POWNAL -- Land owned by the Green Mountain National Forest is being studied as part of a long-term plan for development and conservation.
Environmental specialists working on the proposal, known as the "South of Route 9 Integrated Resource Project," visited Pownal on Tuesday to share information with the community, and to gather local opinion and knowledge.
More than two dozen people were in attendance at Tuesday's collaboration meeting, the second in a series of several being planned in towns where the land is located, including Readsboro and Stamford. The land being discussed also covers parts of Bennington and Woodford.
After a brief introduction with key points of the plan outlined in a slideshow, attendees were able to gain more insight into the multifaceted project by touring "resource tables," set up around to room to provide an opportunity to better understand the goals of the project -- and the concerns.
Experts presented data on topics of interest, including vegetation, wildlife habitats and diversity, as well as watersheds, soil, infrastructure and recreational use.
"We're trying to get an idea of what people are most interested in," said Melissa Reichert, forest planner and project team leader.
The total area included in the project under Green Mountain National Forest management is 22,580 acres.
Much of the land was acquired in 2006, and a key factor in the project is developing a way for the land to be used recreationally by parties with conflicting interests, while at the same time ensuring preservation and safety.
"There are natural divisions," said Dave Lacy, archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, of motorized versus non-motorized pursuits.
"A lot of it is transportation planning," he said, of the collaborative phase of the project. "There are massive amounts of trails out there that exist, but that we didn't create or we don't know about."
Of the existing trails, many are not maintained or approved by the national forest, and officials are concerned with a variety of possible uses for the land which could offer biking, walking and ATV trails, as well as potential space for skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and horseback riding.
"This isn't like it used to be. Now everybody is coming to the table," said Lacy, who has more than twenty years of experience with the NFS.
"We're not competing and people are looking for a good way to be collaborative," he said.
The Green Mountain National Forest also manages forest stewardship and logging efforts, selling between 4.5 and 5 million board feet of timber annually. One board foot is measured as 12 inches long by one inch wide and one inch thick.
The logging industry is estimated to provide as many as 30 new jobs per million board feet sold, according to Jeff Tilley, timber sale and harvest specialist with the NFS.
"There is a higher value in hardwood sawtimber than in other types of wood," said Tilley, estimating the value of structural wood to be at least 10 times higher than fuel-grade lumber or pulpwood, often used to make paper.
Tilley also shared concerns regarding wildlife habitats and animal health which are affected by deforestation. Although he said trees native to southern Vermont grow back quickly, clearing the land can promote the spread of non-native and invasive species such as glossy buckthorn, Japanese honeysuckle and Japanese knotweed.
Despite no direct impact projected to be made in the local job market as a result of this project, officials predict that jobs will likely be indirectly created through logging and infrastructure development.
Currently there is no official budget proposed for the project. Field visits will be conducted next summer, with tentative implementation to begin in late 2014 or early 2015.
The next collaboration meeting is scheduled to be held Thursday, Dec. 10, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at the Stamford Elementary School.
For more information including a map of the project area, visit www.fs.usda.gov/projects/greenmountain/landmanagement/projects.