NORTHEAST WILDERNESS TRUST
17 STATE STREET, SUITE 302
MONTPELIER, VT 05602
info [@] newildernesstrust.org
At 6,098 acres, Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve is the largest non-governmental wilderness area in the state of Vermont. The Preserve is open to the public for on-foot exploration such as hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and hunting.
Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve includes headwater streams of the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers. It protects regional wildlife connections, and includes stunning northern hardwood forests, a diversity of wetlands, and 39 miles of headwater streams.
The land sits directly at a crossroads for far-ranging wildlife. To the west lie the Worcester Mountains—the only remaining undeveloped mountain range in Vermont. To the north is Vermont’s Northeastern Highlands, also called the Northeast Kingdom. The area between them is known as the ‘Worcester to Kingdom’ linkage. The Preserve lies at the heart of the linkage sandwiched between three intact forest blocks that total 85,000 acres just north of Vermont’s capital city, Montpelier.
This area also falls within Vermont’s only ‘Important Bird Area’ of global significance, according to Audubon and BirdLife International. Preserving a large core wilderness within this largely-managed landscape will ensure birds like Winter Wrens and Blackburnian Warblers, who thrive in large blocks of old forests, continue to find good homes in the Green Mountain State.
Mark Anderson, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Center for Resilient Conservation Science
Beyond its significance to the broader landscape context, the Preserve stands out for its varied natural communities.
This land is critical habitat for a variety of animals, from wide-ranging predators like bear, fisher, and bobcats down to tiny salamanders and fingernail clams. It contains topographically diverse and resilient habitat for beavers, moose, turtles, fish, frogs, birds, and countless insect, plant, and fungi species. This large swath of old forest could support the recovery of American martens to their original range in the future. While martens have recovered in some parts of the Northeast, they remain endangered in Vermont.
Sections of the forest have high concentrations of American beech and black cherry, which are critical sources of food for wildlife preparing for winter. The Preserve also hosts numerous rare and special natural communities such as twelve Red Spruce-Cinnamon Fern Swamps. This is an uncommon type of swamp, and is the preferred breeding habitat of saw-whet owls and yellow-bellied flycatchers, the latter of which are uncommon and vulnerable in the state of Vermont.
Water is a key feature of the proposed Preserve. There are four vernal pools of statewide significance and eight streams of highest priority for aquatic habitat conservation. Within them are occurrences of rare, threatened, and endangered species. The land falls at the watershed divide between the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers, both of which drain into Lake Champlain. Maintaining old forest cover at their headwaters is an incredibly effective, cost-efficient solution to maintain the long-term health of the Lake.
Most protected wild areas in Vermont (and the Northeast) are at higher elevations. Low-elevation lands tend to not be given such protection because they are desirable for farming and logging. Yet low-elevation habitats host much greater biological diversity than mountaintops. They serve as key connective habitat as wildlife move and adapt in response to a rapidly changing climate. Even at a seasonal timescale, animals such as moose rely on connections between low-elevation habitat for summer forage and high-elevation evergreens for winter shelter. Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve serves as a critical lowland habitat connector to the neighboring Worcesters, with an average elevation of just 1550’.
Before it was a Preserve, the majority of this land was owned by the Meyer family, who run the E.B. Hyde timber company. The forest is in excellent condition thanks to their thoughtful multi-generational management.
Hugo Meyer bought forest land in Woodbury, Elmore, Hardwick, and Worcester in the 1950s and together with his wife, Elizabeth Hyde Meyer, managed the property both for sustainable yield of high-quality hardwood timber and other ecological values. In the late 1970s their son, consulting forester John Meyer, took over the management responsibility of the land and enrolled the property in Vermont’s Current Use Tax Program thus ensuring its economic viability. Their management practices emphasized optimizing timber stocking levels appropriate for varying site qualities, protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat, and encouraging hunting and other non-motorized recreational opportunities. The Meyers enjoy sharing stories of the land about special natural features, encounters with wildlife, and hidden remnants of farmsteads and cellar holes where the town of East Elmore once stood.
Forever-wild protection affords people the opportunity to experience a wild forest first hand and to create their own wild memories to pass on to future generations. Decades down the line, residents of Central Vermont will know what an old-growth forest looks, feels, and sounds like—just beyond their own backyard.
E.B. Hyde Company, Former Landowner
Vermont Conservation Design is a conservation plan to sustain Vermont’s natural areas, forests, waters, wildlife, and plants. A primary goal of the plan is to have at least 9% of Vermont’s forested landscape be comprised of old forests. Old forests harbor unique habitats largely absent from managed land, store and sequester immense amounts of carbon, and are incredibly resilient. Today, only about 3% of Vermont is legally protected in a way that will ensure it reaches maturity and stays that way. Permanent conservation of large landscapes like Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve help to meet this important goal. Vermont River Conservancy will hold a forever-wild easement on the land, to doubly ensure that it will remain wild forever—for nature and people.
“Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve marks a huge step forward in meeting the goals of Vermont Conservation Design,” said Liz Thompson, Director of Conservation Science at Vermont Land Trust and a co-creator of the Conservation Design. “These few thousand acres, protected as forever wild, complement the hundreds of thousands of acres in the region that are carefully managed for the production of timber and to support our vital forest products industry. Vermont Conservation Design calls for protection of 9% of Vermont’s forests as wild, set up to become old forest in the future through passive (hands-off) management.”
Old forests not only store immense amounts of carbon, but they also remove considerably more carbon from the atmosphere than recently harvested forests. Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve currently stores at least 629,000 metric tonnes of carbon, and has the capacity to sequester an additional 1,335 metric tonnes each year. Most importantly, this land’s carbon will never be lost to resource extraction.
Purchased by Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2021 just after Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve was established, Eagle Ledge Addition is integral to knitting together one unified wild landscape. These 500 acres act as a cornerstone that connects three previously disparate parcels of the Preserve to one another. Much like a puzzle piece filling an empty hole, the Eagle Ledge Addition is a critical link that ensures a comprehensive picture—one where forest blocks will stay connected and intact for generations to come, animals can travel without hindrance, and core interior habitat is further buffered from the effects of development on abutting private lands.
While most of this forest is relatively young, with about a third of the property having been logged in 2017, there are 180 acres in the western portion of Eagle Ledge Addition that are roughly middle-aged. Expansive beaver wetlands and several small ponds are home to diverse reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and birds. The topography of the unharvested area is shaped like a bowl, resulting in rich, fertile soils at the bottom of the slope. The rich, compost-like soil results in unique assemblages of species, including beautiful springtime wildflowers.
Northern Hardwood Forest unfurls across the ridgetops and broad valleys of the Eagle Ledge Addition, with stands of hemlock shading the steep valley slopes. The land includes five miles of headwater streams of the Lamoille River that are likely to support native wild brook trout.
The Spring Addition added 123 acres to Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve in 2022. Its lands are sloping and forested, located along County Road in Woodbury, VT. They straddle the road with acreage on both sides, and consist of perched wetlands, small streams, middle-aged forests, and several rocky outcrops.
County Road is more or less the boundary between bedrock of the Moretown Formation and of the Waits River Formation, which are millions of years apart in age. The Waits River Formation has plenty of places with calcium-rich soils, which can host rare or uncommon plants because of their higher levels of available nutrients. Bedrock outcrops and ledgey areas are common across the Spring Addition and are the preferred denning habitat for bobcats and, in winter, for porcupines.
Photography: Fall foliage by Zack Porter; River & Pink lady slipper by Natalia Boltukhova; Eagle Ledge Addition by Shelby Perry; Spring Addition by Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography
Video by Jerry Monkman/Reel Quest Films