My Turn: Budget misses state’s town forests

By Jad Daley
Burlington Free Press: Opinion
Burlington, VT (February 28, 2007)- Readers of the Free Press have been treated to a recent series following the journey of newly harvested white ash trees from the Hinesburg Town Forest on their way to become flooring for the Hinesburg Town Hall. This powerful story of local forests meeting local needs, familiar to towns across our state, is why the Vermont Town Forest Project was established to help communities creatively manage and use their town forests and to purchase new town forests where there is community interest.

Unfortunately, this new momentum around town forests here in Vermont and across the country would be greatly hurt by the Bush administration’s proposed deep cuts in U.S. Forest Service programs for the fiscal year 2008 federal budget. These proposed reductions would include a 50 percent cut to the Forest Legacy Program that helps fund town forest acquisitions, and a 38 percent cut in the Urban and Community Forestry Program that enables Vermont and other states to provide technical assistance to communities in forest management.
Of particular local concern, the administration’s list of specific projects proposed for FY08 Forest Legacy funding did not include Vermont’s top-ranked project — purchase of the new Brushwood Community Forest by the town of West Fairlee. The cost of the Brushwood Forest will be $2 million and the $1.5 million Forest Legacy grant sought by the state, West Fairlee, and the Trust for Public Land (TPL) is the linchpin to this project.
Just like the Hinesburg Town Forest, the Brushwood Community Forest in West Fairlee will be a rallying point for the community, bringing neighbors together in the woods to enjoy our connection to the land and each other. This small Upper Valley community has voted overwhelmingly in local surveys to support the project and showed up en masse for community activities in the woods and meetings on the project.
The Vermont Town Forest Project has partnered with West Fairlee to support this exciting acquisition, led by project partner the Trust for Public Land . West Fairlee has worked with TPL staff to identify as many as 1,800 acres to purchase from willing sellers for the Brushwood Community Forest, all high-elevation woodlands of exceptional quality for forestry, wildlife, watershed protection of the Connecticut River and Lake Morey, and outdoor recreation.
The project area they identified is especially valuable because it strategically links town forests in the adjacent communities of Fairlee and Bradford to create more than 3,300 contiguous conserved acres. The Brushwood Community Forest will also provide one of the last missing links in completion of the 38-mile Cross Rivendell Trail, conceived by students at the Rivendell School to run from the Vershire to Mount Cube in New Hampshire.
The administration’s proposed cuts to the Urban and Community Forestry Program would also hurt town forests. The program funds staff in the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and a popular grant program that helps communities enhance management and public enjoyment of town forests. Both the staff and grant program have been essential to the success of the Vermont Town Forest Project.
Fortunately, Vermont’s congressional delegation places a higher priority on U.S. Forest Service program funding and other domestic priorities than the current administration. Sen. Patrick Leahy established the Forest Legacy Program through the 1990 Farm Bill and has also been a consistent champion for the Urban and Community Forestry Program.
From his powerful seat on the Appropriations Committee, he is well-placed to secure funding for the West Fairlee project and the Forest Legacy Program, as well as to lift funding levels for the Urban and Community Forestry Program. Given their long history of supporting conservation, newly elected Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch can surely be counted on to help.
As Congress begins work on its spending plan for the coming year, Vermonters should hope that our delegation will once again be able to shape the nation’s funding priorities toward the conservation ethic that has always been a cornerstone Vermont value.
Jad Daley is the campaign director for the Stowe-based Northern Forest Alliance.