Conservation Currents

For Rent: Forest Bridges

July 2011

By Shelly Stiles

The agencies in charge of protecting and improving water quality in Vermont rightly focus on the big lake, Lake Champlain. There, phosphorus from urban and agricultural stormwater runoff and the algal blooms it encourages are major problems. But the rest of the state has issues too, including Bennington County. I'm glad to report that Montpelier recognizes our needs, and that, contrary to popular opinion, we are not always the so-called "forgotten kingdom."

I refer specifically to a program our organization recently launched, with help from the VT Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. It is our portable skidder bridge initiative, and it is designed to help loggers and forest landowners protect water quality on timber harvests. If you're a forest landowner, a forester, a logger, or simply a resident of Bennington County, please read on.

First, a defense of timber harvests, especially on the eighty percent of the state's forest land held by families. In order to pay taxes alone, I'm guessing most of those families can't afford not to harvest their trees. Their forests must be harvested to stay forests (rather than subdivisions or theme parks or who knows what). Yet those privately held forests provide significant public benefits. According to a study published by North East State Foresters Association in 2007, each 1000 acres of forest land supports 1.4 forest product-based jobs, and 1.4 forest-related tourism or recreation jobs. A strong forest-based economy is good for everyone.

But any manipulation of the forest landscape comes with risks. Consider especially this image: the log landing lies near the road; the trees stand far, far away, on the other side of the stream or many streams; the skidder (or other logging machinery) must navigate between the two, again and again. The state's Acceptable Management Practices for Maintaining Water Quality on Logging Jobs in Vermont (the AMPs) describe how it is to be done: so as to "prevent erosion and stream siltation and to reduce the amount of gasoline, oil, and greased which are often washed off the wheels and under-carriage of vehicles while crossing streams."

And so the Bennington County Conservation District is renting heavy duty portable skidder bridges, to help loggers reduce sedimentation, channeling and degradation of aquatic habitat while working in the woods. The bridges each consist of three panels, each four feet wide and twenty feet long. They are easy to transport, install, and remove, using only equipment normally found on a logging job. They will carry loads up to 70,000 pounds (depending on the equipment) over streams up to fourteen feet wide. And they are inexpensive. BCCD will rent them for $100 a month.

Now here's a shout-out for another partner in the initiative. The good folks at JK Adams in Dorset have agreed to take care of storing the bridges while not in use, and with some advance notice will gladly pull out their fork lift to help the logger load and unload the bridges. Malcolm Cooper, owner of JK Adams, says it's a contribution he is glad to make to the working landscape of Vermont.

For more information on renting a portable skidder bridge, contact BCCD at 802 442-2275 or bccd@sover.net. A contract must be signed and first month's payment made before pick-up can be arranged.

Shelly Stiles is the district manager of the Bennington County Conservation District, whose mission is to promote rural livelihoods and protect natural resources in southwestern Vermont.