The Vermont Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy sold 2,080 acres of forestland in Bakersfield. This is the first parcel to sell since the two groups announced they would be selling forestland held jointly as the Atlas Timberlands Partnership. The land was permanently conserved at the time of the sale.
The buyers, Tom and Cecile Branon, are supporters of conservation and committed land stewards. In 1997, Tom and Cecile conserved 653 acres in Fairfield with the Vermont Land Trust. They have a thriving maple business—Branon Family Maple Orchards—which will now expand onto the Bakersfield parcel. They estimate that the land has the potential for 50,000 taps, with even more possible as trees mature. This will nearly double the Branon’s current production.
The Branons purchased their business from Tom’s parents in 1984. At the time, they had dairy and sugaring operations. These days, the cows are gone and the Branons have diversified into maple products like barbeque sauce and maple sugar and vinegar. They have three sons who are now involved in this seventh-generation family business. The added taps will allow their sons to remain in the business.
“This land gives us the opportunity to expand our business and also be better sugarmakers and better stewards of the forest,” said Cecile. She went on to explain that every seven years they replace the tubing in a section of the woods. Currently, they re-set all the tubing in the same year they replace it. With the addition of the new taps, they will be able to take sections out of production for one year. “It will give the forest a little time to heal; it will be better for the trees,” she adds.
“The combination of a sale to Vermonters who have demonstrated their excellent stewardship of the land and watching the next generation of Branons make their living from the forest is a success,” said Carl Powden, Vermont Land Trust Regional Director. “We couldn’t imagine a better outcome for the sale of this part of the Atlas Timberlands.”
The 26,000-acre Atlas Timberlands were purchased by the Vermont Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy in 1997. The land gave the two conservation organizations a first-hand opportunity to learn about managing large tracts of timberland while balancing the ecological, economic and recreation resources of the land. Since then, around 3,000 acres have been sold. In March the two groups announced they would begin selling most of the remaining acreage. All the land that is sold will be protected by permanent conservation easements that will prevent the land from being developed and ensure that natural features and recreational access will be protected.
“We are pleased that the stewardship of this parcel will be maintained for wildlife, water quality, public access and all the other natural resources while supporting the Branon family's agricultural business,” said Jon Binhammer, Director of Protection for the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
The Bakersfield parcel had a long history of ownership by large timber companies before being purchased by the partnership. For the past two decades, management decisions have protected ecological features and encouraged the healthy regrowth of heavily cut areas. Conservation restrictions were placed on the property at the time it was sold to the Branons. These restrictions protect 12 miles of forest streams by requiring land management activities support the protection of water quality. Eighty acres of the forest are off limits to active management in order to protect two areas that support a unique mix of trees and plants. The forest also lies in an area considered important for large mammals—such as bears—that travel great distances to breed.
“We are very careful with our forest,” explains Cecile. “Yes, there were a lot of restrictions, but that didn’t scare us, since we are already good stewards of our land. God gave us this earth and maple syrup. We have to care for it. My grandkids are going to sugar; they are counting on us and we won’t let them down.”
Photo by Alex Duncanson