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ATFS Standard #7: Protect Special Sites

The next of American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability is Standard #7: Protect Special Sites. Special sites are to be managed in ways that recognize their historical, archeological, cultural, geological, biological, or ecological characteristics.


To begin, what is a special site? Small areas of a woodland can be deemed a special site for a number of reasons including:
 Historical, archeological, cultural, or ceremonial features
 Sites of importance to wildlife
 Unique ecological communities
 Geological features
 An area of significance to the landowner

Some examples that are common to Vermont can be old cellar holes, dam sites, mill sites, look outs/vistas, historic cemeteries, vernal pools, various wetlands and swamp communities, rare or threatened plant and animal species, or areas holding special family memories.

Landowners are required to make an effort to locate and protect special sites in their woodland and have management activities consider and maintain these sites. The best way to determine and locate special sites is to get out on your property with your consulting forester or natural
resource professional and search for any. If any sites are found, they should be identified on maps and, if appropriate, marked on the ground.

Limiting disturbance of these sites when conducting management activities may be important. This can be done in a number of ways, some of which could include creating a vegetation buffer, fencing the area, and other methods to control erosion or soil disturbance.

There are some resources that are helpful in determining special sites in Vermont. Vermont’s Natural Heritage Program is a good place to search for preexisting reports of rare or endangered species, and natural communities that may be on your property. Vermont’s Division of Historic Preservation is a good source for historical and archeological information that may be pertinent to your property. Some other resources include the Historic Sites page on the Vermont state government’s website and the
Vermont Archeological Inventory.

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ATFS Standard #5: Fish, Wildlife, Biodiversity, and Forest Health

Continuing our look at the American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability brings us to Standard #5: Fish, Wildlife, Biodiversity, and Forest Health. A landowner’s forest management activities must contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. This standard covers four main topics: threatened and endangered species, desired species, forest health, and forests of recognized importance.

The first performance measure under this standard requires forest management activities to protect habitats and communities occupied by threatened or endangered species, as the law requires. Under this standard, Tree Farmers ARE required to protect occupied habitat of threatened or endangered animal species, if they are aware of their presence, and to manage that habitat accordingly. Although the actual Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) encourages landowners to protect threatened or endangered animal species, the ESA does NOT require them to protect plant species. However, Tree Farmers are expected to research available resources to identify potential threatened and endangered plant and animal species.

Landowners are required to confer with natural resource agencies, heritage programs, professionals, or other sources periodically to learn more about the occurrence of threatened and endangered species and their habitat requirements. Vermont specific information on threatened and endangered species may be found at:

Vermont Biofinder

Vermont Natural Resources Atlas

The standard requires the landowner or a natural resource professional to provide the resource used to determine if threatened and endangered species are potentially present on their property. If they are detected the landowner’s forest management activities must incorporate the protection of these species on their properties. The presence of the species on someone’s land does not rule out management, but it may influence the timing and/or technique of management activities. Some examples of habitat protecting management include limited mechanical entry, restricted pesticide use, hunting or fishing limitations, and residual tree maintenance. Other resources may include the threatened and endangered species lists kept by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA NMFS).

Landowners should also address desired species and/or desired forest communities for their property. When conducting management activities, ATFS recommends but does not require landowners to consider a desired species on their property. Sometimes landowners would like to increase the population or presence of a particular plant or animal species on their property. For example, improving habitat for turkey or planting trees to re-establish Clayplain forests. When managing with a desired species in mind landowners should consult information on a desired species and how to conduct management activities for these species. The ATFS lists nonprofit organizations that focus on the desired species, state and federal agencies that focus on fish and game species, and Extension Service publications as good resources for desired species management. The best resource is likely your consulting forester, who has more knowledge on Vermont and whether your desired species are feasible for the location of your Tree Farm.

Landowners should also take practical steps to promote forest health. Forests are living entities and as such they are susceptible to harmful disturbances such as pests, invasive species, fires, and diseases. Landowners should take proactive steps to promote the resilience, productivity, and vitality of their forest land. Meeting with a forester or other natural resource professionals is a good way to determine what disturbances your land may be at risk of encountering and determining actions to combat them. Some of these actions can be preventative, while others can be put in place if there is an occurrence of the problem. Landowners are also encouraged to take advantage of forest health education opportunities to remain aware of the latest developments.

Finally, fulfilling Standard #5 involves maintaining or enhancing forests of recognized importance (FORI). FORIs are defined as forests that represent globally, regionally, and nationally significant landscape areas of exceptional ecological, social, cultural, or biological values. This is a very broad definition and many features of a forest could identify it as a FORI. Some of these features may include: protected, rare, or sensitive ecosystems, critical habitats of threatened or endangered species, the occurrence of archeological sites, unique geologic features, and others.

When preparing forest management plans for the Tree Farm Program, you must always include information on forests of recognized importance, even if there are none. If you have a management plan which does NOT include this information, please take the time to add a paragraph as an addendum to your affected plans. This does not need to be added to anything other than your records, and the landowner management plan. You may also use the management plan addendum form provided as a link on the Vermont Tree Farm website. Please also refer to your standards booklet and the guidance within for more specific information.

There are no designated databases which identify FORI’s across the country. Each state Tree Farm Committee was tasked with identifying any FORI’s in their respective states. The language below provides a general statement which may be altered to suit your Tree Farm situation:

There are no Forests of Recognized Importance (FORI) identified by the Vermont Tree Farm Committee on this parcel. Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, in Woodstock, Vermont has been designated as a Forest of Recognized Importance for its cultural and historic significance. It is the oldest professionally managed forest in the US and the earliest example of scientific silvicultural practices in America. Management of this ownership is not impacted by Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park as a FORI.

The Vermont Tree Farm Committee is the resource which documents presence or absence of FORI in Vermont. There is also an excellent ATFS document outlining further FORI guidance on ATFS and Vermont Tree Farm websites.


For further info on FORIs, click here.

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ATFS Standard #4: Air, Water, and Soil Protection

The next installment of the American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability brings us Standard #4: Air, Water and Soil Protection. A landowner’s forest management activities must maintain or enhance ecosystems and their benefits provided by the forest, including air, water, soil and site quality.

To fulfill this standard, landowners must implement best management practices (BMPs). In Vermont, these practices are called AMPs or acceptable management practices. Tree Farms that are enrolled in Vermont Use Value Appraisal are also required to follow the Acceptable Management Practices for Water Quality. AMPs help foresters, landowners, and loggers protect water quality. AMPs are designed to prevent sediment, petroleum products, and woody debris from getting into waterways. Landowners should implement AMPs on their land where applicable. AMPs are geared towards harvesting but should also be implemented when constructing or maintaining any trails or access roads on Tree Farm properties. Haul roads, skidder trails, loading areas, and other parts of the timber harvesting process must be constructed and used in an AMP-approved manner. To view Vermont’s AMP guidelines, click here.

AMPs must be implemented when working within wetlands and riparian zones too. The key aspect to this is minimizing road construction and other soil disturbances. Logging equipment can cause damage to wetlands, so if building roads are necessary, it is important to follow AMPs. Taking time to flag routes so loggers know where they can and cannot go during the harvest is recommended to minimize impact on wetlands and streams. Filling in ruts, reseeding exposed soil, and installing waterbars or other drainage structures following tables within AMP guide should help to minimize potential for future erosion.

Pest management is another aspect of fulfilling standard #4. A landowner must consider a wide range of management options to control pests and unwanted vegetation. It is recommended that landowners should consult with professionals to make decisions on controlling pests and pathogens, as there are a wide range of available options. Like other places, Vermont has unfortunately become home to several non-native invasive insects and plant species. Some non-native examples that landowners may contend with are emerald ash borer, hemlock woody adelgid, butternut canker, buckthorn, multiflora rose, and giant hogweed. Other pests which may be problematic for some Vermont landowners are white pine blister rust, beech bark disease, sugar maple borer, forest tent caterpillars and balsam gall midge.

It is preferred that a landowner consider other alternatives to pesticides first. Integrated pest management is an example of a non-pesticide option for the removal of pests. However, pesticides are allowed if non-chemical methods are ineffective or not feasible. If using pesticides, landowners must use EPA-approved products, and they must be applied, stored, and disposed of in an EPA-approved manner.

Prescribed burns are also involved in this Standard. Although not as common in Vermont, there are occasions when a prescribed burn can help certain species regenerate or promote wildlife habitat. If taking this route, then a landowner should contact their local Forest Fire Warden in order to receive proper training/assistance in conducting a prescribed burn, review VT laws regarding burns, and obtain a permit to conduct a burn. Fire is easily maneuverable and burns can get out of hand quickly, so it’s advised that burns be conducted only with individuals who are experienced in doing them.

For additional information and advice on this standard, here are a few key contacts or websites to use:
Forest Health questions
https://fpr.vermont.gov/forest/forest-health
Fire
https://fpr.vermont.gov/forest/wildland-fire
AMP
https://fpr.vermont.gov/forest/managing-your-woodlands/acceptable-management-practices
https://fpr.vermont.gov/forest/managing-your-woodlands/acceptable-management-practices/AMPcontacts

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ATFS Standards of Sustainability #3: Reforestation and Afforestation

Moving along in our look at American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability the third standard is: Reforestation and Afforestation. After a timber harvest, a landowner must complete timely restocking of desired species of trees on a regeneration harvest site and nonstocked areas where tree growing is consistent with land use practices and the landowner’s objectives. To clarify, intermediate thinning, single tree and small group selection, and treatments other than regenerating a stand, are not impacted by this standard. This is focused on regeneration harvest, or actually starting over.

What is reforestation and what is afforestation? Reforestation is the re-establishment of forest through planting or seeding on land classified as forest. Reforestation is typically done after a timber harvest. Afforestation refers to the process of planting or seeding trees on an area of land that has been under different use, transforming land use from non-forest to forest. An example of this would be a field that has been used as livestock pasture for a long time that is being changed from pasture back to a forest.

Reforestation or afforestation must be achieved by a suitable process that ensures adequate stocking levels. Following a regeneration harvest, stocking of a desired species must take place within five years of the harvest. This time frame could be longer or shorter though depending on local conditions or applicable regulations. It is important to check with your natural resource professional to find out if there are any reforestation laws in place so that compliance with those laws can be met. Federal and state reforestation guidelines can be used as a reference when it comes to stocking levels, but wildlife habitat management practices may run contrary to these guidelines. Make sure the guidelines you choose to follow are most in line with your objectives as a landowner. Properties enrolled in Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal program need to meet standards set for regeneration harvests as well. This rate is set at 350 stems/acre within 5 years of a harvest.

Deliberate reforestation, though practiced in other places, is not as common in New England. Forest stands are able to naturally regenerate well in the area through different harvesting techniques and strategies, so this standard is usually met by stating in a landowner’s management plan that the intention is to let the area naturally regenerate.

When choosing to plant, selection of tree and other plant species are up to the discretion of the landowner, however your forester should be consulted in this decision. Landowners choose particular species for a variety of reasons. They may want to re-introduce a species that should be in the area but is not due to infestation or disease. They may want a species that will support wildlife. They may want a species that will adjust better to climate change. Or, they may simply want to regrow the same species that were cut in the harvest.

Whatever species a landowner chooses, when reforesting or afforesting an area it is preferred that land owners use native and naturalized species and local provenances that are well-adapted to site conditions. If opting for a nonnative species, landowners should consult with qualified natural resource professionals to make sure potential negative impacts on the ecosystem and genetic integrity of native species can be determined. Consultation should also be done if afforesting within an ecologically important non-forest ecosystem to make sure the conversion does not negatively impact the ecology.

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ATFS Standard of Sustainability #2: Compliance with Laws

The second of American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability is: Compliance with Laws. Forest management activities must comply with all relevant federal, state and local laws, regulations and ordinances.

There are federal and state laws that deal with forest management that landowners must adhere to with their Tree Farms. Some common management activities that are regulated by states include the conservation of protected species and their habitat, prescribed burning, pesticide application, harvesting, road building, and water quality regulations. Regulations vary between states. The list below are some relevant laws that may pertain to your Vermont Tree Farm:
 Heavy Cut Law
 Slash Laws
 AMP’s regulations on Current Use Proprieties
 Shoreline regulations
 Wetland rules
 Act 250- Timber harvests above 2500’ in elevation
 Timber Trespass
Where can a woodland owner find out more about relevant laws?
https://fpr.vermont.gov/
https://www.treefarmsystem.org/woodland-resources
Abiding by laws includes correcting conditions that may have led to adverse regulatory actions. Mistakes may occur in forest management activities. If mistakes occur, landowners must show proof of good-faith effort to remedy the nonconformance. Compliance with laws is verified by a three-step process:
 Step 1- Observation of conditions on the subject property
 Step 2- The landowner’s verbal or written claim of legal compliance
 Step 3- Research with the state Department of Natural Resources, local Natural Resource Conservation Service office, or State Forestry Commission offices

ATFS inspectors or third-party assessors determine compliance and if Steps 1 and 2 do not raise issues, then Step 3 is not required. Nonconformance to laws can lead to Tree Farm decertification.

When it comes to abiding by laws, landowners are encouraged to think of the saying, “When in doubt, ask.” This leads to an important aspect of adhering to Standard #2: landowners should get advice from qualified natural resource professionals, qualified contractors, or those trained in/familiar with laws and regulations. Foresters and other natural resource professionals are well-versed in management laws and are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to managing one’s property. Seeking guidance from them is a good way to clear up questions and keep one’s land in line with laws and regulations.

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ATFS Standards of Sustainability #1: Commitment to Practicing Sustainable Forestry

The first of the American Tree Farm System’s Standards of Sustainability is: Commitment to Practicing Sustainable Forestry. This standard requires that a landowner demonstrate commitment to forest health and sustainability through various actions. These actions include developing a forest management plan, implementing sustainable practices, and
seeking opportunities to expand their knowledge of sustainable forest management.

The most important facet of this standard is having and implementing a management plan for a forest. A management plan is a set of documents that describe landowner objectives for a property and guide actions to be taken to achieve those goals. Management plans shall reflect the forests’ unique characteristics as well as the intensity of the management that the landowners plan for the property. Whether a landowner wants to take major actions such as timber harvests, or take more subtle actions that keep the forest in the state that it is in, the management plan must
explain this.

Management plans must be adaptive. Forests are living and dynamic. Should circumstances influencing the property change, the plan must change with it. Natural changes, such as fires, floods or pest infestations that damage property, or personal changes of the landowner, such as a change in family circumstances or the sale or acquisition of land, can all
warrant changes to be made to the management plan.

So, what goes into a management plan? Management plans must describe current forest conditions, the landowner’s current objectives, management activities aimed at achieving the landowners’ goals, a strategy to implement those activities, and a map of the property. Forest conditions can be described in general terms such as age, species, and composition, or in a more detailed manner with maps and inventories. Similarly, landowners’ objectives can be broad in scope (ex. having a healthy forest, good habitat for wildlife, etc.) or be specific objectives tailored to specific tree or animal species to name an example. Although it is not required, landowners are encouraged to seek educational opportunities and consult qualified natural
resource professionals, like foresters or ecologists, to determine objectives and ways to accomplish them.

Management plans must consider these forest topics: forest health, soil, water, wood & fiber production, threatened or endangered species, special sites, invasive species, and forests of recognized importance. Plans must include activities related to these forest features where relevant. If there is no occurrence of one these forest features on the property, the plan must
express that it is not there.

It is important to note that when it comes to the required elements that go into management plans (ATFS uses the word “shall” to designate features that must be included) they must be backed by sources. There must be documentation showing how the information was obtained and what resource was used to obtain it. For example, it is not enough to simply say that threatened or endangered species are found in your woodland. Documentation from a natural resource professional proving that said species exist on the property would certify these claims are true. If there were not threatened or endangered species on the property, documentation would be needed to show that they are not found on the property.

Although not required, management plans can include the landowners’ objectives in regards to these optional forest features: fire, wetlands, desired species, recreation, conversion, forest aesthetics, biomass and carbon. There is no level of detail required for describing these features in the management plan, so goals for these features can be general if they are included.

Finally, the landowner should monitor for changes that could interfere with the objectives stated in the management plan. Monitoring can be done by frequently visiting the property and observing any changes that are noticed. Take a walk through your woods or ride along the trails
and see what you see. Keeping a written record of observations to document changing conditions is also suggested. Written records may help track the damage caused by pests or storms, as well as defend against adverse possession claims, substantiate casualty loss, and enable timely
responses to illegal activity that could occur on the land. Landowners are encouraged to update their management plans based on what they find in monitoring their land. Management plans are meant to be guides in managing land and not necessarily a strict blueprint to follow. Therefore,
monitoring helps the plan stay flexible enough to adapt to a forest’s changing conditions.

Implementation of a management plan and continuing to grow in one’s knowledge of forestry and management will help landowners fulfill ATFS Standard #1. To learn more about this standard and others check out the Tree Farm Standards page on the Vermont Tree Farm website at https://www.vermonttreefarm.org/tree-farm-standards/.

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What is a Tree Farm Standard?

The term standard has many definitions, and in the case for Tree Farm, its intention is “a required or agreed level of attainment.” The American Tree Farm System 2021 Standards “promote the health and sustainability of America’s family forests.” That is a mouthful and quite an all-encompassing expectation of family forest landowners. Certification of Tree Farms relies on these standards that were designed to help Tree Farmers to effectively manage their forestland, and promote stewardship.

The standards are based on international guidelines from the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC TM ). These standards require following third party certification auditing procedures. Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is also endorsed through PEFC. This certification requires that all standards maintain water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conservation and provide recreation. It also requires wood products production to be done in a sustainable manner. With this “green” certification your ability to sell your wood to markets may be improved. In the future, certification of wood and chain of custody for timber may be a required part of selling logs from your property.

The eight certification standards include: a commitment to practicing sustainable forestry; compliance with federal, state, and local laws; complete timely reforestation or afforestation following regeneration harvests; protect air, water, and soil quality; conservation of biodiversity and forest health; value forest aesthetics; protect special sites and conducting activities in accordance with landowner objectives.

Each of these were designed to accommodate the diversity of forestland and landowner objectives, in relation to the size, scale and intensity of woodlands and operations. For example, managing a small property may look completely different than a 1,000-acre woodland, whether it is in scheduling timber sales, maintaining recreational trails, managing water quality, or encouraging wildlife habitat.

Over the next eight issues of Pioneer eNews, we will look more closely at each standard, and what you, as a Pioneer Tree Farmer, need to do to meet those standards. Each standard identifies “performance measures” and “indicators” that demonstrate conformance. To be more specific, a standard is the principle that is being followed that promotes sustainably managing your forestland. The performance measure outlines the methods for the landowner to meet the standard. Indicators are the activities that he landowner actually completes that meet the standard.

To give an example, many Pioneer Tree Farmers may already have a management plan that addresses some of the requirements of Tree Farm, and may meet the performance measure having a management plan. However, many of the “indicators” outlining more detail in the plan are not being met. Therefore, the plan does not meet the standard, and the Pioneer would need to address more in their forest management plan to be one step closer to certification. Many may only have to address a few items to meet the standard, and some may not even have a management plan yet.

As we move through each of the eight Standards of Sustainability to become a certified Tree Farmer, please do not hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns regarding your Tree Farm and your Pioneer trek to certification. Questions can be addressed to Kathy Beland at kathy.njtinc@gmail.com.

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Pioneer Program: Initial Steps

The Pioneer Tree Program is an introductory phase of the Tree Farm program that helps those who are interested in becoming certified, but not up to American Tree Farm System (ATFS) standards yet. It also helps those who were previously certified but did not keep their land up to standard get back on track. For those who are new to the Pioneer program there are some steps to take towards becoming a certified Tree Farm.

Pioneer Tree Farms should first contact their forester to review Tree Farm standards and other requirements of the program. To be admitted to the Tree Farm program a property must be between 10 and 20,000 contiguous acres, be privately owned, pass inspections, and meet ATFS standards. The 8 certification standards include: a commitment to practicing sustainable forestry; compliance with federal, state, and local laws; complete timely reforestation or afforestation; protect air, water, and soil quality; conservation of biodiversity and forest health; value forest aesthetics; protect special sites and conducting activities in accordance with landowner objectives.

Meeting with your forester will help a landowner know what standards their land is currently meeting and areas that need improvement. In order to meet Tree Farm certification requirements, your plan might need to be updated. Review your forest management plan with your forester to see what needs to be added or changed to meet the requirements. If your forester is not a certified Tree Farm inspector, Vermont Tree Farm can connect you with someone who can work with you to certify your property.

For land that is already enrolled in the Use Value Appraisal (UVA) program some Tree Farm requirements may already be met. For those that are not, the Tree Farm Addendum form covers many areas that may not be included in a standard UVA plan. The VT Tree Farm website offers a comparison matrix which may help in fulfilling additional needs. Changes to your management plan do not need to be filed to the county forester unless it affects your UVA status.

Getting your land to certification may also involve changes beyond amending your management plan. For example, if a Tree Farm has problematic erosion or severe invasive plant problem which have not been addressed with some plan of action, that may need to happen prior
to certification. This determination is in the hands of the certified Tree Farm Inspector, which may or may not be your consulting forester.

If the landowner is not ready to update their plan or address concerns prior to certification, they may remain in the Pioneer program for five years.

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Pioneering Tree Farmers

Once upon a time, “Pioneer” was the pathway to becoming a Tree Farmer. Today, Pioneer status can still serve as an introductory level of participation in the program, but it is not a mandatory starting point. The Pioneer category allows interested landowners who may not quite meet AFF Standards of Sustainability but do meet eligibility requirements to join the American Tree Farm System. The goal of Pioneer status is to provide landowners an opportunity to work toward being a Certified Tree Farmer, whether new to the program or just needing a management plan update.

If you are a non-industrial private forestland owner (NIPF) with 10 acres or more of contiguous forest, you are eligible to be a Tree Farmer or to enter the program as a Pioneer. It’s really simple. There’s a form called the “021” that would need the first page filled out. This is basic contact information for you and basic property information. You can get help from Kathleen at the office, a tree farm committee member, or a consulting forester. Once you are enrolled as a Pioneer, you’ll have up to 5 years to complete a management plan that meets the Standards of Sustainability in order to become certified.

The Tree Farm Committee has a management plan template that we will share with you so you can familiarize yourself with the components of a management plan. We will facilitate an introduction to a tree farmer in your area who will be happy to meet with you and take you on a guided tour of his or her tree farm.

The American Tree Farm System has provided a grant to the VT Tree Farm Program to assist in our Pioneering Tree Farm effort. Because of this funding, we are able to waive the annual $30 administrative fee for the first year. This fee helps to cover the cost of administering the program to ensure its integrity and compliance with the American Tree Farm System and third party certification.

The Vermont Tree Farm Committee and our Vermont Tree Farmers are proud of their stewardship. Please consider joining the nearly 500 Tree Farmers who share a common love for and connection to the land.