Climate Learning Forum: Healthy Trees Gathering in Vermont

Four people are leaning over to look at sugar maple tree seedlings on a forest floor.
The visiting group noted the presence of perennial plants growing on the forest floor. Photo credit: Suzy Hodgson

On a blustery afternoon in June, agriculture and forestry technical advisors including USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and UVM Extension met to observe and discuss healthy trees on a parcel of Vermont clay plain forest in Shelburne. Following several online meetings to discuss tree health in Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) Mitigation Activities, this gathering was the first time many of the professionals had met in person.

Managed by Meach Cove Farms, the 280-acre woodland comprising sugar maple, red oak, birch, basswood, hickory and beech was a perfect place to meet to exchange information about practices for healthy trees and learn from peers immersed in climate-related matters.

Suzy Hodgson from the USDA Northeast Climate Hubs Climate Learning Forum, organized the visit to provide an opportunity for NRCS and Extension staff to talk about climate smart agricultural and forestry practices. Having recently undertaken a climate smart assessment with Extension, Meach Cove Farms hosted the gathering and was eager to show their commitment to monitoring and increasing carbon in soils and biomass. The group understood that healthy trees provide some of the greatest opportunities for carbon storage as part of a diversified forestry ecosystem.

What did we observe? Participants noted a carpet of small sugar maple saplings, clear evidence of regeneration, but none of the saplings were taller than about five inches, indicating a heavy presence of deer predation. Also lacking was any oak regeneration. While red oak is an important tree species for forest diversification in the Northeast, the shade of other trees can inhibit their growth. The red oak will be an important tree for carbon storage because scientists predict that warming climate conditions will cause a shift to favor oak-hickory forests.

Where are the gaps? Participants discussed tree establishment, agroforestry, and forest stand improvement, in particularly whether and how large gaps should be in the forest canopy to allow more light for oak regeneration and to encourage a diversified species mix and structure.

Some participants interested in field management at Meach Cove Farms suggested locations for tree establishment, and possibly alley cropping as they traversed a fallow field to arrive at the events woodland meeting location.

Other participants noted the opportunities for forest farming and were encouraged by the presence of perennial plants.

Many conversations about healthy trees continued to spark as everyone walked back to the barn for refreshments and many participants were already making plans to meet again to carry on our discussions about climate smart practices

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