Recognizing an Exceptional Timber Resource
In 1944, a young soldier named Ed Buttolph was in England awaiting orders to ship to Normandy. He had already been awarded the Silver Star for his service in North Africa and he considered himself lucky to have survived. His good fortune continued when he met a Royal Air Force radar operator named Barbara. After the war, Ed married her and they moved to Vermont, where he had grown up on a farm.
Soon after returning home, Ed began buying large parcels of timberland. “Back at that time, cut-over timberland was considered almost a liability to own,” Ed recalls. “I walked the land and could see there was enough good stuff to make it worth more than the price.” Eventually, the Buttolphs would own forestland in 10 different towns. “From the landowner’s standpoint, timber is a good investment,” Ed explains. “First of all, it grows. Then, there are tax incentives and capital gains. It’s also a long-term, non-perishable good, so you don’t have to cut it at a certain time, like hay.”
“It helped put our kids through college,” adds Barbara.
Last year, with the help of VLT, the Buttolphs conserved more than 2,700 acres of their land in Moretown, Bakersfield, Waterville, and Bolton.
By conserving this huge tract of forested land, the Buttolphs have ensured that hunters, hikers, and snowmobilers, will have access to exceptional recreational opportunities within 20 miles of Vermont’s largest city.
Having just celebrated his 91st birthday and his 64th wedding anniversary with Barbara, Ed remains active in the management of their forests. Most of the timber is Acer saccharum, a tight-grained hardwood that sells on the worldwide market for furniture and flooring. Of course, Vermonters have other reasons to value this species, commonly known as the sugar maple.
The World’s Finest: Vermont Maple Syrup
Bob and Bonnie Baird run a booming maple sugaring business at their farm in Chittenden. Last season, they produced 2,800 gallons of syrup from 5,000 taps. “That’s a pretty good yield, thanks to efficiency,” Bob explains. “We don’t work as hard at it today as we did 20 years ago, when we only made 400 gallons.”
The Bairds conserved their land in 1997 after deciding to ramp up their maple business. They purchased a vacuum pump, a reverse osmosis machine, and a Vermont-made device called a Steam-Away that captures heat from the sap boiler. These led to greater syrup yield and lower fuel consumption. “We used to burn over four gallons of oil to make a gallon of syrup,” says Bob. “Now it’s half a gallon, so we’ve saved a lot of money.”
Bob says that these sorts of improvements have become industry standards as producers try to meet the growing demand for Vermont maple syrup. “One thing we’re doing that’s a bit unusual is making maple a retail business,” he says. “We’re on a dead-end road but we sell about a thousand gallons a year from our home.”
Thanks to exposure from road signs, a website, and word of mouth, the Baird Farm sees visitors from all over the world. Bob and Bonnie get calls from people in Boston and New York who want to know if the sap is boiling, so they can drive up for the day. The locals come too. “We know everybody now,” says Bonnie. “We’ve become a community asset.”
Conservation also factors into their long-term view of the land’s economic potential. “At the scale we’re doing it, maple isn’t a hobby, it’s a business,” Bob explains. “The land can’t be developed, so if someone were buying this property, they’d probably be interested in sugaring.”
“We need young people in Vermont, and they need to make a living,” says Bonnie. “Ours is another small business that can stay in the state and encourage young people to do the same.”
Vermont’s sugar maple legacy is rooted in good business sense and a desire to keep forests intact—values shared by the Bairds and Buttolphs.