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Forestry Moves Forward

By Cheryl Dorschner Article published June 29, 2005

David Brynn
Veteran forester David Brynn is leading a major prong of the Rubenstein's effort to rethink forestry education. (Photo: Cheryl Dorschner)

Intending to lead forestry in a revolutionary new direction, both in Vermont and nationally, the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources has been making some quiet, but bold, moves. But with the recent hiring of David Brynn, who was Addison County’s forester for 28 years, to lead a newly launched forestry education program, those moves are less quiet.

“At the Rubenstein School we’ve been asking ourselves and other opinion leaders, ‘what is a forester in the 21st Century?’” forestry program chair John Shane told an audience when he announced Brynn’s new position at a reception in May. “The answer just joined our staff as director of the Rubenstein School’s Green Forestry Initiative. A UVM graduate who started a community-based, nonprofit forestry program, David Brynn embodies the can-do style of a Rubenstein School grad, and he practices the whole-system forestry approach that we will become known for.”

With a gift pledge of $230,000 over three years from an anonymous donor, the Green Forestry Education Initiative is poised to transform Jericho Research Forest into the hub of UVM's sustainable forestry program. As part of this pledge, the donor has created a matching component intended to expand this seed gift, challenging school to raise an additional $52,000 that will be matched dollar-for-dollar. A recent $25,000 grant from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation marked a significant contribution to help meet this challenge.

"We are grateful for these significant and generous donations. They not only provide support for our efforts, they are signs of confidence in our new direction," RSENR Dean Donald DeHayes says. "Our approach to forestry education will emphasize the importance of real-world, hands-on, forest-based practices for students and will promote an understanding that the success of any forest practice will depend on its links to local communities, businesses, and public and private organizations, while sustaining the health and productive capacity of the forest."

The lay of the land
Brynn spent a portion of his first three weeks on the job getting to know the nearly 500-acre university-owned forest that will continue as a research site but also become a classroom and forest conservation center for the Green Forestry Education Initiative.

“Jericho Forest will be about application of all the things that students learn in the campus classroom,” said Brynn. “It will also be a place where Vermonters can come to focus on the elements of forestry, to take workshops and compare notes.”

Brynn hesitates to spell out how the Green Forestry Education Initiative will look by the end of this three-year gift. That’s what he calls “phase three.”

“We will come up with a basic master plan by April 2006 based on the health of the forest, the whole system and what would be appropriate uses and the impacts of those uses,” he says. “This fall, students will be actively inventorying the forest, looking at existing uses. Several courses will be applied to this forest setting.”

This summer’s goals are a bit smaller. In a plain, one-story clapboard workshop, already Brynn has eked out enough space for small classes or meetings. Just outside the door sits a large dumpster and recycle bins filled nearly to the brim.

“The first step is to get rid of what doesn’t work or does harm,” he says. “We’ll be switching to biodiesel fuel, bio chainsaw fuel and oil and wood heat,” he adds with a nod toward the stacks of firewood and the forest beyond.

In between rain showers, Brynn walked the land wearing a slicker, polo shirt, khakis, socks and sandals. He leaped over a puddle in the two-track road. In another spot he pointed to rivulets that had formed in the sandy soil during just one rainy week. “The next step is to stabilize erosion,” he says.

Forestry old and new
In 1946, UVM bought this property off Tarbox Road that had been the Violet and Thomas Reeves Farm and pasture. Adjacent property was added in subsequent years. As a research site, the complex was planted with Douglas fir, Japanese larch, ponderosa pine and other exotic species. Now it is a mix of hard- and soft-woods.

“What’s unsustainable about what we have?” Brynn asks rhetorically about all forests while stepping over a thicket of trunks and branches probably felled by storm and insect damage. “We’ve altered the hydrology. We’ve depleted calcium in the soils. We’ve introduced pests. We’ve created acid rain.”

“Old forestry, defined by Gifford Pinchot in the 1890s, was about trees ripe and ready for the axe,” says Brynn. “Old forestry’s goal was to protect the forest from fire, insects and thieves.”

Sustainable forestry is based on the Montreal Process, a set of seven guidelines for developed in the 1990s. The Rubenstein School uses these as criteria for curriculum development. For more background on the school’s evolving and innovative approach to forestry, see this 2003 article.

For Brynn, though, the crux of the issue is one clear principle.

“The forest takes care of itself; our job is to manage our demands on the forest,” he says.