Forest Future Strategic Roadmap: The future of Vermont forests

Published: Sep. 18, 2022 at 10:12 AM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A roadmap for the future of Vermont’s forests is coming soon.

Mike Snyder, the commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, is challenged with creating the Forest Future Strategic Roadmap to strengthen, modernize, promote and protect our forests and their products. The state is now in the process of setting up an advisory panel that will begin meeting so they can start to set the future of Vermont’s forests.

As Vermont looks forward to the future of our largely green state, Snyder says an abundance of trees can play a bigger role.

“Forests are important, they are not guaranteed, and there are multiple strategies to keep forests, forests,” Snyder said.

The Forest Future Strategic Roadmap charts the course to keep the Green Mountains green in the coming decades. A big part is strengthening the forest economy.

“What are the levers to ensure the future of forests and the role of good forestry, especially with an economic lens,” Snyder said.

They want to bolster the forest product sector -- industries like timber harvest, forestry and sawmills to create jobs -- but do so strategically. Snyder says if planned correctly, the use of forest products will protect our forests. That’s because the places where trees are part of the economy can’t be built upon. It’s a cycle, too; products harvested in Vermont will stay in Vermont, going toward things like housing development.

The current forest economy is responsible for about 13,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic output. Experts believe forests getting this attention is a positive thing.

Bill Keeton, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Vermont, says the development pressures that Vermont’s forests experience will continue to change.

“It adds to a long history of investments in our forest landscape here,” Keeton said.

He adds that calls for more housing may only get stronger, and planning for that is crucial for our forests’ protection.

“We need lots of different incentives, market-based approaches and tax-based approaches to help keep those forests in operation,” Keeton said.

He hopes those get attention in the roadmap.

Snyder says we lose forests converted to nonforest at about 5,000-15,000 acres per year, out of about 4.5 million acres of forested land. Creating a stronger economy rooted in them is key to a more resilient forest landscape.

“We get to keep going with this really great deal we have of being forest strong. That’s the big prize,” Snyder said.

The first draft of the report is due to the General Assembly in July 2023; the final report is due on January 1, 2024.