Commissioner Snyder discusses management of Vermont’s natural resources and forests

Gov. Phil Scott signed an executive order in June creating the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC). The collaborative aims to “promote prudent stewardship of state recreation assets and marketing the outdoor recreation values and attributes of Vermont to effectively foster economic growth.”

Leading the effort is Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation. A Shumlin appointee, Snyder has been a long-time forester, serving 14 years as head of Chittenden County forestry in addition to teaching for 12 years at UVM.

In this episode of Vote for Vermont, co-hosts Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley interview Commissioner Snyder about marketing and managing Vermont’s natural resources and forests.

The Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation has five regional offices and four sub-departments: Administration, Forestry, State Lands Administration, and State Parks and Outdoor Recreation. The department oversees 55 developed state parks, as well as heavily forested, undeveloped parks like Camel’s Hump.

Vermont’s recreational offerings — from skiing and hiking to snowmobiling and hunting — attract 1 million visitors each year and generate $2.6 million in revenue. To keep these resources healthy, Snyder and his teams must address issues such as effective management of wood and paper industry, the high cost of worker’s compensation, and the use of portable skidder bridges, among other things.

Watch full episode:

Image courtesy of Vote for Vermont/Pat McDonald

2 thoughts on “Commissioner Snyder discusses management of Vermont’s natural resources and forests

  1. Burning Wood is Not Renewable: A forest regenerates from the logging activity (which also disturbs the forest floor, releasing CO2), by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, storing C as hydrocarbons in new biomass growth above and below ground and releasing O2. In managed forests, the rotation period from seedling planting to logging is up to 60 years in New England, up to 40 years in the US southeast, such as in Georgia. See below URLs.

    Proponents of logging and burning simply declare, “burning wood is CO2-neutral”, which creates political “feel-good”, because it conjures up the appearance of meeting CO2 targets, etc. However, it perpetuates uninformed thinking by lay people and others. Proponents purposely forget to add: “over a period of up to 60 years in New England, up to about 40 years in the US southeast, if the forests have the same acreage and the sequestering capability, CO2/acre, remains the same.”

    The sequestering capability of a forest likely would be impaired, if tree health and regrowth is poor, and if it is fragmented due to clear-cutting for roads, logging, placing wind turbines, etc.

    The slogan “burning wood is CO2-neutral” is not close to true. Even if the logging were “sustainable”, i.e., 0.5 cord/acre/y or less, or no more than biomass growth of about 2 cord/acre/y, there still would be a large carbon impact, due to lost carbon sequestration from the biomass growth being burned, instead of that biomass growth sequestering atmospheric CO2.

    As a minimum, all of the logged land area should be allowed to regenerate biomass to its former state. In practice, over the years, much of the forested lands are more likely developed “for higher-value uses” after clear-cutting.

    A further burden would be the immediate release of CO2 from wood burning plants. In New England, adding wood chip plants, which typically get much of their wood from clear-cutting, would be an up to 60-year “saving the world” solution.

    • Addition:

      Wood Source Energy Factor: Losses = Upstream (harvest, chipping, transport, about 2.5%) + Conversion to electricity, including self-use for entire site (about 75%) + Transmission and distribution (about 7%) = 84.5%, i.e., 15.5% arrives at the user meters. The source energy factor for wood power plants is 100/15.5 = 6.45, i.e., the energy equivalent of 5.45 of 6.45 trees is wasted.

      * McNeil and Ryegate wood-fired power plants have similarly high pathway source factors because of their poor efficiency.

      Closing them would significantly reduce Vermont’s source energy, and toxic pollution, and CO2 emissions.

      Per government edict, burning trees is declared CO2-neutral, which is only partially true, plus you have to wait for about 50 to 100 years for just the combustion CO2 to be fully reabsorbed by forest growth. The rest of the pathway CO2 never gets absorbed.

      Clear-cutting of Forests: Clear-cutting is extremely damaging to soils, because of leaching out of nutrients released by dead underground biomass.

      When most of the US northeast was clear-cut in the 1800s (Vermont lost 75% of its forests in a few decades), soils eroded, and nutrients leached out. That environmental destruction was followed by about 4 decades of acid rain, 50s – 80s, which had the same effect as clear-cutting regarding nutrients leaching out, such as calcium, a vital nutrient for biomass growth.

      The regrown forest is only, and can only be, a pale copy of what was before, and likely will never be as robust, unless forest soils are annually fertilized, as with most planted forest areas in the US southeast.

      In Vermont, about 45% to 50% of regrown forest is low-grade wood, i.e., suitable for burning.

      Vermont state government allows clear-cutting “events” of up to 40 acres “without a permit”; there is no statewide annual limit of such events.

      Considering the various known historical damages of clear-cutting, one would think Vermont would not allow it at all.

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