlee so it would best serve their interests. Residents began exploring the idea of creating community forest as early as 1971 when the Orange County Natural Resources Technical Team proposed the creation of a West Fairlee municipal forest located along the Fairlee-West Fairlee town line in order to 'consolidate the three properties into a [single, expansive] tract in public ownership.' In 2004, 86% of respondents to West Fairlee's Planning Commission's town-wide survey said that 'the town should work with landowners and land trusts to conserve land.' Then, at town meeting in March 2006, citizens voted unanimously for the Town of West Fairlee to establish a community forest by pursuing the purchase of privately owned forestland.
The involvement, commitment, and dedication of members of West Fairlee's Selectboard, Conservation Commission, Bradford's Conservation Commission along with donations from private donors and foundations was essential to the success of Brushwood.
The project's initial challenge was securing the involvement of The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservancy with the mission of protecting land for people. They have deep expertise in negotiating the complexities of conserving land and securing federal funding. Their regional office is in Montpelier. Early project volunteers worked diplomatically and strategically to determine the project's scope, impact, local support, and private fundraising potential.
Once The Trust for Public Land signed on as the lead non-profit partner, they provided substantial expertise to help overcome the myriad challenges.
Constant, consistent, and accurate communication with project volunteers and community members was key to the project's ongoing success. Communication occurred through meetings, events, personal phone calls, emails, letters, articles in community newsletters, on websites, newspaper and radio interviews, and op-eds. It was important to regularly identify, understand, and clearly address issues as they came up rather than let them build up and squash momentum.
For example, some townspeople expressed concern about the possible negative impact of lower property tax revenue as a result of forest land moving from private to town ownership. This was a valid concern deserving thorough research and factual answers. The land comprising Brushwood fell into two categories. If the land was within the town, it would be taken off West Fairlee's Grand List'meaning the old property tax revenue would no longer exist. If the land was outside the town'within the town of Fairlee'a new tax expense would be created. The solution to eliminating the entire tax concern was twofold: First, the entire forest is enrolled in Vermont's Use Value Appraisal ('Current Use') program, thereby minimizing the tax burden in the first place. Second, any property taxes the town is required to pay are paid through a separate forest fund. Here's how it works: Part of the fundraising for Brushwood was to establish a Brushwood stewardship fund of $70,000 solely for management costs. Expenses such as property taxes are paid from this fund; revenues from gifts and sustainable logging replenish the fund.