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Fairlee to discuss town forest

  • Volunteers Kai Harris, left, of Thetford, Vt., Beatrice Green, of Orford, N.H., and Sam Harris, mother of Kai, dig at the site of an old homestead in the Fairlee Town Forest on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Fairlee, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2021 7:42:09 PM
Modified: 10/24/2021 7:42:11 PM

FAIRLEE — Fairlee officials want to hear from residents about how the town forest and other public lands should be used and maintained.

A public meeting on the topic to be held Nov. 3 comes after months of contention over logging, erosion, and recreation on the public land, including a finding by a state forester that Fairlee hadn’t followed what are known as acceptable management practices, or AMPs, to protect water quality during logging jobs.

“The conversation we’re trying to have is to ask the town (what) their desired uses are for the public lands and forest,” said Peter Berger, who chairs the Selectboard. “The town has never not recognized public use of the lands. The question is degree and how they’re maintained.”

Rick Dyer, a forester with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation identified erosion with run-off into waterways — or “active discharges” — that broke with state regulations when he visited the forest about 14 months ago.

“During my first visit, I observed a number of active discharges throughout a heavily used trail network consisting of skid trails, recreational trails, and access roads in need of maintenance and repair,” he wrote in an Oct. 8 email to Town Administrator Tad Nunez.

Dyer said he had seen encouraging progress, with some discharges “corrected” and others on track to be corrected. The town is also taking advantage of an active timber harvest to correct some of the damage and Dyer wrote he was “particularly pleased” to hear that the town will be hiring a contractor for repairs and working with Redstart, a Bradford, Vt.-based forest management company. Berger said that the town is also closing trails that traverse steep land and wetlands.

The town does not yet have an estimate for the work, but Nunez said on Friday that $66,624 in three “forestry accounts” may cover the work, although depending on their stipulations, the Selectboard might also use the town’s general funds.

Logging in the forest has upset some residents who use the land recreationally. Fairlee acquired the forest, which includes steep, wooded hills west of Lake Morey, in the early 1980s, in large part in a gift from the Lange family.

Bill Weale, a Fairlee resident, raised concerns about large cuts, a truck road, and a log landing installed in the forest to make way for heavy wood chippers that could cause erosion.

“It has literally destroyed an area of a woods road and three intersecting hiking trails,” he said. He is concerned that the AMP work underway will not be enough to make many of the trails up to recreational standards and that the public has not had an opportunity to weigh in on how the forest is managed.

Dan Ludwig, who has chaired the town’s Forest Board for a year, argues that responsible logging benefits the forest and helps cover the costs of managing it responsibly.

“We have 1,800 acres of forest for 900 people. These are the people who have to pay for it. The goal is to make it self-sustaining,” he said. “A little logging happens, and the good stuff to avoid run-off into the streams gets done as part of the job and isn’t something we have to pay for.”

At one of the logging locations, he said, there was “a lot of even-age forest” with a thick canopy that let no light down to the forest floor.

“Logging techniques remove undesirables to a certain degree to get sunlight to the forest, to get new generation on forest floor, which is how we sequester a lot more carbon. Wildlife don’t like areas without new growth on the ground,” said Ludwig, who does some custom sawmill work. He hoped to see hares and bobcats in the forest after the cut.

Encouraging more people to use the forest by investing in recreation could come with its own problems. He noted that 85% of the forest has no cell coverage and Fairlee has no search and rescue.

“We want it to be a forest that everyone can enjoy rather than a park with groomed hiking trails,” he said.

In a meeting last month, Weale also raised concerns about how erosion in the town forest may be contributing to rising nutrient levels in Lake Morey because some of the brooks in the forest flow into the lake.

The town is undertaking a survey to identify the cause of the rising nutrient levels and has adopted a construction moratorium around the lake. According to state scientiests who collected samples on the lake in late August, developed sites generally contribute more phosphorus to a lake than forested sites.

Another ongoing issue in the forest is a user-made map that was put on GPS software and includes historical wagon roads and user-made trails cutting through the forest, Berger said. The map, which includes trails that cut through private property, first “popped up” around 2012 and has drawn more people into the forest.

Weale said he has seen “a ton of damage and ATV use” in the town forest in the past 15 years.

Ludwig said that the town only allows for residents to use ATVs, and that ATV traffic is “limited.”

However, with a police chief who only works 10 hours a week, “there is no way we can police all the ATV trails,” he added.

The town is undertaking a survey to determine which trails are being used and “who’s doing what within the forest,” Berger said.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3 in the Fairlee Town Hall Auditorium. It will also be streamed on Zoom. Russell Hirschler, the executive director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, will be facilitating public comment.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at or 603-727- 3242.

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