Forestry in the Green Mountain State
Forest is the dominant land cover across Vermont. Currently at 75% forested, Vermont is the fourth most forested state in the United States. Indeed, forests have covered Vermont since well before Vermont existed as a state, though many changes in the nature and extent of our forests have occurred over the course of Vermont’s history.
Native American influences to the landscape of Vermont were minimal, and early European settlers found nearly all of Vermont covered by forests. Forest clearing became widespread around 1800 as Vermont farmers became suppliers of wood products, food, and wool to a rapidly growing nation. By 1860, less than one-half of the state remained forested and Vermonter George Perkins Marsh, arguably the nation’s first environmentalist, warned of the impacts of soil erosion due to forest clearing. As a result of the widespread clearing of forests and the unregulated taking of wildlife, Vermont lost many of its most iconic species by the late 1800s, including white-tailed deer, moose, beaver and fisher. Subsequently, the migration of people toward the West led to a decline in agriculture in Vermont, allowing forest succession to reclaim the state’s landscape.
From the 1940s to the present, Vermont’s forests have experienced another wave of wide scale transformation. On one hand, forest cover continued to expand and Vermont’s forests continue to mature, as demonstrated by increases in numbers sizes and species composition. On the other, human social pressure has brought significant changes as a result of built infrastructure, and Vermont has witnessed the introduction and spread of invasive plant and insect species as well as pathogens.
Today, the vast majority of Vermont’s forestland is held by private landowners (80%). Approximately 2.9 million acres, 62%, of forestland is owned by families and individuals. A relatively small proportion of Vermont’s forest is public land (21%), including the Green Mountain National Forest, many state parks and state forests, and a smaller number of municipal forests.
The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) is responsible for the conservation and management of Vermont’s forest resources, the operation and maintenance of the State Park system, and the promotion and support of outdoor recreation. FPR practices and encourages high quality stewardship of Vermont’s environment by monitoring and maintaining the health, integrity and diversity of important species, natural communities, and ecological processes, and by managing forests for sustainable use by providing and promoting opportunities for compatible outdoor recreation.