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Climate Learning Forum: Healthy Trees Gathering in Vermont

On a blustery afternoon in June, agricultural and forestry technical advisors, including from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and University of Vermont Extension, met to observe and discuss healthy trees on a parcel of Vermont clay plain forest in Shelburne, VT. 

Following several virtual meetings to discuss tree health in “Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) Mitigation Activities”, this gathering was the first time many of the professionals had met in person. Managed by Meach Cove Farms, the 280-acre woodland comprising sugar maple, red oak, birch, basswood, hickory and beech was an inspirational place to meet to exchange information about practices for healthy trees and learn from peers immersed in climate-related matters. Suzy Hodgson from the USDA Northeast Climate Hub’s Climate Learning Forum organized the visit to provide an opportunity for NRCS and Extension staff to discuss climate smart agricultural and forestry practices. Meach Cove Farms hosted the gathering and was enthusiastic to share their approach to monitoring and increasing carbon in forest soils and stand biomass. 

Healthy Trees event at Meach Cove Farms

What was observed?

The group understood that healthy trees provide some of the greatest opportunities for carbon storage as part of a diversified forest ecosystem. Participants noted a carpet of small sugar maple saplings as clear evidence of regeneration. However, none of the saplings were greater than five inches tall, which indicates a heavy presence of deer browse. Oak regeneration was also lacking. This lack of oak regeneration is noteworthy because red oak is an important tree species for forest diversification in the Northeast. It may also become more important for carbon storage efforts as warming climate conditions may cause a shift from the current beech-birch-maple dominated forests to favor oak-hickory forests.

Where are the gaps?

Participants discussed tree establishment, agroforestry, and forest stand improvement, and specifically whether and how large forest gaps could allow more light for oak regeneration and to encourage a more diversified species mix and structure. Some participants, interested in forest management at Meach Cove Farms, suggested locations for tree establishment and possibly alley cropping as they traversed a fallow field to arrive at the event’s woodland meeting location. Other participants noted the opportunities for forest farming and were encouraged by the presence of perennial plants. Conversations about healthy trees and plans for future engagement on climate smart practices in agriculture and forestry continued as participants walked back to the barn for refreshments.