Much of the forestland conservation we've done has been made possible by landowners who donate the development rights on their land. What drives landowners to make this generous decision is often as individual as the landowners themselves.
"I don't love this land more than other land," Renée Patnaude says of the 79 acres in Topsham she conserved this past year. "It's just that I have put so much work into it. I have a relationship with it."
When Renée bought her property in 1984 the former pastures were overgrown with saplings and poplars. Seeing herself as an artist and the land as her medium, Renée planted gardens on old log landings, cleared two pastures where she rotates her grazing horses, and built a house and kennels, where she boards dogs.
Renée's desire to conserve her land stems primarily from her concern for wildlife. A frequent hiker on trails she built herself, she regularly sees moose tracks in the mud, bear claw marks in trees, and treetops stripped of bark by porcupines.
"I am always sympathetic to the bears and the animals," she says, adding that, when choosing trails on which to walk her dogs, she picks routes that she thinks will steer her away from wildlife.
Renée chooses to live as sustainably as possible, growing as much of her own food as she can and living off the grid. Meanwhile, through her practice of rotational grazing, her pastures regenerate in much the same way that the natural forest does around her.
Now that her land is conserved, Renée doesn't have to worry about a sale or fragmentation of her property damaging habitat. "I felt a wave of relief," said Renée. "I won't need to worry any longer about the land and the wildlife on it; what a priceless feeling that is."
Alan Robertson is similarly committed to his 59 acres of forestland in Sheffield. His interest in forest management was kindled in Germany, where he served as a civil engineer in the Army. There he saw forests resulting from hundreds of years of management. Inspired by what he felt the Germans did right—and by their mistakes—Alan returned home on the lookout for forestland and purchased the parcel in the 1980s.
He has actively practiced forest management, thinning, improving, and encouraging growth. "The trees are a lot larger now than 30 years ago," Robertson says. "And the quality of timber is a lot better."
Now he serves as co-chair of the Vermont Tree Farm Committee and is secretary of the Board of Directors of the Vermont Woodlands Association. His property is enrolled in Vermont's Use Value Appraisal Program and the American Tree Farm System.
In addition to responsibly managing and harvesting timber, Alan has another use in mind. Built into the wording of his easement is his intention for the parcel to become the Sheffield Town Forest upon his passing, and he is in the final legal stages of this process. The Town will continue to maintain the property as a high-value forest, and residents and visitors will have recreational and educational access. Like Renée, Alan has built trails. "Now they'll be used forever," he says.
Renée and Alan have forged deep connections with their land, and through years of ownership each arrived at the decision to conserve—Renée to protect wildlife and Alan for his interest in sustainable timber management and public access to forestland.
For all the reasons that people conserve forestland today, future generations will get to experience the natural beauty and resources of Vermont's forests. They will uncover stone walls on the Topsham property and view the large-diameter trees that grow in a well-managed forest like the one in Sheffield.
For Alan's part, he looks forward to Sheffield residents having access to a new Town Forest. "It's those that don't go into forests that we have to worry about," Alan says. "They'll be the first to give them away."