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D , LLC
Whole Human Habitats

Backcountry Users in Vermont:
A Beneficial Species?

Landscape 66 Dean’s Mountain
Architecture Moretown, VT 05660
+ Installation

I              B J P we
are reminded of the need to approach backcountry use more pro-actively than reactively. The current pres-
ervation and ‘conservation use’ approach puts us in an interesting conundrum and begs us to see what we’ve
been missing for quite awhile now.
Here’s what seems to be the situation:

1. Good Intentions
Almost all backcountry users and administrators (the GMC, AMS, ADK,
possibly even the NF and BLF), are interested in ‘protecting/preserving’ the
health of the backcountry of Vermont. Most users are aware of the pos-
sibly negative impacts skiers, hikers, climbers and others can have on the
backcountry from trail erosion, waste disposal, fire, etc.

2. Less Bad Isn’t Good
Like in the rest of the ‘environmental’ movement the conversation still
focuses almost entirely on doing less bad rather than actually enhancing the
health of the environment in question. How do we go from attempting to
harm the backcountry less to actually helping it?

3. The Upshot: Beyond ‘Preservation’ to Regeneration
We know that much of the VT backcountry and its present condition is the 150 odd year result of succession
after the almost total land clearing of the last century. It’s also the repository of acid-laden rain and other
atmospheric fallout. In other words, the forested ecosystems of the backcountry are in recovery. They’re not
as robust and as healthy as they could be and have had little to no positive active management of their com-
position and structure, except for the rare ‘low-grade’ cut by well intentioned foresters and loggers who wish
to leave the ‘best’ genetics in the forest. We also know that much of these forests in their ‘wild’ precolonial
state were actually the result of light, but widespread management (forest gardening) by the first peoples of
this region. The New England forests were managed for hundreds if not thousands of years by backcountry
travelers moving around seed, planting the most valuable species (for direct human foods such as nuts and
for wildlife promotion), thinning less optimal species and applying the use of fire and possibly other manage-
ment techniques. These forests were viewed as a vast and sustaining food source which was guided to be a
more open, older-growth (later succession) mosaic of nut-masting, nutrient dense, higher calorie and higher
diversity ecosystem than the dense, younger growth (early succession), thickets of more uniform species
diversity that we know of today.
What if backcountry athletes of the 21st century were
viewed as the pivotal ecosystem healers that they could be?
What if they were armed with the tools and training of a
regional land use revolution that aimed to enhance the eco-
logical resilience of Vermont’s forested communities while
simultaneously increasing our locally-produced food system,
enhancing the forest’s wildlife carrying capacity, and opening
the forest understory to be a more enjoyable and effective
place to travel on skis or on foot, to camp and to hunt?

What if we recovered and built on the vision of the first
peoples to live here before us? What if we expanded our

vision of ‘home’ to include the forests that cover 80%+ of Vermont,
not just the fields? What if we viewed the forest as our garden and
ourselves as forest dwellers in relationship, not simply as visitors
to spectate? What if we took hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, sweet
acorns, deer, paw paw and plum, in addition to photographs? What
if we left diversity and ecosystem resilience instead of just footprints?
Does this turn Leave-No-Trace, Sierra Club and the last 40 years of
backcountry ethics on its head?

If we can get the hunter lobby in on this we’d be halfway there. Have
you ever seen the numbers on how much more wildlife these forests
can and did once grow when the forest composition was richer and
more productive of fat and protein? The difference is staggering,
similar to the difference between a stacked permaculture guild and
the average single layer orchard.

Imagine what could emerge from a cultural movement that placed
NOFA and VAST members on the same side of the table, (hunters and gardeners/gatherers)? It’s exciting to
think about all of us reinhabiting this place we call Vermont together: About the truly common ground on
which stands hunter, logger, farmer, skier, mushroom harvester, ecologist, backpacker, forester.

The Radical Farmer-Skier, Hiker, Hunter, Climber
The radical backcountry farmer-skier carries a pruning saw on her belt. She thins overgrown patches of un-
derbrush in old logging sites and leaves behind a wake of black walnut and hickory seedlings. As she thins in
the autumn she wields modified trekking poles - pole-dibbles, with which she uses like a typical planters bar,
opening the soil without bending over and tossing a hybrid American-Chinese chestnut into the hole. Or a
burr oak, shagbark hickory, korean nut pine, or hazelnut.

The radical permaculturist dayhiker carries a modified daypack
with a bottom compartment that opens by pulling on shoulder
strap mounted cords like a parachutist, to activate an opening
in the back of the pack from which falls trillions of spores of
edible and soil-building mycelia. As the hiker treks through
the lower to mid elevation forests of Vermont he is broad-
casting the seeds of a mycelial network that helps rebuild the
forests’ plant productivity and plant-soil relationship which
was so deeply damaged by the land uses of the 19th century.
The hiker has learned to identify which areas of the forest need
the mycelia most through attending workshops with Vermont
Family Forests. The Green Mountain Club supplied free spores to him after his certified training by VFF.
A pack modification micro-grant was supplied by the Outdoor Gear Exchange and Patagonia. Traditional
conservation causes and working landscape movements started to work together under a unified umbrella of
sustainable land habitation.

The radical agroforester-hunter carries the seeds of future windbreaks and winter cover trees in his pocket
as he travels through the ecotones of old field and forest where he flushes grouse. As he hunts for partridge

he is establishing a future, more productive hunting ground for his children where the grouse and deer grow
fatter and greater in numbers as they experience less winter kill with the protection afforded by increased
cover and more nutrient-dense forage of korean nut pine, burr oak, white oak, beech, hazelnut and many other
species. When the Ruffed Grouse Society sponsored a workshop in Manchester he learned to ID the right
ecotones for seed dispersal and what seeds to use within various old field and early succession cover types. In
the alternate seasons he performs habitat management and ecosystem restoration work on his trips into Dead
Creek and other wetland areas while bird hunting. He
takes advantage of the numerous state wide certifica-
tion workshops that Ducks Unlimited has offered in
collaboration with the VT State Wildlife Agencies and
the ANR. While fishing along the Battenkill, White
and Black Rivers he is armed with willow fascines, paw
paw and elderberry supplied by the State. On a single
lunch break he earns enough money (the state pays him
1 dollar for every paw paw he plants) to buy a new fly
from Orvis, a participating member in this leading-edge
program that brings civil engineers, watershed restora-
tionists and fly fisherman together to rebuild thousands
of miles of stream banks across the state.