On May 20, we had a great talk and discussion as 28 people joined Chittenden County Forester, Ethan Tapper to discuss the importance of trees’ contribution to the climate. The presentation delved into the question of carbon sequestration and why it’s important as we address climate change. Decisions about trees on our properties can help mitigate our changing climate and add to ecological sustainability.
Trees trap and store carbon from the air, cleaning the air and sequestering it from being released for many years. Ethan talked about how forest management fits into the transition town vision of creating strong, connected, self-sufficient communities.
Vermont is 75% forested and of that forested land, 80% is owned privately. Ethan’s job is to advise landowners on how to best care for their tree lots and keep them healthy. Some of the challenges in Vermont’s forests include: large die offs, over browsing by deer, exotic pests attacking the trees, and higher temperatures that are not suited to Vermont species.
Ethan explained that Vermont forests were almost eliminated in the early 1800s from lumbering and opening up land for grazing livestock. While much of that land has been re-forested, too few varieties of trees, or too many similarly aged trees make for an unhealthy forest. Forests need several die-offs to support the regeneration of new growth from the decomposition and natural reforestation. This process takes decades, if not a century.
Also, many forest areas consist of mono species of wildlife, whereas a forest thrives better with multiple species living together. Forests are more resilient and will stand up better to climate change by providing a variety of species of both trees and wildlife. As an example, Ethan cited the maple sugarbush, a prime location for tent caterpillars. A forest where maple trees predominate will have more problems with tent caterpillars than a forest that has multiple species of trees. Interestingly, the caterpillars use the sap lines to go from tree to tree.
There was a lot of discussion around invasive species of plants that take over the underbrush in a forest, such as garlic mustard, buckthorn and Japanese knotweed. These plants can poison soils, cause stream bank erosion, and crowd out native plants. Somewhat apologetically, Ethan recommended using an herbicide to eliminate the more aggressive invasive plants like buckhorn. He said he’ll advise anyone on the best products and techniques.
Ethan said people tend to look at their forested lands as investments. Problems may arise when people develop their property and build corridors into the forest, causing breaks in the forest continuity. This is detrimental to wildlife, as larger mammals such as bear and moose tend to live in the deeper parts of the forest. So while a forest is an asset to the ecological community, it may not lead to economic gain.
Finally, Ethan said that healthy forests should be messy. A forest floor littered with tree limbs, dead fallen trees, and native underbrush provides something to rot, and establishes areas that support wildlife. So avoid the hard work of clearing the forest floor and...keep it messy!