Vermont Land Trust: Increasing Opportunities for Sustainable Timber Harvest on the Atlas Timberlands


Forest harvests were completed adjacent stands during winter 2013-2014 and summer 2014 to determine how shorter winter logging seasons may affect forest operations.

Warmer, shorter winters are reducing the winter logging season, and over time, it is likely that more logging will need to occur in the summer under less favorable conditions. The Vermont Land Trust harvested one area in summer to better understand how warmer winter conditions could affect logging operations and costs.

Project Area

The Vermont Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy created the Atlas Timberlands Partnership in 1997, which conserved more than 25,000 acres of forestland in northern Vermont. These lands provide a first-hand opportunity for the Partnership to learn the challenges associated with managing large tracts of timberland while balancing the ecological, economic and social values associated with the management choices.

Management Goals

Management goals on the property include conserving water quality and soil productivity, increasing the quality of the timber resource, providing diverse habitats, and providing recreational opportunities. More information about the Atlas Timberlands and their management is available through the Vermont Land Trust's website.

Climate Change Impacts

a forest stream
Some of the greatest potential impacts on the property are related to altered hydrologic conditions. In the future, is it likely that precipitation will increase in northern Vermont, particularly in the fall, winter, and spring. Extreme precipitation events are also expected to occur more frequently. These changes can results in increased flash flooding, soil erosion, and road washouts. Shorter, warmer winters mean that there is less time when optimal conditions for winter harvest exist. Frozen conditions makes it easier to operate large equipment and protect forest soils.

Adaptation Actions

As part of this project, the managers of the Atlas Timberlands considered the potential effects of climate change on a block of forestland totaling four hundred acres. Many of the current management activities that are planned for this parcel and also across the entire Atlas Timberlands property increase forest resilience to climate change. For example, forest management activities foster a diversity of tree species and forest habitats, which can help reduce the risks associated with a species declining as conditions change. Additionally, the relative large size of this property and its adjacency to many other large tracts of forest land result in a high degree of landscape connectivity, which may reduce ecosystem vulnerability and allow for communities to adapt across the landscape.

Reduced operability for winter logging is a major concern on this property and more broadly across the region. Land managers identified a forest stand that would typically be considered “winter ground” because of steep slopes and groundwater seeps. These features make it substantially more expensive to implement harvests in the summer and fall months because more robust roads, water crossings (culverts, bridges, etc.) and other infrastructure are needed to reduce the risk of damage to soils, water, and the residual forest. Through this project, identified needed modifications for road and drainage infrastructure that would make it possible to conduct a summer harvest and reduce the potential for negative impacts from logging. Costs, operational difficulties, and impacts were recorded.

The Adaptation Workbook was used to identify the adaptation actions for this project, which included:

Northern hardwoods
1.2. Maintain or restore hydrology.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Implement forest management practices to increase species and structural diversity in northern hardwoods.
Retain spruce, white pine and black cherry; Try to discourage beech
Use summer harvesting (as opposed to winter) to promote yellow birch
Consider increasing the area of patches cut in even-aged transitional stands
5.3. Retain biological legacies.
Increase the retention of large course woody debris by leaving more material in the tops of cut trees and marking more cut-to-leave trees
Harvest operations
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
Reduce site impacts by using tracked equipment as much as possible, especially on summer ground.
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
4.2. Prioritize and maintain sensitive or at-risk species or communities.
Minimize disturbance to sensitive areas, such as seeps or enriched areas, during harvest
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
10.3. Realign significantly disrupted ecosystems to meet expected future conditions.
Explore the feasibility of expanding summer harvest operations
Prioritize most likely areas that could support a summer harvest given ground conditions and potential costs


One of the major efforts of this project was to evaluate the effectiveness of conducting a summer harvest. Sites were visited before, during, and after harvest operations to ensure that appropriate precautions were taken to avoid damage to the residual stand and to soil and water resources. The financial expenses associated with the timber harvest were also tracked in order to better understand the costs associated with the new practices. The forest managers estimated that harvesting during the summer season increased the costs by $19,000 compared to winter, with much of the additional expense related to the purchase and installation of a portable skidder bridge and additional labor needed for skid road construction and installation of water-bars on woods roads.

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

a group of people standing in the forest
a forest stream with trees on both sides
Two natural resource professionals standing on rocks near a forest stream.
A pile of sticks in a stream in winter, used to drive large equiptment over
Metal supports of a temporary bridge
An excavator on a temporary bridge
Wood decking from a portable bridge.
A forester walking in a forest in spring, without leaves.

Project Documents

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Maria


Upland hardwoods, Infrastructure

Last Updated

Wednesday, April 19, 2017