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Colby Hill Ecological Project
Since 1998, a team of scientists has annually inventoried the biological diversity on 716 acres of private land in Lincoln, Vermont. Vermont Family Forests administers this project for landowners Lester and Monique Anderson. VFF applies the research findings of the Colby Hill Ecological Project to our ecological forestry outreach work, which you can read about below.
Though the biological monitoring of the Colby Hill Ecological Project began in 1998, the roots of the project lie much deeper. The Andersons purchased the land—once four separate dairy farms—in the early 1960s. These lands had been intensively farmed for more than a century. Much of the forest had been cleared for pasture, and the forests that remained were managed for sugaring.
After they purchased the land, the Andersons have followed what Lester refers to as “leave it alone” stewardship on most of the acreage, allowing the natural communities on those lands to evolve naturally, or “re-wild.” One of the four parcels that make up the property (112 acres) is currently is conserved as forever-wild by an easement held by the Northeast Wilderness Trust.
Interested in long-term scientific assessment of the biodiversity of these re-wilding lands, the Andersons worked with ecologist Marc Lapin to develop the CHEP research program. Lester Anderson hopes that the knowledge gained through this ecological monitoring can inform stewardship practices on actively managed forestlands. Much like Aldo Leopold describes the 500-acre arboretum he helped establish in Wisconsin (above), Lester describes the CHEP lands as “the control site against which the biodiversity, biological integrity, and water quality of other properties can be measured to set goals for achieving conservation objectives.”
Vermont Family Forests is putting that vision into action through its public outreach project, Re-wilding Your Working Woodland: First Lessons from a Self-willed Family Forest. This book will be a guide to interacting with the forest in ways that leave the forest community wilder and healthier.
The Anatomy of Healthy Land: Creating a "base datum of normality"
When you visit your doctor, you trust that he or she bases both diagnosis and treatment of your symptoms on a broad foundation of medical knowledge of the human body, informed by the latest, most rigorous research studies. Because no matter how well intentioned your doctors might be, if they don’t understand the inner workings of your body, which conditions are “healthy and normal” and which are signs of disease, and how your body will likely respond to treatment, they may do you more harm than good in their tinkering.
Nothing out of the Ordinary
There’s nothing particularly unique about the Colby Hill land—its character and species composition are much like other forests on the western slopes of the Green Mountains. That's what makes its conservation so important. The baseline data scientists accumulate here will be applicable to a broad landscape. Says CHEP manager, Marc Lapin, “Conserved lands, and especially large chunks of conserved natural lands, are generally located at higher elevations or are centered upon features that are unique, such as the cliffs and talus of Bristol Cliffs and Deer Leap. The ‘regular’ part of the landscape, particularly in lower elevation zones, is often overlooked and is therefore under-represented in conservation networks.”