By Brett Yates
In 2004, the town of Chittenden purchased the 138-acre Rutland Grammar School woodlot with the hope of using timber revenue to boost municipal finances, but for 17 years, the land has gone untouched. That could soon change.
On Oct. 11, Select Board member Bob Baird asked for permission from the rest of the Chittenden Select Board to have the lot evaluated for a potential harvest. The motion passed unanimously.
In August, Baird held a preliminary discussion with Mark Riley, a forester whom the town had consulted in the 1990s and early 2000s. By Riley’s recollection, the woodlot’s “timber resource is better than average. Predominant species are hardwoods that are more valuable: maple, yellow birch, and ash. Most of the land is reasonably sloped, fairly well drained, and well suited for timber harvest.”
Riley recalled that a problem of access through surrounding land owned by the United States Forest Service had thwarted Chittenden’s previous attempt to log the Rutland Grammar School woodlot.
“The Forest Service will grant access across their land only if the harvest does not have any negative environmental impacts on the area,” he pointed out. “We were running into so many difficulties negotiating with the Forest Service that [former Select Board member] Bob Bearor finally gave up on harvesting the Grammar School lot and decided to just let the trees keep growing.”
More recently, the Forest Service has begun a major planning process for a section of the Green Mountain National Forest located predominantly in Chittenden. Controversially, the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project, as it’s known, may involve opening federal land in Vermont to new logging.
Baird suggested that now might be the right time to reopen discussions with the Forest Service, which held its first local outreach meeting in advance of the project in July. He also noted the “record-high” timber prices at the moment.
“It would meet some of the commitment that was made by a previous select board about why, I believe, they spent $30,000 in town money to purchase that land,” he observed.
The Rutland Grammar School woodlot evaluation won’t cost Chittenden any money, Baird said, if he can persuade the county forester — who “is supposed to work with the towns to do forest management plans” — to come to the area. Otherwise, the town will pay $60 an hour to a contractor. If possible, the site visit will also include the adjacent 115-acre Michigan Brook woodlot, whose trees, however, were cut more recently.
Baird acknowledged that the town might decide that it doesn’t “want to be in the timber business” in the long term, in which case selling its woodlots to the Forest Service or the nonprofit Trust for Public Land would become a possibility. A one-time harvest before such a transaction, however, would maximize municipal revenue, as sale prices in these situations tend not to reflect the value of the timber, per Riley.
“I’m not saying we’re going to do a timber harvest,” Baird emphasized. “I just think this is a good step to move this forward.”
Select Board member Andrew Quint agreed. “I think it makes sense to at least investigate the possibility of harvesting timber. The town owns woodlots, and we haven’t done anything with them, and they are a potential source of revenue for other projects. It probably makes sense to do some kind of cutting because of fire hazards. We seem to have more of a fire season than we used to.”