History of Logging in Vermont


The Beginning

Logging started in Vermont in 1794 with the first shipment of oak to Quebec by Stephen Mallet.  

Before railroads, logs were sent over Lake Champlain, rivers, and other waterways.  They were gathered over the winter by the waterways and bound together in large rafts.  The logs flowed north on Lake Champlain until 1823 when the Champlain Canal connected Lake Champlain with the Hudson River.  When Jefferson created the Embargo of 1807, it slowed trade with Canada and had a major effect on the logging industry.  The loggers found that by smuggling the logs north to Canada was both profitable and safe to do.  A shipment of White Pine and Oak logs could fetch $600,000 in 1810, at the height of the Embargo.  Burlington became the third largest lumber port in the nation because of the logs traveling Lake Champlain.  The success in the logging industry eliminated all the good lumber trees from the Champlain Valley by 1840.  This caused inhabitants of Vermont to import wood from outside territories.

In the beginning settlers took to the woods with axes held high, clearing places for their fields and pastures. They cleared away the trees to get the at the soil below.  The most of the first mills serviced local people and very few did commercial work.  Logging was the first non-agricultural industry in Vermont.  At first, few people realized the money that logging could make.  


Post Civil War Logging

Post Civil War logging was the most profitable and largest industry in Vermont.  George Perkins Marsh predicted that the more sophisticated technology became, the easier it would become to destroy nature.  He pleaded to the logging industry to halt, or at least slow down, the amount of trees that the loggers were clear cutting.  Clear cutting was doubled in effort because of increased railroad tracks through the woods and the demand for wood by the wood consuming industries.  Farmers could bring a cord of wood to the train depots and sell them to the railway men for 2.50-5 dollars.

Before 1880 most wood factories in Vermont were producing "treen" or boxes, cartons, etc.  After 1880 paper companies moved into Vermont and started taking the trees at an unchecked rate.  Loggers were finding that it was easier to send finished lumber by rail versus "raw" trees by waterways.  During the 1860's, Burlington became the fourth largest lumber port in the nation.  This is supported by the amount of board feet cut: 20 million in 1856 and 375 million in 1889.  In the 1870's most of the raw stock for Burlington came from Canada due to the depleted forests in Vermont.  Comparing then to now, in 1880 Chittenden County was 80% deforested versus 16.8% in 1980.   


A New Forest

Vermont looks more as it did before the settlers came, than it has in the past 200 years.  The first big cut of trees was taken in 1850 and the trees did not come back until after 1880.  After that, it was another 40 years until at least 50% of the forests would take Vermont back.  Staring in the 1920's, towns moved to reforest Vermont.  In 1927 alone, 17 towns planted 267,000 trees.  In the town of Sheffield in 1926, 126 men planted 25,000 trees in one day.  By 1921, Vermont no longer was a leader in the export of lumber.  At the end of World War II, the trees were back but the diversity in the species and the majesty of the gentle giants would no longer come back.

The Science of Forestry

The beginning of the twentieth century saw the creation of the science of forestry.  Gifford Pinchot, the first director of the U.S. Forest Service said, “[The] trees could be cut and the forest preserved at on and the same time.”  That idea soon crept up to Vermont and implemented by Perry Merrill, the state forester.  Merrill devoted his life to turning Vermont into a “working” forest.  This meaning that the loggers and other people who depended on removing the trees could still do so, and yet seem not to make any impact on the look and activities of the forest.

In the 1940's and 50's, forestry programs began to take hold in Vermont.  They were concentrated on fire prevention, eliminating insects and diseases that harm trees, reforestation, sustaining high forest yields, creating and fostering seedling nurseries, the creation of municipal forests and acquiring more state land.

The Department of Forests and Parks was created from the Forestry Department in 1955.  This department fond that 30 million cubic feet of wood was taken out per year.  In 1959, the lumber industry employed over 8,000 people and produced a profit of $30 million.

Private and public reforestation efforts continued in the 1970's, but the trees took it upon themselves and started reforesting naturally, taking over unused pastures and fields.  This is due to the return of the trees, not the wilderness.  The “wilderness” that is today is not what is has been or ever will be.  As long as there are humans living here, there will be no wilderness.  The days of the yard-wide pines are over.  Wilderness is a term Europeans concocted to define a woods they had no knowledge on how to deal with it.

After World War II, the state “sold” plans of reviving the forest to the populace.  The plans included replanting trees, helping them grow and thrive and maintaining the environments that the forests depended on.

“The chief reasons for planting trees are economic ones- planting trees pays.  Idle land is a liability; with forests, an asset.” Perry Merrill in a state report, 1947

Current Use legislation- p. 297

Mandates that foresters and farmers who sign up for the program will only be taxed on the use to which the land is being put, and not assessed at its development value. 
Forest owners putting land into the program agree to create a forest management plan.  Both farmers and forest owners also commit to keeping the designated acres undeveloped for a certain period or pay a penalty for early removal. 
In return, the state pays towns the tax differential between the lands chronically under funded by the state, but that problem has now been largely resolved by revisions in the state’s property tax system called for by the recently enacted ACT 60 (’97).
458,377 acres agricultural
1,047,377 acres forest

Vermont Land Trust- major helper in protecting the state’s forest and farmland

Purchased (in December ’98) 133, 289 acres in the NE Kingdom from Champion International Paper Company
Help from The Conservation Fund
Will be used for recreation and for the logging industry
NE Kingdom heavily depended on industry for money

Though most people think that the land used for logging is owned by the major logging companies, yet they own only 15%, down from 25% a decade ago.  Loggers will tell you that they love the woods and need to be near it and they do it for the people that need the trees.  Contrasting that is the opinion of environmentalists that the woods should be left alone and become habitats for wildlife.  The land has been logged for centuries, dating back to the settlers.  Logging is a way of life; these people depend on the land to produce food and shelter for their families.  On the other hand, the woods are a home and food source for other species.  The environmentalists say that the forest is a temple and clear-cutting the trees is a form of desecration.  These two sides are fighting on close lines, as all the species involved need food and shelter to survive.  The forests will be worked as long as there are humans cutting timber or hiking on the paths.