A Forest Management Plan (FMP) develops and implements long-term efforts to care for and improve forestland. The near-universal, but elusive goal is "leaving the land better than we found it." According to Vermont.org, “Your forest management plan is the written story of your woodlands. It contains the hopes and dreams you have for your land and chronicles change to your woods over time. Forest management plans are important because they list goals and outcomes, whether you are building a trail or cutting enough firewood to heat your home every year.”
Vermont Academy’s Director of Place-Based Learning and Environmental Studies Christine Armiger was inspired to begin working on an FMP for VA’s property from the first moment she got to campus. Thanks to VA’s Chief Financial Officer Matt Emsley, funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA's) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and other VA community members, this plan is finally coming to fruition.
“All forests need management if the hope is to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services. Especially if you want to improve them for future timber harvests and prevent them from being overtaken by invasive species,” says Christine.
The drive to create a forest management plan picked up momentum with the arrival to campus of Humanities faculty member Whitney Barrett and her husband Alex. Alex is the division manager at Long View Forest, a local forestry company that emphasizes sustainable forestry practices out of Vermont. Christine and Alex immediately started talking about the importance of an FMP at VA. It was Alex who introduced her to the NRCS grant opportunities. “Suddenly, I started thinking this might actually happen,” she said. “It took the enthusiasm of fellow faculty member Greg Martin (VA’s Humanities department chair) and the support of Head of School Jennifer Zaccara and CFO Matt Emsley to make the final push.”
The importance of forestry is a constant topic at VA, and Long View Forest has long had a relationship with the school that helps maintain this conversation. Alex would often visit Christine’s classes and invite her students on field trips to see timber harvests guided by actual forest management plans. Mike Ghia, VA’s Sugarmaker, always talks about the importance of sugar bush (a sugar maple stand managed for the production of maple sugar) management when classes visit the sugarhouse and the sugar bush by New House each spring. Continued discussions held during the spring last year included students in Greg Martin’s class starting to look at forestry through a policy lens. During VA’s Earth Day celebration, Alex Barrett was invited to talk with the community about forestry and invasive species in our woodlands, and members of the Class of 2023, Sam Boxer and Kim Osmec Perusa, led a team of students and faculty on an invasive species removal project. This past fall, Christine’s students followed up on their work, and both 9th and 10th-grade advisory teams have worked on invasive species removal on and off campus (along with guidance from members of the Rockingham Conservation Commission).
As the Long View Forest management plan for VA begins to grow, students will be involved in every step - and they already have been. Every student in Field Biology and Advanced Environmental Science is working on an independent research project related to forestry, forest management, and invasive species. These students had the opportunity to work with Long View foresters Dan Healy and Katie Creller to learn how the Long View Forest team is gathering data on tree species, diameter, and factors that determine whether a tree is considered "acceptable" or "unacceptable” growing stock. They also met with the lead forester of VA's FMP, Hale Morell, when she came to campus recently. Students and faculty from the Environmental Club and Sustainability Committee were also invited to meet with Hale and Emma Kuester from the NRCS to ask questions and talk about their hopes and dreams for the forest.
Long View Forest's team is now preparing a report that will summarize which tree species dominate which parts of the forest and what would need to be done to plan for a future timber harvest. The report will also reveal where the greatest problems are with invasive species and make recommendations for remediation.
“A good forest management plan recognizes that a forest supports ecological, economic, and social functions and helps the community that cares for the forest collaborate and communicate effectively to meet its goals,” says Christine. “What a gift it is for a science teacher to have that incredible laboratory at hand to explore and learn from. How cool is it that our students can say that they were part of creating this forest management plan and caring for the natural beauty of this campus for decades to come?”
As the Forest Management Plan at Vermont Academy evolves and becomes implemented, students and the wider community will be involved at every step. Christine and Hale are in the final steps of putting together the plan. Stay tuned on Vermont Academy communications platforms to follow the journey.