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Why Are Motor Vehicles Prohibited?

Forest for Learning was organized to fulfill goals identified by the Putney School Board and Town residents. Its purposes were largely determined by the Putney School Board in 2016. During meetings that were open to the public, the following Mission Statement for the school forest property was developed and finalized on December 31, 2016:

“The Putney Central School Forest is a dedicated educational and ecological resource for the children attending the Putney Central School and other educational institutions. Its undeveloped character, history and natural beauty make the forest an ideal site for an outdoor classroom, and a real-life laboratory to explore forest ecology, stewardship, and sustainability of life systems. This close-to-the-land learning extends to all members of the community. The environmental and ecological integrity of the forest will be protected.”

The Forest for Learning Board is legally required to uphold and defend our Bylaws. As such, and in response to an urgent request from the School to create outdoor classrooms in the Forest to better protect children from contracting the Covid virus, the Board voted unanimously on August 31, 2020 to prohibit motorized vehicles on Forest for Learning land. Our determination was made not only for student safety, but also for environmental, legal, and logistical reasons which are explained below.

1) Student Safety: In keeping with the Forest for Learning mission, the Forest now hosts 6 outdoor classrooms that are used daily by the school. Similarly, outside groups for kids (such as the Vermont Wilderness School) would like to use the Forest for nature-based programs on weekends. This has dramatically increased the number of young children in the Forest; not just in the classrooms, but throughout the property. This poses a risk of possible conflicts and collisions between students and motorized vehicles.

2) Liability: Forest for Learning pays for liability insurance to protect itself and its visitors in the event of an accident. Our insurance does not cover operators of motorized vehicles however, nor any damage to other people or property should an accident involving a motorized vehicle occur.

3) Easement: Seeking, negotiating and securing a conservation easement on the land is another stated purpose in the organization’s bylaws. Conservation easements are held by conservation organizations for the expressed purpose of conserving natural resources. Given the potential for motorized vehicles to conflict with wildlife and diminish other natural resources, most conservation organizations are unwilling to pursue easements on lands that also accommodate motorized vehicles. Allowing this use on Forest for Learning’s land would complicate or eliminate our ability to secure a conservation easement on the property.

4) Environmental Impacts: According to the US Forest Service and others, forest impacts from ATVs and other motorized vehicles are known to include: water and air pollution, the introduction of non-native and invasive species (via seeds and eggs hitchhiking on vehicles), soil compaction (which impedes penetration by plant roots, restricts plant access to water and nutrients, increases surface flow, and increases soil erosion), sediment delivery to streams (which decreases water quality), and trail rutting. Additional impacts specific to wildlife include: decreased habitat quality and quantity for fish and other aquatic species from water sedimentation and pollution, disrupting wildlife movement between and within habitats, elevating animal metabolism at the cost of energy resources, interruptions to nesting and reproduction or feeding and foraging behaviors, auditory damage, and area avoidance and abandonment. Clearly, any of these impacts would undermine the environmental and ecological integrity of the Forest, which runs counter to the Forest for Learning mission and purposes. Prohibiting motorized vehicles not only avoids these impacts but is also in alignment with the Town’s Master Plan, which states “the Town supports land uses that protect biodiversity, wildlife habitat, habitat connectivity, and the stewardship of unique natural areas”.

5) Town Water Supply: The Town’s Source Water Protection Plan identifies most Forest for Learning land, including the upland area on Bare Hill, as being contained in the Source Water Protection Area for the Town’s water supply. The Plan also identifies “roadways” as the supply’s second greatest risk, because spills and leaks from motorized vehicles can contaminate groundwater. Since (according to the Michigan State University Automotive Research Experiment Station) off-road vehicles expel 20 to 30 percent of their oil and gasoline unburned, releasing it into both the air and the water, prohibiting motorized vehicles from Forest for Learning land helps to protect the Town’s water supply.

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