Episode 2 Show Notes

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Four woodland owners share their journeys owning and caring for their forests.

Theme music written and performed by Joanne Garton.

Music featured in this episode:

  • Thread Jessup by Blue Dot Sessions
  • Approaching the Beach by Chad Crouch
  • Sandpiper Waltz by Chad Crouch
  • The Cove by Chad Crouch
  • Junco Relations by Chad Crouch
  • Bird Language by Chad Crouch

Featured guests (in order of appearance): 

  • Sabina Ernst, landowner
  • Skip Ableson, landowner
  • Ruth Ruttenberg, landowner
  • Allen Yale, landowner
  • Jared Nunery, Orleans County Forester, VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation


Vermont Coverts Cooperator Training: http://vtcoverts.org/cooperator-training.html 

Vermont Coverts: https://vtcoverts.org/index.html 

Vermont Woodlands Association: https://www.vermontwoodlands.org/ 

Vermont Tree Farm Program: https://www.vermonttreefarm.org/ 

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/vt/home/ 

For more information about the Forestry Use Value Appraisal portion of the program, contact your County Foresters

Consulting Foresters assist private landowners in identifying and achieving goals for their woodlands. In Vermont, all foresters offering services to landowners for a fee are required to be licensed.

Episode Transcript:

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Kate Forrer: Welcome to Heartwood, a podcast that connects Vermonters to our forested landscape through stories. And answers your questions about our forests, forest management, and the forest economy.

Lisa Sausville: In this episode, we talk to landowners about the journey they take turning their interest in their woods into action on the ground.

Sabina Ernst: My name is Sabina Ernst. My woods are a 50-acre parcel with about 30 acres as a stand of mixed hardwood and conifers and about 20 acres of that is in early successional growth. It also includes a small wetland community on one of the borders of the property. I think for me, it's about the opportunity to have a positive impact as a good steward of the land, and so I think that's one of the things that really drew me to being a landowner.

Skip Abelson: I'm Skip Ableson, I live in Sudbury, Vermont. I own some land with my brother, Donald Ableson, we own about 480 acres plus or minus.

Ruth Ruttenberg: I'm Ruth Ruttenberg, I live in Northfield, Vermont, about six miles out of town on 74 acres.

Allen Yale: We moved down here in 1975. We had bought it in '73 and spent the next 20 years or so fixing it up in the 20 years after that re-fixing it up. Initially, the farmer who owned it said it was about 75 acres, but he had been a former surveyor, so I borrowed his chain and I had done a varying form of a survey on it before I bought it and I said, no, no, I think there are 100 acres there.

Lisa Sausville: That was Allen Yale of Derby. Each person we spoke with started at a different point on the landowner journey.

Kate Forrer: Lisa, what do you mean by the landowner journey?

Lisa Sausville: Well, in the VT Coverts training, I explain to landowners that they are on a journey and we are looking to move them along a continuum from an interest in their woods and land to knowledge to action. VT Coverts is a peer-to-peer organization that works to educate landowners about sound forest stewardship and wildlife management. The Coverts training occurs 2 times a year and it’s a 3-day program where landowners are immersed in learning about forest stewardship, wildlife management, things affecting their forests, and the ability to share that information in their community.

Allen Yale: I think Tom McEvoy was very clever in designing coverts where the hook was not timber production, but wildlife because it's hard to find a landowner who doesn't get excited when they see that coyote or that bear mother with her cubs, or a flock of turkeys. By taking a program that tells you how to increase your chances of getting wildlife on your land. There are some even urban areas, urban landscape plantings that they're beneficial to wildlife, you know, gardens that encourage butterflies and different types of birds. So, I used to teasingly say that Coverts was a covert activity from Tom's perspective. He sneakily got us into managing our woodlands with the hook of wildlife.

Kate Forrer: The idea of owning and managing land is a journey came up in many of the conversations we had with landowners. Let’s have a listen.

Sabina Ernst: I'm a relatively new landowner. I bought the land in August of 2020. I'm just really getting to know it.  I'm a scientist, and so I like to do things based on evidence and research, and so I learned about the Coverts program. I don't even remember how I learned about it. But somehow it was sort of in my list of resources. I was just really intrigued about learning more about how to be a good steward of the land and how to access resources. And that's what drew me to the program. Once I went through the program, I just thought that it was a really great opportunity to make connections with all kinds of woodlands professionals, everyone from the wildlife biologists to the foresters I feel like getting to know who those people are, just helps me navigate all of the resources that are available and the services that are available to landowners. That, in turn, will just help make me a better landowner.

Skip Abelson: We're looking at the future differently than probably younger people. We're kind of on the final chapter of our journey on this Earth, and at this point in time, I've come to inherit this land from my father. He was put on this land by his grandfather, by his father. I've taken on three roles up here - I call them stewardship, silviculture, and succession, and those are the three main concerns I have on a daily basis.

Allen Yale: My wife and I both taught, which meant we had summers to work on the house. We began to work with the woods but primarily the first few years the trees grew and we worked on the house.

Ruth Ruttenberg: I got a postcard from Vermont Woodlands Association when I first got here, and they sent them out to new landowners and offered a forestry school, a weekend forestry school. And it was the first time I ever heard the word timber value. I didn't know what timber value was. I had never looked at my land in terms of timber value. I, I just I just didn't know. And that just opened my eyes in a hundred different ways. And so then I saw an ad for the cooperator course that Coverts runs and I took that and that opened my mind even further.  I mean, I will never forget sitting and hearing a talk about town forests ad I thought, oh, there are town forests, I didn’t know that.

Kate Forrer: The programs that Sabina and Ruth mention, like VT Coverts and Vermont Woodlands Association offer a unique opportunity for landowners to get introduced to their land and their role as land stewards. They learn the importance of setting goals, working with professionals and the steps to take action in their woods.

Lisa Sausville: One stop along the journey for many landowners is enrolling in the Use Value, or Current Use. Jared Nunery, the Orleans County Forester explained this program well.

Jared Nunery: The Use Value Appraisal Program is a program of many names, current use, land use, use value. And what it is, is a tax abatement program where essentially landowners that enroll in this program agree to actively manage their land for agriculture or forestry purposes. If their forest land is enrolled in the program, they're operating under a 10 year forest management plan approved by the county forester. That forest management plan includes a number of different details and information about their forests. And then also silvicultural prescriptions, which is that fusion of art and science in understanding what people have and what their management objectives are and what they're going to do to achieve those and maintain a healthy forest.  The benefit to the landowner is they taxed at a use-value rate as opposed to the fair market value rate, which ultimately realizes a reduction in the taxes they pay annually. All Vermonters are benefiting from that working landscape that's kept operational through this program.

Kate Forrer: So to be enrolled in Vermont’s Use Value Program, landowners need a forest management plan, which is generally developed in collaboration with a consulting forester. We will hear from these professionals in the next episode but for now let’s hear more from Ruth, Sabina, Allen, and Skip about how they have engaged with various professionals to determine, enhance, and reach their goals.

Lisa Sausville: Before we go on, it's important to note that any forester offering services to landowners, such as developing a forest management plan, needs to be licensed.  Check out the show notes for a link to learn more about working with a Vermont licensed forester. 

Ruth Ruttenberg: I think there's a real value in walking land, both with professionals and others. When Russ Barrett was the county forester, he walked the land with me. I had a couple of questions that, you know, he was really important and in in answering.

Sabina Ernst:  I invited my forester to come out and we walked the land, and I would say it was a really positive interaction. I just basically started calling foresters and I found one that I thought would be a good fit for me and he had time and availability. So we met up and walked through the woods and gave him a sense of what was out there and what needed to be done. It was just really nice to sort of form a partnership and feel like you're part of a team where the collective goal is really to bring out the best in your land and to make your visions for your land a reality. Just to have an ally on your team who really understands so many aspects of the woods and the forest, and can just be a good springboard for ideas.

Allen Yale: George Buzzell, who is an institution here - a little older than I am, but he is here for almost his whole career as a county forester, and he was a lot of help. The current county forester, Jared Nunnery, and I also have my own private consulting forester. At one time it was Jason Benoit. He's moved on and I now have Ryan Kilborn.

Skip Abelson: Well, a consulting Forester is just another human being to begin with. We've had four, I think, on our property, only two of which I've worked with. The one before the one I'm working with now is up in his 70s, so he's been around a long time, knows a lot of stuff, has a ton of experience, but I've found that he was clearly listening to me, but when I mentioned things about habitat and animals and creating recreational scenic areas. I didn't feel that there was much agreement.

Lisa Sausville: This is an interesting point Skip makes. It is important to feel that you and your forester have similar values. When hiring a consulting forester a landowner should interview a few, ask for a sample management plan, perhaps tour one of their logging jobs.  This is a long term relationship so the landowner should feel comfortable and listened to as they share their concerns, goals and objectives.

Kate Forrer: We asked these landowners what advice they have for others getting started in this process:

Ruth Ruttenberg: You have to take a landowner where they're at. I think if I were talking to just some newbie like I was, I would urge them to get involved in webinars or courses or whatever. I had no idea that if you do something with your land, it's going to have a negative effect on some species and a positive effect on others, and you need to decide which ones you want to promote. You know, like I didn't know that grassland birds needed something different than birds and trees.

Sabina Ernst: Gathering information, talking with experts, talking with other landowners, really becoming as informed as you possibly can before or during your journey is really important because it's there's a lot to know. And you can't possibly know everything about every aspect of being of of managing woods. So I think it really behooves everyone who's thinking about having a larger parcel of land or even a smaller parcel of land to really know who's out there and use those resources. I think the state has so many good opportunities for landowners in terms of resources and opportunities -- it's something you should really take advantage of as a landowner.

Allen Yale: Get hooked. There are two programs in the state. When I joined Coverts in 1986 as a member of the second class, it promoted things like getting into current use. Current use is a fantastic program as far as I'm concerned, and it's not just because of the tax relief aspect of it. By having to turn in an annual report indicating that you have in fact engaged in some sort of forced activity, it sorts of is a stimulus to get to work, to get in your woods, and do something. The other program would be the Vermont Tree Farm Program. When I joined a tree farm in 1976, 10 years before you got into Coverts, basically it was a feel-good thing where you got a triangular sign on your land and maybe somebody would come out and casually walk your land and say, Oh, you're doing a good job. The current tree farm program is much more rigorous than that. In fact, it has some aspects that are more rigorous then use value assessment so that when you do a management plan, if you're in both current use and a tree farm program, you want to make sure you touch base with all the standards of both programs. Those three things: Current Use, Tree Farm, and Vermont Coverts. Also, if they get into working in their woods, they want to be conscious of the NRCS standards, because if they want any money for timber, stand improvement, erosion control, road building, stuff like that. They're going to have to have a management plan with specifics related to practices that come under NRCS. Go to the websites of these organizations and attend some of their walks in the woods or tree farm tours or Coverts tours. A lot of these are held on the web so you can do them in the middle of the evening and get all the benefits.

Lisa Sausville: Allen just shared a lot of organizations and programs available to landowners.  So much great information here for landowners to get engaged and learn more.  We’ll continue to explore the relationship with forestry professionals further in the next episode.  Before then, check out our show notes to connect with some of these resources.

Kate Forrer: Ok, Lisa, let’s go back to the journey metaphor, what is the next step after a landowner has a management plan?

Lisa Sausville: Well it shouldn’t just sit on a shelf.  There are prescriptions, also known as management actions that the landowner is supposed to be taking over the life of the plan.  It is a living working document that helps ensure the stewardship, health, and value of the forest. This plan also is updated every 10 years and it gives the landowner an opportunity to reassess- the health of their forest, their goals, and what direction they are going.

Skip Abelson: So that brings into the issue of how to support silviculture management,

Kate Forrer: I just want to jump in here, and explain that silviculture is the art and science of caring for the forest, to meet a variety of values from wildlife habitat to timber management. Alright, back to Skip.

Skip Abelson:  Which in my mind, is a little like gardening, pulling out the weeds and letting the better the plants that you want grow. And I want to do that up here - I want to cut out some of the bigger trees that may not be valuable, but are shading some of my hardwoods. I want to thin out some of the hardwoods so that they will grow straighter. And this is, you know, strictly so that they'll be commercially more valuable. Being commercially valuable will provide funds for future generations to maintain the forest, pay the taxes and keep the forest going, financially.

Lisa Sausville: But the journey doesn’t end with just the management plan, or even implementing those management prescriptions. It’s also what happens to the land in the future, the succession of that land, who we pass it on to.

Skip Abelson:

Kate Forrer: So really the journey never ends, because our need to care for the land never ends.

Sabina Ernst: I really want to improve the understory layer, and my goal is to someday have black-throated blue warblers be able to nest, because right now the plant life doesn't support that. The land has a pretty bad problem with invasive plants and I am acutely aware of the detrimental effect of those plants on the landscape. It's gone unchecked for quite a while, so there are large swaths of invasive things like Common Buckthorn and Japanese Barberry. So one of my goals in terms of improving the land is to start controlling those. I spent the fall with a chainsaw and some buckthorn blaster and did as much as I could with the help of my kids and other members of my family, their friends, anyone I could get to come out to the woods and help cut the buckthorn. When I hear black-throated blues singing on my land, I will know that I'm heading in the right direction.

Lisa Sausville: We’d love to hear from you. Do you have a story to share about your connection to the woods, or your journey as a landowner. Or perhaps a question you’d like us to explore on futurew episodes?  Leave us a message at 802-476-2003 ext 210, or visit our website www.ourvermontwoods.org/heartwood.

Kate Forrer: This has been Kate

Lisa Sausville: and Lisa

Kate Forrer: and you’ve been listening to Heartwood- hosted by Vermont Coverts, UVM Extension and UVM's Center for Research on Vermont.

This podcast was produced by Leah Kelleher and made possible by funding from Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the Working Lands Enterprise Board. The music you heard was on this episode was Vermont musician Joanne Garton.  To hear more of her work check out her new album Bee’s Knees.


Lisa and Kate: See you in the woods