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TAKE ACTION: Telephone Gap On the Chopping Block (Round 2)

Updated: Mar 30

Submit a comment today to stop the Forest Service from logging some of the healthiest forests in all of Vermont

A photo of an area proposed for logging in the Green Mountains in Vermont
Chittenden Reservoir on a perfect fall day. The Telephone Gap logging project targets forests throughout the reservoir's watershed.

Ready for round 2? The US Forest Service has released its draft Environmental Assessment for the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project in the Green Mountain National Forest, initiating a 30-day public comment period that will extend through Monday, April 8th. This comment period is the FINAL formal opportunity for any member of public to weigh in on the project.


TAKE ACTION:

  1. Watch the US Forest Service virtual open house from March 27th at 6:30pm: Click here to go to the Forest Service webage


Map of Telephone Gap project area near Rutland, Vermont.
Map of Telephone Gap project area.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has released its latest plans to log nearly 12,000-acres of Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) northeast of Rutland (note: these numbers reflect the total stand acreage proposed for harvest). This massive “timber sale” is part of a management plan called the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project (TGIRP).


The Telephone Gap timber sale has been called one of the ten worst projects in the U.S. by Climate Forests, a national coalition of 120 environmental groups. This highly destructive logging job would devastate an area larger than the entire City of Burlington. It endangers the water quality of the White River and Otter Creek, risks introducing invasive species, and destroys habitat needed by threatened and endangered wildlife.


The Green Mountain National Forest notes that "Old growth conditions are...rare on the Forest... Stands that have generally remained unmanaged since land abandonment have the greatest potential to develop old growth conditions over the next 100 years" (TGIRP Landscape Assessment at p11). The Telephone Gap project has a high concentration of forests that date back to agricultural abandonment in the late 1800s to early 1900s. This is exactly the sort of landscape where we should put forests on a path to old-growth recovery.


If the Forest Service’s proposal moves forward, this project would bring the total amount of land recently approved for logging on the Green Mountain National Forest to around 50,000-acres, an exponential increase over the past few decades.


In early 2023, 1,600-people commented on the Telephone Gap logging project and more than 13,000 people signed a petition in opposition to the Forest Service's plans. This record participation has not gone unnoticed by the Forest Service, but we are still a long way from measurably improving this project or - even better - canceling it altogether.


That's where you come in! Now is the time to raise your voice against this reckless proposal that threatens our climate, communities, and most vulnerable species! Please submit a comment today.


Top 5 issues to highlight in your comment letter:

  1. The US Forest Service must produce a much more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement to determine the significance of its proposed management actions in the Telephone Gap landscape. An Environmental Assessment doesn't "cut it" with so much at stake.

  2. Encourage the Forest Service to select Alternative A, No Action, which would allow the forests of the Telephone Gap landscape to continue to grow old for the benefit of biodiversity and the climate.

  3. Thank the Forest Service for developing Alternatives C and D (for details, scroll down to the next section on "updates"), which propose changes that would lower the intensity of timber harvest in a subset of mature and old forests, and would reduce the miles of roads constructed in the project area.

  4. Although Alternatives C and D are a step in the right direction, they don't go nearly far enough to honor the intent of President Biden's Executive Order on conserving mature and old-growth forests. Please ask the Forest Service to protect ALL MATURE STANDS over the age of 80 in the Telephone Gap landscape and across the entire Green Mountain National Forest, which will have the added benefit of helping to protect important habitat for the endangered Northern Long-eared Bat.

  5. Call for an end to logging in all Inventoried Roadless Areas, including the 16,000-acre Pittenden Inventoried Roadless Area in the Telephone Gap project area, to protect un-fragmented wildlife habitat and clean water, and defend downstream communities from flooding.


Updates to the project since January 2023

A photo of the Green Mountain National Forest in the fall
Mature forest in the Telephone Gap project area.

Sadly, very little has changed to the Forest Service's timber harvest proposal since the January 2023 Proposed Action. The Forest Service's Modified Proposed Action, also called Alternative B in the draft Environmental Assessment, has dropped approximately 40-acres of proposed logging because it was identified as “old-forest” by Vermont Fish and Wildlife. While we are grateful when any forest is spared the saw, such small changes simply aren't going to "cut it" in the face of climate change and extinction.


That said, we think it's important to note that the Forest Service is considering two new "alternatives" (or management options) that we believe are representative of a possible future shift in agency focus and priorities. Alternative C considers reducing logging in mature stands, and would drop 661-acres that were identified with "late-successional" characteristics, meaning that they contain "trees older than 100 years, large-diameter trees, multi-storied forest canopies, large diameter snags, and downed wood" (Proposed Action at p48). In addition, Alternative D proposes to reduce harvest intensity and the amount of road construction to lower the fossil-fuel impact of logging operations. We applaud the concepts that are considered in both of these alternatives. However, we are disappointed that these changes are only being considered across a relatively small portion of the project area and have not yet been incorporated into the Proposed Action.


The fact that only minor changes were made over the past year is deeply concerning given that the Forest Service is now committed to a nationwide Forest Plan amendment process that will update agency stewardship of mature and old-growth forests. The Telephone Gap project should be put on hold until this process is completed in early 2025.


What's all the fuss about mature and old-growth forests?

Historically, old-growth forests dominated the New England landscape, supporting native biodiversity and rich indigenous cultures. In a short period of time, these remarkable forests – and the species and cultures that grew from them – were eliminated (or nearly-so) from our region by European settlers and their descendants. Old forests are exceptional for sequestering and storing vast amounts of carbon, protecting water quality, and mitigating droughts and floods. Today, just 0.3% of New England forests are older than 150 years.


A mature tree in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest
Mature trees abound in the Telephone Gap project area. Photo: Sarah Stott.

Despite the rarity of old forests across New England, most of the logging proposed in the Telephone Gap project is mature forest up to 160 years of age. Because of this, Telephone Gap has been called one of the worst logging projects on federal public lands by Climate Forests, a national coalition of 120 environmental groups.


On Earth Day of 2022, President Biden issued an historic Executive Order directing the US Forest Service to conserve mature and old-growth forests to benefit the climate and biodiversity. The mere fact that the Telephone Gap project modified Proposed Action acknowledges this Executive Order seems like forward progress, since the previous version made no mention of it. But so far, the Forest Service has shown that it is not budging from its original vision.


How did we get here, and what happens next?

The US Forest Service shared early plans for the Telephone Gap project in the summer of 2021. Standing Trees volunteers showed up en masse to protest the proposed logging during a site visit in August 2021, alerting the Green Mountain National Forest to growing distrust and anger over the rapid escalation of logging in Vermont’s public forests. Over the ensuing 18 months, Standing Trees and regional partners launched the Save Public Forests Coalition to raise the profile of public land logging, staging events like our wildly successful Climate Forests rally in November 2022 at the Green Mountain National Forest’s Rochester Ranger Station.

Protest against logging on the Green Mountain National Forest
The November 2022 Rally for Climate Forests at the Rochester Ranger Station drew over 110 protestors and regional media coverage. Photo: Nicole Rivard.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies, like the US Forest Service, to conduct a detailed analysis of the impacts of its proposed projects and to provide the public with opportunities to weigh in. The first public-facing phase of the NEPA process, called “scoping,” took place in early 2023. The current comment period ending April 8th is the last chance for any member of the public to weigh in. The Forest Service will then take public comment into consideration and release a Draft Record of Decision. At that point in time, only those people who previously commented on the project will have a final chance to "object" before the project is finalized.


National Climate and Biodiversity Impact

The areas proposed for logging in the Telephone Gap timber sale have major concentrations of mature trees between 80-160 years old, which science shows accumulate and store the most carbon in the fight against climate change compared to young trees (see this study and another for recent science defining forest maturity). The GMNF has greater carbon density than most forests in the Eastern US; we should manage this public land for the benefit of the climate and biodiversity, not cut it down.

Clearcut logging on the Green Mountain National Forest
A preview of what's to come at Telephone Gap? This photo shows a recent clearcut near Rochester, VT on the Green Mountain National Forest. Photo: Mark Nelson.

On the global scale, forest protection represents approximately half or more of the climate change mitigation needed to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The largest 1% of trees store 30% of all aboveground forest carbon in the US. Public forests in New England store, on average, 30% more carbon than private forests. We should not be spending our tax dollars to subsidize cutting old trees on public lands.


Research by the University of Vermont shows that New England forests could store 2 to 4 times more carbon if we just let them grow old. Letting mature and old trees stand is one of the most effective things that Vermonters can do to combat climate change and extinction. Private forests are the source of 96% of the timber supply in Vermont, so protecting public forests would have minimal impact on the wood products economy. We must put our public forests on a different path.


Mature and old forests matter for a lot more reasons than the carbon that they store. These same forests are also powerhouses for biodiversity, clean water, and climate resilience. Many of New England’s most imperiled species, including pine marten, Northern Long-eared Bats, and brook trout, thrive in healthy, old forests. Old forests excel at removing the phosphorus and nitrogen that drive algal blooms and dead zones in our rivers, lakes, and ponds. And they are exceptional at reducing the impacts of both floods and droughts, by slowing, sinking, and storing water.


Please Act Now

The public has through Monday, April 8th to submit a comment (or multiple comments – there is no limit to the number you can submit) for the Telephone Gap project. The USFS has already approved 40,000-acres of logging over the next 15 years, more than at any point in the past three decades. Don't wait - take action today! Here’s what you can do:

  1. Attend the US Forest Service virtual open house on March 27th at 6:30pm: Click here to join the meeting

  2. Tell the Vermont Congressional Delegation that the Telephone Gap logging project takes Vermont's public forests in the wrong direction.

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