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


Four Ways Businesses Are Leading Change in the Voluntary Carbon Market

Even just a few years ago, investing in carbon projects and purchasing carbon credits was a difficult task for companies that did not always yield clear results. Companies had to do their due diligence and individually vet through projects with all sorts of varying carbon standards, purchasing credits from programs where the measured carbon impact was opaque at best. Today, the carbon landscape is changing for the better. Today’s carbon markets demand higher transparency, accountability, and carbon integrity. Companies now can more easily distinguish between the programs making credible carbon claims and those that do not. This trend toward quality allows companies to truly lead change in the Voluntary Carbon Market when deciding who to partner with. 

Choosing partners that align with your company’s climate targets and sustainability goals is key. At the American Forest Foundation, the Family Forest Carbon Program provides options for carbon buyers, donors, and investors to get involved in the development of a catalytic improved forest management project that delivers a credible carbon benefit. 

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What We Can Save by Reducing the Wildfire Threat Across Public and Private Land in the West

To help ignite the scale of investment needed to tackle the wildfire issue, AFF partnered with Risk Management Solutions to develop a replicable approach to quantify avoided losses from wildfire to residential, commercial, and industrial infrastructure.

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We’re Not Waiting Until Tomorrow


What do you think of when you think of Earth Day? Clean-ups at the local park? Recycling events? A peaceful walk? Pleas for donations? All of the above? 

For many of us, Earth Day involves one or more of those things. And rightly so. They are all good for the planet and, importantly, for bringing more of us into the realm of environmental stewardship. 

Family forests can shape the future of our planet before Earth Day, after Earth Day and every day in between. That’s why we’re not waiting until tomorrow. The opportunity and the impact are too great.

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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.


A Tree Farmer’s Story of Fisher Nest Boxes: Conservation at Work

By Kimberly Royar, Furbearer Project Leader, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and Brian O’Gorman, Tree Farmer

Many wildlife species rely on standing dead or dying trees for food, nesting, and cover. Natural den trees, especially those with cavities that may be in the vicinity of water, are valuable for everything from waterfowl, woodpeckers, and owls to bats, squirrels, marten, porcupine, raccoon, and fisher. Landowners can improve habitat for many wildlife species by retaining standing dead and dying trees in their woodlot. If possible, woodlot owners should manage for at least six living cavity trees or snags per acre with one greater than 18” in diameter and three larger than 16” in diameter. The priority is for hardwood trees over softwood to extend the
viability of the tree.

On lands where natural standing dead trees are limited, manmade nest boxes can be erected to subsidize the number of live den trees. Artificial ‘nest’ boxes have been constructed and erected to enhance habitat for many wildlife species, from bluebirds to bats, and have been used in
Minnesota for fisher to compensate for the lack of large diameter cavity trees (>20” DBH (diameter at breast height)). The University of Minnesota completed a pilot study in 2019 that found that only 2% of 10,000 trees surveyed were large enough for fisher to use. The study
documented use of the specially designed fisher nest boxes by barred owls, flying squirrels and other rodents, raccoons, and fishers.

In Vermont, a landowner and Tree Farmer in Bennington County, Brian O’Gorman, is experimenting with nest boxes for fishers (Pekania pennanti). Although today fishers are abundant throughout Vermont, they were extirpated in the 1800s due to extensive land clearing and unregulated harvest. They were reintroduced in the 1950s and 1960s by the Forest, Parks, and Recreation Department to control porcupine populations and continue to play an important role as a forest predator. They primarily reside in coniferous or mixed hardwood forests and exhibit a particular preference for areas with diverse structure, such as that found in an uneven-aged forest containing snags and multiple fallen trees (Noonan, 2006). These areas not only provide ample denning opportunities but also, more importantly, offer higher concentrations and varieties of prey. Fishers use multiple large trees with cavities as den sites (Powell, 1982). Research in Maine found that females used one to five natal dens between March and June. Ninety-four percent of the trees were hardwoods, 52% of which were aspen (Paragi et al., 1996). In British Columbia, maternal fisher den boxes have proven to enhance the fisher population in areas dedicated to industrial forestry.

O’Gorman manages a 300+ acre Tree Farm that, like many Vermont properties, was once a pasture for Delano sheep. After reforestation, it had been heavily logged by the previous owners. Since purchasing the property in southern Bennington County, O’Gorman enrolled in the Use Value Appraisal program (UVA or “Current Use”) and has been managing it according to a forest management plan. He has worked with his VT forester and a logger primarily for sugar maple production but also to improve and diversify the property for wildlife by planting butternut seedlings and red oak acorns, protecting and enhancing mast and old growth areas, and erecting artificial fisher nest boxes. O’Gorman built three boxes for fisher with the assistance of Vermont Trappers Association member, Al Zander, according to plans from British Columbia, Canada (Brinoni, 2015). O’Gorman and Zander distributed and erected two of the boxes into areas on his property, and the other onto Zander’s, with promising habitat and obvious fisher tracks and sign (Zielinski et al., 1995) with the help of a local Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association (VASA) club. He has outfitted each with a camera set-up, baits, and lures so he can
monitor the comings and goings of the species using the boxes. So far, there is no evidence of use of the boxes by fisher, but O’Gorman will continue his efforts in hopes of improving habitat on his property for fisher and other wildlife species.

Kim Royar is a wildlife biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
Brian O’Gorman is a Tree Farmer and a member of the VT Trappers Association, and he encourages sportsmen to spend $15 and purchase a Vermont Habitat Stamp.

Literature Cited
Brinoni, Michael AScT. Fisher Den Box Drawings prepared for Davis Environmental. Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program. Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. 2015. 3 pages.

Noonan, Bob. 2006. Fisher Trapper’s Guide. Onalaska, WI. CPC Printing and Promotions. 95 p

Paragi, Thomas F., S. M. Arthur, and W.B. Krohn. Importance of Tree Cavities as Natal Dens for Fishers. Northern Journal of Applied Forestry, Volume 13, Issue 2, June 1996, Pages 79–83.

Powell, Roger. 1982. Fisher: Life History, Ecology, and Behavior. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 237 p.

Zielinski, William J.; Kucera, Thomas E., technical editors. 1995. American marten, fisher, lynx, and wolverine: survey methods for their detection. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-157. Albany, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; 163 p.

Maternal fisher den box in Bennington County. Note the reinforced den opening to
prevent predation by red squirrels and cannibalism of fisher kits by male fisher. Leaning pole adapted from trapping methods to aid in access. This is approximately 10 feet in height in a sugar maple.
Jack Pines Pirates OHV Club and Vermont Trappers Association putting up a den

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?
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.


A Snapshot of Trends Among Carbon Buyers

The voluntary carbon market is growing exponentially as companies across sectors step up to address their carbon emissions. By providing carbon credits for the private sector, the voluntary carbon market plays an essential role in bridging the finance gap between public and private climate action while also helping companies reach their sustainability targets. However, the guidance for buying credits remains unclear, and many companies are left without direction when it comes to understanding the ever-evolving carbon markets.

For carbon buyers navigating this new market, it is valuable to see how peers are evaluating projects and making progress on their carbon reduction journey. Earlier this year, the American Forest Foundation hosted a webinar with Greenbiz on Ensuring High Integrity When Purchasing Carbon Credits to discuss how to evaluate carbon credits and highlight our carbon project, the Family Forest Carbon Program

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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


American Forest Foundation Applauds USDA on Investment in Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 8, 2022) – The American Forest Foundation (AFF), a national conservation organization that works to deliver meaningful conservation impact through the empowerment of family forest owners, responds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $1 billion investment through the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities.  

American Forest Foundation (AFF) President and CEO Rita Hite said:

“We at the American Forest Foundation are excited by the focus and unprecedented investment USDA is placing on our forests and farmland for our climate, which will unlock significant market opportunities for landowners in rural America, helping them contribute more to tackling climate change while achieving their land goals.

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