Timber interests hope to harvest more trees under new decision

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(Host) Timber interests hope they’ll be able to harvest more trees in the Green Mountain National Forest under a decision issued by the head of the Forest Service this week.

But environmentalists say local planners made the right call to protect the forest’s health, and as VPR’s John Dillon reports, even if loggers are permitted to take more timber, the forest service budget may prevent it.

(Dillon) Environmentalists did not challenge the 2006 management plan for the Green Mountain National Forest. Instead, the appeals were filed by the Vermont Traditions Coalition and other groups who favor more timber harvesting on the 400,000 acre forest.

The state of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources also sided with the Traditions Coalition in its appeal.

But when Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell handed down her decision this week, she generally endorsed the management plan.

Kimbell did, however, tell local forest officials to re-examine how they calculated the harvest that can be allowed.

Steve McLeod of the Vermont Traditions Coalition was happy with Kimbell’s decision.

(McLeod) "We’re thrilled that we achieved a partial victory on two key points, which is the amount of timber that can be cut, and the frequency at which it can be cut. The bottom line is we believe that the forest health and wildlife can be best served by more intense timber cutting."

(Dillon) In her decision, the Forest Service chief focused on the rotation between timber harvests. And she wants the forest officials to explain why they excluded the tops of trees from the total amount that can be harvested.

Anthony Iarrapino of the Conservation Law Foundation says there’s a good reason not to take the entire tree: The top branches decompose and replenish the soil. He says that’s especially important in places like much of the Green Mountain National Forest that can be damaged by acid rain.

(Iarrapino) "We know that two-thirds of the Green Mountain National Forest has been mapped as being sensitive to the effects of acid rain and in particular the loss of key soil nutrients that are the necessary building blocks for new trees when the old trees are cut down and hauled away."

(Dillon) Melissa Reichert is forest planner for the Green Mountain National Forest. She says experts did consider the importance of leaving the tops of trees in order to rebuild soils.

(Reichert) "The leftover of the tree does go back into the soil and actually helps to maintain the soil quality."

(Dillon) Reichert says she’s satisfied that the Forest Service chief supported much of the forest plan. She says officials now have to document how they came to the decision on the harvest issue.

But Reichert points out that the limiting factor for cutting trees is not the plan itself – it’s money.

(Reichert) "The amount of timber that we cut is really based on budgets and we do not get a budget to support full implementing the plan for any of the resource areas.

(Dillon) Reichert says the Forest Service is authorized to sell about 16 million board feet a year. Yet there’s only enough money in the budget to sell between three and five million board feet.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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