Brendan Whittaker is a tree farmer from Brunswick, VT. Located in the northernmost regions of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Brendan and his wife, Dorothy, have been managing their tree farm for 60 years.
Brendan first came to Brunswick in 1959, moving to the area after earning a degree in forestry from the University of Massachusetts. The Whittakers purchased their property using a loan from the GI Bill, and the land was first enrolled in the Tree Farm program in 1963. The property was one of a few properties in the area to enter the program along with the former St. Regis Paper Company. He served as the Essex County forester from 1959-1963. Later on he served as secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and he is also a retired Episcopalian minister.
When Brendan first purchased the property the land was cut over, so he began with a young recovering forest. His first task was to differentiate between red spruce and balsam fir trees on the property. Since buying the land 60 years ago Brendan has worked to improve the overall health of his woodland. He accomplishes this by removing poor timber and letting the better timber grow. “Leave the best and cut the rest,” as he put it. He and his sons have performed several cuts on the land throughout the years, only hiring an outside logging company once. Tree Farm #171 was 50 acres when he first bought the land, but has grown to today sit at 67 acres.
When it comes to the Tree Farm program, Brendan values the bond that Tree Farmers have with one another. Through their common desire to properly steward their land and the shared challenges and experiences that come with managing their properties, Tree Farmers can help each other in many ways. One landowner can provide technical knowledge to another experiencing problems they have encountered in the past. They can offer insights into management activities in other parts of the country from one’s own. They can offer encouragement to one another as they seek to accomplish the same goals. Brendan himself loves to read about things from other tree farmers and visit other tree farms when able. He values the technical knowledge he has been able to learn from his fellow Tree Farmers.
It is for those reasons that he encourages those who are not in the Tree Farm program to join. For those who are new to tree farm he encourages them to read the local and national Tree Farm magazines to stay informed. He also suggests, “Ask other Tree Farmers things. You will learn from them.”
Looking ahead, Brendan feels that a way to get more younger people involved in Tree Farm is to have more focus on the carbon issue. Carbon sequestration is a popular issue amongst younger generations and Brendan feels that getting more involved in that issue and keeping up with the science of it could be a way to attract the next generation to join Tree Farm.
Overall, Brendan sees Tree Farm as a way to bring people together. Tree Farmers come from all different backgrounds and beliefs, but they all share the common interest of being good stewards of their environments. Through that common interest Brendan believes Tree Farm can play a role in the healing some of the greater divisions that exist in the country.