As more and more people populate Vermont, wildlife habitats in the Green Mountain State continue to shrink. But, state officials and conservation experts say smart forest management can reverse the trend and create a bit of green.
On a sunny, but chilly Saturday, Vermont Audobon Conservation Biologist Karen Sharpless leads a group into 39 acres of forested land. The Huntington property belongs to the Green Mountain Audobon Society, but those on the trek aren't looking for birds, they're looking for trees.
"We're creating things like openings in the forest canopy so light can hit the ground, new trees can get started," said Sharpless.
Large-scale logging operations clear-cut Vermont's forests more than a century ago. The growth in Huntington is about 80-years-old.
"In this particular site we're managing for birds that really do best in older forests," said Sharpless, "so we're adding a lot of diversity to a section of woods that's pretty simple."
Trees marked with blue paint are coming down. Smaller trees will be left behind to provide cover and forage. Larger trees can be sold for timber.
Sharpless says they won't make much money now, but in the future, a well-maintained forest could provide a rich natural resource for the Audobon society - one that can pay the bills.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz joined students, land-owners and other interested individuals on Saturdays outdoor class. "One of the things that I love about this Forestry for the Birds approach is it's really innovative," she said.
Markowitz says forest is critically important for Vermont habitat, the landscape, and as traditional working lands, "and that means that we need to make sure that there's an economic benefit to landowners in keeping their land forested."
She says the Foresters for Birds Project - which began in 2008 - shows the model works. Not just for birds, but bear, bobcat and deer.
Humans get more than a scenic benefit too. A well-maintained forest translates to better air and water quality as well as flood resilience.