Natural History of Vermont

Adapted from: The Story of Vermont: a Natural and Cultural History of the Green Mountain State, by Christopher McGrory Klyza and Stephen C. Trombulak, 1999.

Upon first glance it is easy to realize that forests dominate the landscape of Vermont.  Since glaciers receded from the area more than 11,000 years ago, forests of one kind or another have covered 95% of Vermont.  Today 75% of Vermont is forested land, with two major types existing in Addison County, boreal and northern hardwood.

Boreal forests are found at elevations above 2,500 feet where the trees have adapted to severe cold and high winds throughout most of the year.  The trees of boreal forests are mostly coniferous, consisting of mainly red spruce and balsam fir as well as white spruce, black spruce, paper birch, and yellow birch.  Due to the high acid content of the soil of coniferous forests, a unique blend of herbs have adapted to these conditions.  Close inspection while recreating in these areas may lead to the discovery of whorled aster, mountain sorrel, blue-bead lily, bunchberry, shining club moss, mountain wood fern, and twinflower, among others.

At elevations below 2,500 feet lies the northern hardwood forest.  Plants growing here have adapted to conditions intermediate between extreme winter cold and summer heat.  The deciduous trees of this forest type are the annual participants in the fall foliage season of Vermont.  They are sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, white ash, hemlock, basswood, white pine, black cherry, striped maple, butternut hickory, red maple, northern red oak, mountain maple, and paper birch.  Several variants of these forest types may be found based on the local soil conditions and climate as well as which species share dominance with the beech, birch, and maple.  Other plants that may be found growing in the northern hardwood forest are evergreen woodfern, christmas fern, red trillium, white wood aster, starflower, and thobblebush.

The forests of Addison County are not only important for their recreational and resource value, they are also home to a diversity of wildlife.  Over two hundred species of bird and fifty-four species of mammals call these forests home.  Many of the birds are migratory, spending only part of the year here and traveling southward during the winter.  The mammalian population ranges from the tiny deer mouse to the beefy black bear weighing in at as much as four hundred pounds.  Other carnivores found in this area are foxes, coyote, raccoon, weasels, fisher, marten, striped skunk, wolverine, otters and bobcat.  Mountain lions and timber wolves who used to call this region home were unfortunately extirpated in the 1800s, although there is talk of reintroduction efforts in the near future.  The other large mammals of the region’s forests are deer and moose.

Forests have been the dominant natural-community type in this region for several thousand years.  They are comprised of many different species which are connected to each other by complex interactions and natural processes.  It is important to remember that although the boreal and northern hardwood forests of Addison County are beautiful places to recreate, they are also vulnerable ecosystems in which hundreds of other life forms call home.