Dylan J. Baker

Staff Writer

DORSET- A wide-ranging study mounted by the federal agriculture department's Forest Service on improving lands within the Green Mountain National Forest is moving forward, with forestry officials hoping for an actual launch sometime early next summer.

The development of the project - known as the "Dorset-Peru Integrated Resource Project" - is concentrated around the village centers of Peru, East Dorset, Dorset, South Dorset, and along U.S. Route 7. Small portions of the project will also include parts of Winhall and Manchester as the study encircles more than 40,000 square acres of land. The project is federally funded through Congress and the administration.

"We started looking at areas where we thought there were some really good opportunities to improve," said Melissa Reichert, a project team leader of the Green Mountain National Forest. "The Dorset-Peru area was one area that we felt had some really good opportunities because there hadn't been a lot of work done or attention in the area."

The Green Mountain National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan was approved by the Regional Forester in April of 2006. The 2006 Forest Plan describes the "local" resource goals, objectives, and guides the day-to-day resource management operations.

"Our Forest Plan is a management document that outlines the desired future conditions for this national forest," said Bill Jackson, Manchester's District Ranger. "Every national forest in the country has a Forest Plan which defines the desired future conditions for that forest."

An estimated cost for the entire project has yet to be determined, according to Jackson.

It's a case of moving forward from what exists on the ground at present to an improved "future condition," added Reichert.

"In 2006 we finished revising the Forest Plan," she said. "It had a new set of goals and objectives, we revised the management areas quit a bit and what we do is to implement projects that abide by the forest plan."

The proposed activities included are to improve wildlife habitat, enhance fish habitat, restore soil and water conditions, increase recreation opportunities, address transportation system needs, and protect or enhance heritage resource sites.

The project will also involve the study of four major watersheds in the immediate area including West River, Mettawee River, Otter Creek, and the Battenkill River.

"The main thing that we have in our proposal is to add large woody debris in the streams. What the large woody debris actually does is it restores the stream habitat," said Reichert.

The addition of large woody debris will actually contribute to the enhancement of fish habitat, as well, and they should be able to thrive under the conditions, Reichert said.

The primary recreation opportunities offered within the project include hiking, biking, snowmobiling, skiing, hunting, fishing, camping, and viewing wildlife and natural features. These areas include the popular spots of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Long National Recreation Trail (Long Trail). Other areas include Emerald Lake State Park and Bromley Mountain Ski Area.

"Obviously tourism is big throughout the state," said Reichert, "and any kind of recreational enhancements certainly help. It just makes for a diverse wildlife habitat which means people have a greater opportunity for wildlife viewing, hunting, and local folks who use trails."

As the hunting season closely approaches the project will provide an emphasis to maintain and enhance wintering habitat for white-tailed deer by retaining and encouraging vegetative conditions for both shelter and browsing for food.

"We try to enhance the area that is around the deer wintering areas so that there is more browse in the area," said Reichert.

"One of the many things we try to incorporate is regeneration cuts, which is cutting trees and let them regenerate and grow back. Then by removing parts of the canopy the trees will regenerate faster," added John Sease, the District Wildlife Biologist.

This will help the local deer population, and moose population, find areas to browse and bed, especially during the winter months, said Sease. Along with improving the browse area aspen trees will be monitored and the enhancement of Evergreen trees will add cover for the deer, giving hunters a little more of a challenge.

Partially related to the white tail deer portion of the project is apple tree management. Removal of over-topping trees immediately around the apples invigorates their growth and promotes fruit production. This provides not just deer, but bear and other animals, with a prime food source.

The project will begin implementation as early as the summer of 2013, if not slightly before and take somewhere between three to five years to complete due to the constriction of funding and the project will have to be completed in stages, Reichert said.

Jackson believes the project has many benefits, not only to the wildlife, but the local economy. The timber that is removed from the forest is bought by logging companies who sell that to local contractors, thus helping the economy.

"The change into a more diverse landscape will benefit the local wildlife and the project will benefit the local economy," said Jackson.

Volunteers will be needed to help this project be a successful one, Reichert said.

"For some of these projects we really rely on volunteers," she said. "We've had volunteers that have gone out and helped with the apple trees, we have volunteers that help us with removal of non-native invasive plants and some fisheries work."