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Report: Vermont losing 1,500 acres of forest annually

Observer courtesy photo A new report from UVM identifies declining state and federal funding as a reason for an increase in loss of forest land to development in Vermont.
Observer courtesy photo
A new report from UVM identifies declining state and federal funding as a reason for an increase in loss of forest land to development in Vermont.

Vermont has been losing 1,500 acres of forest every year, according to a report released earlier this month by a team of authors from across the region, including two scientists at the University of Vermont.

The report found that public funding for land protection has been steadily declining across New England since peaking in 2008. In New England as a whole, forestland is lost to development at a rate of 65 acres per day, the report states.

“Over the last decade, Vermont lost about one percent of its forest cover due mostly to suburban and rural residential sprawl, reversing a 150-year trend of forest recovery and expansion,” co-author Bill Keeton, professor of forestry and forest ecology at the University of Vermont, said in a press release.

The report, “Wildlands and Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities,” documents that public funding for land conservation in New England was cut in half between 2008 and 2014 to $62 million per year, slightly lower than 2004 levels. The pace of regional land conservation has also slowed substantially from an average of 333,000 acres per year in the early 2000s to about 50,000 acres per year since 2010.

“If our goal is to make sure our forests in Vermont are resilient and able to adapt to the changes that climate change and invasive species pose, then the first critical step is to keep those areas forested,” said co-author Tony D’Amato, director of UVM’s forestry program.

Twenty-three percent of the Vermont’s land area is currently conserved as forest and farmland. The state ranks first in New England in per capita state funding for land conservation at an average of $6.70 per person per year, according to the study.

But annual land conservation rates in Vermont have generally fallen back to early 1990s levels after a period of elevated conservation in the late 1990s, even as groups report that private landowners’ interest in conserving their land remains high.

“Vermont has led other New England states in terms of forest protection efforts, with combined federal and state spending for land conservation here at a per capita rate 4.6 times that of neighboring New Hampshire, for example,” co-author Bill Keeton of UVM said. “With this report, we present a clear vision of strong and continued community-level engagement in farm and forestland conservation to compensate for rapidly declining federal and state funding across New England as a whole.”