TAKE ACTION: Telephone Gap On the Chopping Block
Updated: Feb 15
Submit a comment today to stop a reckless proposal by the Green Mountain National Forest that threatens some of the oldest and healthiest forests in New England
It’s go time! On Friday, January 27th, the US Forest Service announced its Proposed Action for the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project in the Green Mountain National Forest, initiating a 45-day public comment period that will extend through Monday, March 13th. This comment period is the first formal opportunity for the public to weigh in on the project after a year of delays. Please use our fact sheet for help with comment writing.
A public open house is scheduled for Thursday, Feb 9th from 6-8:30pm at Barstow Memorial School, 223 Chittenden Road, Chittenden, VT. Standing Trees and coalition partners are holding a virtual information and action session on Wednesday, Feb 15th at 6:30pm to follow for those who cannot attend the in-person meeting.
The Telephone Gap logging project puts a bullseye on 11,800-acres of mostly mature and old trees northeast of Rutland, VT, an area larger in size than the City of Burlington. This massive timber sale would endanger the water quality of Chittenden Reservoir, introduce invasive species, release vast amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, and destroy habitat needed by threatened and endangered species like the Northern Long-eared Bat. Adding insult to injury, the project also proposes more than 2,500-acres of logging in one of Vermont's largest unprotected wildlands, a 16,000-acre "inventoried roadless area" that straddles the Long Trail and the crest of the Green Mountains south of Brandon Gap.
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 over 50,000-acres, an exponential increase over the past few decades.
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.
Why does this matter?
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.
Despite the rarity of old forests across New England, the Telephone Gap timber sale targets 10,855-acres of mature and old forest up to 160 years of age, or 92% of the total area proposed for logging. 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. On December 29th, the US Forest Service canceled a timber sale in Oregon called "Flat Country" because it violated the intent of President Biden's Executive Order. Then, last week, the Biden Administration reinstated protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forest, protecting the largest expanses of old-growth forest remaining in the US.
Why, then, is the Green Mountain National Forest racing to cut some of the oldest forests in New England?
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 last November at the Green Mountain National Forest’s Rochester Ranger Station.
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 is called “scoping,” where the US Forest Service asks for initial input on their “Proposed Action.” This is a chance for us to raise concerns and guide the agency in a better direction. The next opportunity to comment will come when the Forest Service releases the “Draft Environmental Assessment,” which they anticipate will happen in the summer of 2023. Members of the public – that means us – must comment at each step of the process if we want legal standing to litigate the project after a decision is signed.
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.
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, March 13th 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. Your voice must be heard to stop or reduce the amount of logging. Here’s what you can do:
Attend the open house on Feb 9th from 6-8:30pm at Barstow Memorial School located at 223 Chittenden Road, Chittenden, Vermont, 05737, or join Standing Trees for a virtual information session on Wednesday, February 15th at 6:30pm (stay tuned for the event RSVP link).
Submit a comment using our Telephone Gap fact sheet and the US Forest Service comment submission form at this link.
Tell the Vermont Congressional Delegation that the Telephone Gap logging project takes Vermont's public forests in the wrong direction.
Rep Becca Balint: (202) 225-4115, or use this contact form
Sen Bernie Sanders: (202) 224-5141, or use this contact form
Sen Peter Welch: (202) 224-4242, or use this contact form