A combination of Paul Bunyan and Smokey Bear

“Forests support the growth of virtually all native forms of life in Vermont, and it would be an understatement to say that they are staggeringly complex systems.” Courtesy photo

For those of you who don’t know me already, my name is Ethan Tapper, and I am the Chittenden County forester for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. When asked what my job entails, I find that most people assume that I am some combination of Paul Bunyan and Smokey Bear. The truth is, while I would aspire to be as eminent a figure as either of those two giants, my job comes down to facilitating the relationship between humans and forests in this little (about 400,000 acres) county. To understand why this is important, let’s break the issue down into two questions: “Why forestry?” and “Why county foresters?”

Why forestry?
To understand forestry, you must first try to wrap your head around the concept of “forests.” Forests support the growth of virtually all native forms of life in Vermont, and it would be an understatement to say that they are staggeringly complex systems. We all know that forests grow trees, but some fail to realize that they also grow an array of resources (lumber, firewood and pulp for paper among many, many others) that virtually all humans use on a daily basis. The extraction and processing of these resources provide jobs for Vermonters and inject money into our state economy. The economic outputs from the harvest of timber also provide a means and an incentive for landowners to keep their forested land intact, growing trees and supporting healthy ecosystems.

The niche that most foresters fit into, in the context of this hugely important industry and these hugely complex ecosystems, is in the extraction of these resources. Foresters are trained in the intricacies of forested ecosystems: how they work and how to keep them healthy and productive. It is their job to figure out how to encourage the growth of healthy forests, often using harvesting as a technique for harvesting forest products while ensuring that the ecosystem they leave behind is healthy, beautiful and productive for generations to come.

I am constantly communicating to landowners the fact that forests don’t need our management to be healthy. I follow this statement by saying how important the working landscape is to Vermont, culturally and economically, and the ancillary benefits that managed forests provide. Foresters are the people who strike the balance between the needs of humans and the needs of our ecosystems so we do not have to choose between these two things.

Why county foresters?
The office of county forester in each county in Vermont was created in 1941. This office was established to support responsible forestry in our state after more than a century of clearcutting and extractive, degradative land-management practices. At that time, Vermont was in the process of recovering and re-growing its native forest—and establishing a new, more responsible land use ethic—after being about 80 percent deforested in the mid-1800s. Today, county foresters’ roles have expanded apace with our forest, which now covers just under 80 percent of our state. Broadly, we support the maintenance of healthy forested ecosystems and the practice of responsible, sustainable forest management, both in theory and in practice.

Nested within these lofty objectives is our role as administrators of the Use Value Appraisal Program (often called “UVA,” “Current Use” or “Land Use”) in our counties, the support of towns in their management of municipally owned forest land, and education and outreach to the citizens of our counties, from non-landowners generally interested in sustainable land stewardship to forest landowners who practice extensive forest management on large acreages. I visit with landowners on 1,000-acre forests and on half-acre lots, talking about trees, forests and how to “do the right thing” with regard to the forest.

Perhaps now you have a better idea of who I am and the role that foresters and county foresters may already play in your lives. I look forward to meeting you all and collaborating with you to see how we can keep the forests of Chittenden County as vibrant and beautiful as possible.