Vermont Tree Farm Program Congratulates the 2020 Vermont Tree Farmer(s) of the Year The Starrs: It’s a Family Affair!

Left to Right: Willie Nelson, Jack Starr Sr., and Senator
Bernie Sanders together at a Save-the-Family Farm Aid

by Ryan Kilborn
Ila Starr (husband Jack Sr. deceased) and her children Jack Jr, Virgil,
William, Gary, Betty, Jim (deceased 2018) & widow Jennifer Gaffney, their children Seth Starr, Leah Starr, and Anna Oshea.

The Starr family began their long heritage in the town of Troy in 1944 when Jack Starr Sr’s father purchased what is now known as the Town
Farm, which is still in the family’s holding 76 years later. Jack Sr. was an
advocate for the Save-the-Family Farm Aid program. He traveled across the country speaking on behalf of this program, and he worked with state senators and well-known musicians in fundraising events. This dedication and sense of conservation to the land was passed on to his children who have acquired, as a family, 500+ acres of forest and agricultural land in North Troy, protecting nearly 1.5 miles of frontage along the Missisquoi River.

Today, this acreage is owned by Ila Starr (wife of Jack Starr Sr., now
deceased) and the siblings Jack Starr Jr., Virgil Starr, William Starr, Gary Starr, Betty Griggs, and the children of Jim Starr (who passed away in 2018) – Seth Starr, Leah Starr, and Anna Oshea. Jennifer Gaffney, Jim’s widow, also maintains ownership of an additional 84-acre lot in the town of Troy.

Much of this land base is forested but also contains the family farm house, agricultural land, and family camp where multiple generations come together each year for family reunions. Many families would have bent to the temptation of selling river frontage lots in the highly pressured development area that is shadowed by the Jay Peak Resort, but the Starr family’s strong sense of conservation, love of recreation and wildlife, and strong connection to the shores of the Missisquoi River have kept this land base intact. Their family values include passing this land ethic onto the next generation and keeping the land in family ownership. A means of doing this has been through enrolling the land into Vermont’s Current Use program and managing the property over the years for timber, while at the same time promoting wildlife habitat, water quality, and allowing the land to be used by others for hunting, hiking, fishing, and camping.

The property owned by Jim and Jennifer also was part of an NRCS
contract where EQIP funds were used to maintain and create song bird/grouse habitat with a brontosaurus machine. Jim Starr was one of the leading individuals that helped orchestrate the purchase of the North Troy Village Forest, a 116-acre property with 1.5 miles of river frontage on the Missisquoi River and a large, rare natural community of silver maple-ostrich fern flood plain. Once the village purchased the land, they were able to conserve the tract through the Vermont Housing Conservation Board to protect the land and river from future development while creating open space for the public to recreate on.

The last timbersale occurred in 2016 on the parcel of land owned by all
the siblings. The goal of this sale was to improve conditions for acceptable growing stock, release established regeneration, create aspen browse for wildlife, release apple trees, repair and maintain old stream crossings with skidder bridge panels, and create new trails for recreation. This harvest was administered by a forester, and wood was marketed to local sawmills in
Canada and northern VT.

Ephemeral and intermittent streams that form on the property and feed directly into the Missisquoi River were buffered and properly crossed with skidder bridge panels and pole crossings. Many of the historic crossings were in poor condition with washed-out culverts, causing erosion from high water events. Skidder bridge panels were purchased by the family and installed during the sale and then kept in place for long-term benefits to water quality and recreation. Maintaining forested buffers along the Missisquoi River is a long-term goal of the family ownership.

This river is one of the state’s largest rivers and a primary watershed for Lake Champlain. Opportunities for development along this river are high and in demand, especially with Jay Peak in the backdrop, yet the Starr family has kept the land intact and free of fragmentation.

The Starr family has been able to maintain and increase their land
ownership at a time when land is only becoming more expensive, highly taxed, and feuds between siblings and family members are common due to a changing world that disconnects many people from the land. To date, the family has been able to overcome the pressures of development that could easily provide them with more cash flow than growing trees, and they have embraced the importance of land management while balancing their family’s goals and objectives related to recreation, wildlife habitat, and water quality. They maintain an important sense of place that their family can reliably return to each year for enjoyment.

Although the family has been members of the Vermont Tree Farm Program since only 2014, they have practiced and adhered to the principles of forest stewardship for decades prior, which makes this family an excellent candidate for the Vermont Tree Farmer(s) of the Year. This award does not focus on the management of just one parcel, but instead it recognizes and congratulates the entire family for the values and efforts that they bring to the land and the surrounding community. It also recognizes the effort made by an individual, Jim Starr, who loved to share and promote the beliefs of forest stewardship, conservation, and family/community ownership with everyone.

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